Autism and Aggression: An Autistic Adult’s Perspective

April was Autism Awareness Month. In previous years, I have dedicated my #AtoZChallenge to autism, but this year, I chose a different topic. For a while, I had it in mind to focus on developmental disabilities in general, but, as you can see, I chose another topic entirely. However, the topic of autism is still on my mind. In the coming weeks, I want to offer more of an insider’s perspective on autism and its characteristics. After all, I am autistic and I feel that the blog coverage on autism is heavily divided between parents of autistic children sharing their stories and adult autistics sharing advocacy. Now there’s nothing wrong with advocacy – I feel passionate about it too -, but there is also nothing wrong with personal experience stories. What is wrong is when these are mostly one-sidedly coming from neurotypical (non-autistic) parents of autistic children. Hence, my insider’s perspective.

For my first post, I am choosing a rather controversial topic: aggression. When parents talk about their child with autism, one of the first things they will usually mention is the child’s aggressive behavior. And in fact, this was the first thing my parents would say when asked to describe my problem behaviors too. It was also what got me to be referred to the mental health agency for an evaluation at age 20, which ultimately led to my autism diagnosis.

I don’t know about statistics of aggression in general, but it is highly stereotypical to equate autism with violent behavior. Autistics are not more likely to be deliberately violent than neurotypicals and they are, in fact, more likely to fall victim to violent crimes.

That doesn’t mean aggression doesn’t occur and, when it does, that it isn’t related to the autistic person’s autism. To say that it’s a “comorbidity” is, in my opinion, doing the autistic a disservice. It is, however, an issue that arises in the interaction between the autistic person and a highly autism-unfriendly world. After all, at least I have often gotten aggressive when my needs for autism-supportive care are not met.

For instance, one day in the psych hospital, a nurse, whom I will call Sara, had said one evening that she’d get back to me the following day after morning report to talk about getting me unsupervised off-ward privileges. The next day, I went up to Sara, but wasn’t able to communicate clearly what I wanted. “I’m not your assigned nurse today,” Sara said. “Go to Daisy if you want something.” Now the nurse I’ll call Daisy was a temp worker, so clueless about my needs or what I’d talked to Sara about the previous day. I got very irritable, because Sara had promised me she’d get back to me and now she was referring me to Daisy. I screamed, walked around the ward restlessly and constantly nagged the staff in an irritable voice. By handover, a third nurse, whom I’ll call Robert, came on and said that he’d put me in seclusion if I didn’t calm down right away. “Go on then, stupid,” I shouted. So he did.

This was not my worst incident of aggression ever. As a teen, my mother reports, I would hit her. I currently still occasionally slap or push staff. Usually, this again results from staff not following through on something or not following my daily routine.

I feel strongly that, though not all incidents of aggression can be prevented by parents or carers providing autism-sensitive support, a lot of them can. If an autistic is aggressive anyway, there are much better ways of handling it than solitary confinement.

loopyloulaura

Also linking up with #PoCoLo.

18 thoughts on “Autism and Aggression: An Autistic Adult’s Perspective

  1. This is so interesting to read. Thank you for sharing. I can understand your frustrations when someone says they will get back to you the next day and doesn’t. I would feel the same too. Solitary confinement is not the answer. x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for writing about this subject and sharing your experience of it, Astrid. My son is autistic (as you know), and he will occasionally behave aggressively. It doesn’t happen very often, and most of the time he’s a very loving and cheerful person. For him, aggression seems to happen mainly when he’s in great physical discomfort (such as stomach pain). His internal sensory (interoception) issues mean that he cannot always interpret his body’s signals, which means that he might not realise he needs the toilet until it becomes painful, and also might not be able to interpret the cause of any pain he feels, which in turn can be very frightening and upsetting. So, when he ‘acts out’ it is usually in a state of pain and panic, and he’s not then in control. So if he hurts us, it’s not intentional. Knowing that he doesn’t mean it is good, but any pain or injuries caused are still the same regardless of his intentions. It’s hard to cope with those moments. We try to prevent them as best as we can, and I know he tries very hard himself too.
    I’m really sorry to hear about how the nurse who had promised to get back to you didn’t, and wouldn’t take the time to listen to you. Also, I don’t think it sounds as if you were an actual danger to those around you, so to put you in seclusion seems unnecessary and harsh, in my opinion. Many hugs, and thank you again for sharing about your experiences x #mmbc

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your extensive response. I am so sorry your son reacts aggressively when he’s in physical discomfort. I do too. It’s understandable though given the interoceptive issues many autistics face. Also, some neurotypicals will brush off our discomfort for this reason, but it’s real. Now you have given me an idea for another post to write, thanks!

      As for the situation I mentioned with the nurses, no, I wasn’t physically aggressive at the time, just very irritable and a bit verbally aggressive eventually. I could write volumes on the psych unit staff’s ideas on my seclusion plan, some of which were literally against the law. I feel that a lot of the time, psych patients, particularly those who don’t display floridly psychotic symptoms, like myself, are held to higher standards than they should be.

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    1. I agree. However, too often, those in t h e helping profession use this rule against me or other people with so-called “behavior problems” in order to demand “respect” (ie. compliance) without giving respect in return.

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  3. I definately think solidaty condiment is not helpful. As a person with autism I have had aggressive issues (normally as a response to a of of change) I but it is more internal and towards myself then inflicted on others x #dreamteam

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. I am so sorry you can relate. Yes, I too experience internalized aggression and self-harm too.

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  4. I worked at a school for autistic children a few years ago, I was badly injured by a couple due to their needs not being met, not through something I had done but by roadworks that altered a familiar route and the driver told the student to sit down and be quiet when he got upset we couldn’t drive the way we usually went and another time by a staff member telling a student she couldn’t have her usual bottle of coke in the supermarket until after the rest of the shopping had been down. I’ve also been told off for saying the logo on my top was clearly not a shop but a jumper after I read the name of it when the student asked me what it was. I’ve always been careful not to promise things to students with autism and to prepare them in advance for trips out and routes or routines being changed to try to help them communicate their needs more effectively. It’s really interesting to hear from someone who can explain the consequences of why they become aggressive compared to a neuro typical person. I’ve put the link to the badge code here for you, hope that helps.

    Thanks for linking with #pocolo and hope to see you back soon

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your extensive comment. I am so glad you are able to see where you or someone else didn’t meet the autistic students’ needs, causing them to become aggressive, rather than blaming the aggression solely on the students themselves. I don’t see the code, but maybe WP did something wrong with it. Your comment also got stuck in my spam queue even though it isn’t spam at all.

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  5. Oh no. I don’t feel that solitary confinement is very helpful at all. It’s almost like silencing someone, instead of listening and clearly communicating in a calm and understandable way. I’m sorry you’ve been through situations like this. Thank you for joining us for the #DreamTeam

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your validating comment. I wholeheartedly agree. I mean, like I replied in another comment, too often staff demand respect in an authoritarian way like this, but it’s the opposite they’ll get.

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