Saddened but realistic
- autism and violence

by Sue
(Australia)

My brother has a 17 yo severely autistic son and a daughter with Aspergers.

There is a lengthy genetic generational history of severe autism in his wife's family.

This boy has become increasingly violent in his behaviour. He is a very tall and physically strong boy who has no control over his physicality.

He is also often sexually inappropriate and will play with himself in public.

He will hit and punch his cousins, and see this as funny. He has lost it on numerous occasions and has given his mother a black eye.

A week ago he lost it because he thought a game he was watching had ended when it was half time. He put his arm through a window severing arteries and tendons and causing nerve damage, he also put holes in the wall causing hundreds of dollars of damage.

Less than a week later he has lost it again, again smashing walls. This time for no apparent reason.

His sister hid in her room in fear, neither of his parents are physically able to stop him.

His parents are in high distress and no longer know what to do.

While I believe in tolerance and understanding, under no other circumstances would we expect people to live ongoing with this exposure to violence.

He is becoming more and more unpredictable. A lot of excuses are made and a lot of denial still with statements such as 'he would never hurt anyone' I don't believe that is true.

Other statements such as, he is sorry, saying sorry dad after the events'.

I don't believe he has the capacity to process remorse or understand the consequences of his actions, The 'I'm sorry' is a learnt reaction and won't lead to any future change in behaviour.

I am concerned for the girl with Aspergers, as she would likely have done better than she is if she wasn't daily exposed to her brothers behaviours? she has begun to mimic him and has gone backwards in her own development.

I am also scared to have my own children exposed as I know there is far too much denial,and not enough realistic appraisal of the real risks of this boys behaviours.

I don't go to family events as I don't want my children exposed to the risk.

The pressure to be understanding is at the expense of reality and understanding of the real, risk.

You can't make something that it's not, and no amount of understanding will make the unpredictable violence safe.

My brother and his wife have virtually no support as our society is also in denial about autism and the risks of child with autism who are violent.

They are at the end of what they can manage and in reality there is nowhere for them to turn and no acknowledgement of the horror they face on a daily basis.

It is a living nightmare. It is tine some real conversation happen about this issue.

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- autism and violence

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Understanding
by: Anonymous

Hi Sue,

We are in your brothers situation our son is 12 and at this stage his angry outburst are mostly under medication controlled, but he does have the occasional outburst.

We chose a long time ago to put others first. We do not attend family events and if we do we work out safety zones for Brent (we attended one wedding) and take his bag of goodies with us. You sound like you have done your best to understand but MUST put your children first their protection and safety IS and SHOULD be your first concern. Some of my family are not so supportive so your brother is lucky to have you. My sister tries to spend time with Brent without her 2 there or we keep visit short and sweet.

We know that the violence is liable to escalate in the next few years (hormones) and just hope that Brent does not grow too much more.

For us we have made the decision that if the violence grows I may have to move out alone with Brent to protect our other children. We will still be a family but just in 2 homes.

Good luck to you and your family.

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Helping families dealing with autism and violence
by: Anna

Hi Sue. Thanks for writing in.

I'm so glad to hear from a family member "once-removed" from the daily routine of living with a child with autism. I think your voice needs to be heard more often.

I have mixed thoughts on whether violence and autism and intrinsically linked, or whether the side-effects of living with autism just nudge kids towards a violent response to situations they can't control.

There is a lot of social influence and examples of male violence in media, and I can't help but wonder how much is due to that. Learning anything requires a fair bit of repetition to "lay track" in the brain. So what we absorb visually, aurally makes a difference.

Certainly, it can't hurt to try to "lay track" that shows positive responses to events.

Either way, I'm not sure that knowing that is especially helpful to the person dealing with the violence in the moment.

If I can suggest a tactic...

I think a lot depends on the level of awareness from the person committing the violent behaviour.

If they are aware, and want to behave differently, then you have an opening.

When he is calm, ask whether he would like to react differently. If he says yes, then you can start to offer one or two strategies at a time so that he at least knows there are options.

Besides avoiding situations that will provoke a negative response, it also helps to be alert to the trigger point of response.

If you can intervene just before, or even just after, you can sometimes divert attention long enough to avoid the negative behaviour.

This requires more than a "NO!" instead try a socratic approach, and use his name to get his attention.. "Daniel are you allowed to do that?"

That question shifts him from an emotional response to a thinking one - away from "lizard brain".

It's amazing how often I've been able to stop my son from going out of control with that question.

Of course, I can't guarantee it will always work in your situation, but I hope that it may be one more tool in your toolbox.

Thanks again for adding your contribution to the discussion.

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