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Stopping Your Autistic Child from Hitting

Although autism mainly centers on the inability to effectively communicate (because those with autism do not process or filter information in the same way), a fairly common hallmark of the condition is the additional inability to understand that other people have the same thoughts and feelings as the affected individual.  And this often leads to hitting as a method of communicating feelings, getting attention, or protecting a territory.  However, hitting is not acceptable behavior in children, and it definitely won’t fly as they grow up, so you need to nip it in the bud now before it becomes a real problem.

You will first want to determine the cause of your child’s actions.  If you don’t know what is causing him to act out then you won’t be able to effectively address the bad behavior.  Whether your child is hitting siblings, kids at school, or even himself, you need to know what triggers the attacks.  Is he upset about other children invading his space (getting too close, taking his toys, etc.)?  Or is he frustrated by an inability to communicate thoughts and feelings?  Maybe he’s using self-abuse as a method of focusing or “drowning out” other sensory input.  If you can’t figure it out on your own, you may want to see a doctor who specializes in autism or behavioral analysis.

Once you have established the cause of your child’s behavior, one method of dealing with it is to enact consequences.  If you find that your autistic child is hitting a sibling (this generally occurs during disputes over toys), then you must teach him the consequences of his actions just as you would any other child.  Because autistic children are often unable to form a correlation between the pain they feel when they are hit and the pain they are inflicting on others through hitting, it will do no good to appeal to their sympathies or allow the other child to reciprocate as an example.  Instead, you may simply have to train them through punishment.  So if your kids are fighting over a toy, take the toy away for a period of time.  Or if the autistic child is hitting other children for attention, put him in a time out.  It may take a while, but eventually, he will learn that hitting equals consequences.  When he has finished the punishment, have him apologize so that you know he understands what he did wrong.

If punishment does not garner the desired results, you may want to switch tactics by implementing a rewards system.  Try teaching your child an alternative to hitting others when he feels strong emotions.  For example, use a designated pillow for hitting in place of a sibling so that he can act out his frustration without hurting anyone.  Or teach him to hug instead of hitting (if he is able and willing to do so) so that he receives positive attention instead of negative.  If he cannot form these associations, simply teach him to go to his own space, away from others, rather than hitting or acting out.  This will at least keep him from hurting other children.  Then encourage him when he utilizes his substitute by offering positive attention, praise, or other rewards

Kyle Simpson is a writer for an online MBA rankings website where you can find information on the most popular online MBA programs in the country.

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0 thoughts on “Stopping Your Autistic Child from Hitting

  • Yes this is totally uncalled for. Why would such a self righteous negative person even be bothering to be on this site? I agree with the potential of school issues – we have been there. Attitude means alot with autistic kids. Actually even NTs – if I wa treated like a ‘problem’ at school or work even I would not feel too good abt myself either and would be ‘acting out’ in some fashion. Everyone’s heart is the same inside….

  • @June – Whether the other kids hit first or not, this is a board for parents of autistic kids.  Do you know anything about autism?  Do you have any idea of the struggles that these kids go through?  I am not a parent of an autistic child, but a good friend of mine from church has an autistic daughter, Chloe.  Chloe LOVES my two daughters, and often expresses affection for them, but when she is keyed up or overtired she will hit/pull hair without provocation.  She simply cannot understand their feelings, and is loving to them as soon as she gets out of time out.

    Before you judge another parent or an autistic child, maybe you should do a little research into the challenges/realities of autism.  I cannot fathom what my friend’s daily life is like, but I do know that her autistic daughter is a beautiful, loving, wonderful child.

  • @MusingMom6 – Before, I didn’t know that the other kids did hit first.  Now I do.  Thanks for clearing that up!

  • @June – I guess I thought this was a welcoming place rather than to be replied in such an unkind manner. This behavior is unacceptable, but it usually has a root that when addressed can be modified. I should have also added:

    The 3rd grade year he was bullied, the school would put him in the hall and never help him calm down. They never did anything when he was hit, kicked, pushed unless someone saw it. The other boys learned that if they said my son did it then they would punish him.
    He had never hit anyone till this went on. The school “modeled” this behavior for him. Most of his experiences at school were so negative all he saw were negative situations and was a victim standing up for himself when not one else would. The continued poor handling of these situations by the staff did nothing to help the situation and wanted to point the finger at me.
    I spent the summer with one in home counselor and one office setting counselor and can assure you my son is a polite, kind, loyal child. Not the one portrayed as a destructive ADHD child.

  • @MusingMom6 – and I bet his former classmates are happy too, now that he’s not slapping them after they didn’t hit first  🙂

  • I found that with my son it was sensory issues and school staff not treating him well.

    Some of the other children would yell in his ear – Slap ; Blow in his face – Slap;Bump into him when he was keyed up;The staff claimed to understand his issues but routinely treated him like a destructive – ADHD child;The staff would remove privileges for minor infractions that he didn’t understand and they took too much of a tough approach rather than nurturing approach;
    Solution- Treatments with a private OT, as well as school OT, Coping Skills and Counseling through the summer, moved him to another school. The new school figured out real quick that he was not at all like the other school wanted to portray him as.
    End Result – Happy Child & Happy Mommy = Rest of the Family Happy

  • What great ideas!! 

    I know my son and I “clash” quite a bit and I think it’s because our personalities are too close to being the same! 😉 

    My only issue is that dealing with a behavior, usually escalates the behavior to where we have an even worse problem than we did before. 


    Step 1: Child plays with TV remote, when he’s been told not toStep 2: Child gets upset when Mom takes away the remote (obvious consequence for the behavior).
    Step 3: Mom tells child “if you don’t stop, the TV goes off”Step 4: Child starts screaming and hits MomStep 5: Mom tells child to stop hitting, it’s not niceStep 6: Child says “stop saying no”Step 7: this is where things go downhill and I am trying to keep my kid from ripping my shirt and/or pulling my hair
    Fun times! But I may try to implement this strategy more


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