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How Do I Deal with Episodes of Violence?



My son was diagnosed with Autism approximately 2 years ago.  We are struggling with his sudden and violent attacks. He began grabbing kitchen knives and coming after family members when he didn`t get what he wanted. He hits me (mom) in the face when he wants something.

Any type of disciplinary action is met with fighting and hitting, biting and lunging at the person trying to administer limits or place in the chair to get control. His beavior seems to be getting worse as he gets older. We have a large family and this is the first out of 9 children that we haven’t been able to control the tantrums. Nothing seems to work. Any thoughts?


My first suggestion would be to keep safety first and foremost – not only you and your family’s – but also your son’s. That was a great start to try to isolate those items of risk (sharp objects) out of his reach.

Another thought is to try to remain out of the reach of your son during times of increased emotion to avoid having you or others hurt; however, I would recommend staying in the area to ensure his safety.

The next step I would suggest would be to try to keep a log identifying how often, when these behaviors are occurring, and how long they are lasting. Even though they seem out of the blue or unpredictable, it is often possible to understand the pattern after you track the occurrences for some time. The log may need to be for a few weeks or a month, depending on how often these negative and violent behaviors are occurring. If the behaviors happen one time per week, then looking at them for a month might be needed. If they happen daily, then you might have enough information after a week’s time.

I would suggest documenting these episodes after they happen and include

  • the time of day,
  • what your son was doing before the behaviors happened,
  • how long an episode happened,
  • and how your son was able to regain ability to control his actions (got an item he wanted, was left alone for a bit, got out of doing something, etc).

After you have some information collected, try to look for some type of pattern (time of day, specific item, specific type of request from someone, etc). You may be able to better problem solve after some pattern has been identified. For example:

  • If it’s due to a demand, perhaps a warning might work.
  • If you start to see him have an increase in emotion, perhaps giving him some time to cool off before he completes the task might be beneficial.
  • If it is related to a specific time of day, perhaps engaging him during that time in a different way might resolve the situation.
  • If it’s before meal times, maybe a snack a bit earlier might help.
  • If it’s due to an item that he wants but doesn’t have the words to request the item, perhaps a picture of the item where he could access it would be helpful to him.
  • If it’s due to frustration because of a specific item or type of item, try limiting access to those items, or confining them to a certain area of the house or time of day (when he is less frustrated or has more patience).

And of course, any opportunity you have to reward your son for staying calm, asking nicely, or refraining from aggression in any way, is going to lead to positive changes in his behavior. You may also want to seek additional behavioral recommendations from a professional, either through your county board, your school district, or local care provider, especially if these behaviors continue to escalate in either intensity or frequency.

Expert guidance is often very helpful to create a plan to reduce dangerous behaviors because often the plan has to be somewhat complex, or needs to be modified over time.

Reading books about managing negative behaviors in children with autism might be helpful as well. The Autism/Asperger Publishing Company and Pro-Ed are two publishers that have lots of helpful books shown on their web sites.

For more information:

Go to the Autism health topic.