Aggressive Behaviors in Children With Disabilities
Unlike children who might act aggressively as a way to get attention, children with special needs can’t always help the way they behave. The lack of social skills and the inability to communicate or cope with sensory overload often create high levels of frustration in children with autism and other behavioral disorders. According to the KidsHealth website, all children -- including those with disabilities -- need consistency and structure in their lives.
According to the National Network for Child Care, children who have behavioral disorders can act aggressively, become hyperactive or withdraw when they get stressed 2. Youngsters who don’t want to be touched might react by hitting, kicking or biting. Some children with disabilities rely on aggressive behavior to deal with stressful circumstances, especially when they become overly stimulated. The findings of study published in the June 2012 issue of the “Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders” suggest that repetitive and ritualistic behaviors might be an early marker for predicting aggressive behavior in children with severe cognitive disabilities 3.
Autistic children who have especially poor social skills sometimes display physically or verbally aggressive behavior. The Interactive Autism Network Community website reports that research suggests aggression is common in children on the autism spectrum, although it is not caused by the same factors that cause aggressive behavior in other children 4. Aggression in autistic children isn’t always directed toward people but it's often directed toward objects. Children with autism spectrum disorders can’t always verbalize what they’re feeling and therefore might react aggressively when they become frustrated or upset. Many autistic children suffer from sensory sensitivities that can bring on episodes of aggressive behavior as well.
Causes of Aggression
Researchers at the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri found that children with autism spectrum disorders behave aggressively for different reasons than children who are not on the autism spectrum. While being male puts a typical child at a higher risk of aggressive behavior, girls with autism spectrum disorders are just as likely as boys with ASDs to act aggressively. The study links sensory sensitivities and extreme resistance to change to aggressive behavior in autistic children. Another risk factor that brings on aggression is interfering with a child's repetitive behaviors.
Preventing Aggressive Behavior
The National Association of School Psychologists points out that children with disabilities usually have triggers that parents, teachers and other caregivers can anticipate by learning to recognize the warning signs 25. Once you notice a child is having problems coping and is close to losing control, you need to move quickly. Providing support and assurance can prevent a child's behavior from becoming aggressive toward others. Children with cognitive impairments or developmental delays don’t always understand what is happening around them and may respond to a situation in a way inappropriate for their age. Likewise, kids with severe behavioral problems who have limited coping skills need consistent routines, as do children with autism who don’t cope well with change.
- KidsHealth: Disciplining Your Child with Special Needs
- National Network for Child Care: Children with Disabilities or Special Needs
- Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders; The Association Between Repetitive, Self-Injurious and Aggressive Behavior in Children with Severe Intellectual Disability; C. Oliver et al
- IAN Community: New Research on Children with ASD and Aggression
- National Association of School Psychologists: Coping with Crisis – Helping Children with Special Needs
- Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images