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What should I do if my child with autism hits me?

If you’re here, you likely need answers regarding your child’s aggressive behavior. Before we dive into our tips for how to stop an autistic child from hitting, you must understand why this occurs in the first place.

Unable to express their thoughts or feelings in words, children with autism may “lash out” and hit, scratch, or bite their parents or siblings. Hitting can range from an open-handed slap to a closed-fisted punch, and some outbursts may even injure themselves or others.

Many things can trigger aggressive behaviors like hitting, scratching, and biting, but these are some of the most common in children with autism:

  • Feeling very anxious or stressed
  • Trying to communicate
  • Being in physical pain
  • Seeking attention
  • Sensory overload or sensitivity
  • Not understanding what’s going on around them.

Once we understand why children with autism behave aggressively, we can work toward prevention and treatment. First, we need to discuss appropriate ways of dealing with aggressive and violent behaviors in children with autism.


What to Do if Your Child Hits You

Neutral redirection is effective in how to stop an autistic child from hitting. This is an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) technique consisting of replacing a child’s aggressive, potentially dangerous behaviors with functional, appropriate behaviors.

With some guidance and gentleness, neutral redirection allows parents to effectively teach their children socially appropriate and safe behaviors, skills that will help them interact with peers, share experiences, and enjoy a higher quality of life. This process begins at treatment centers like Therapeutic Pathways, but can (and should) be followed at home.

As a parent or caregiver, here’s how you can remediate your child’s aggressiveness through neutral redirection:

  • Remain calm. Remember that your child’s behavior may be kindled if you “give in” to their aggression.
  • Prevent your child from making contact with you by moving out of the way.
  • If this is not possible, you may need to protect vulnerable parts of your body.
  • During the process, refrain from speaking to your child (scolding or asking them to stop), making eye contact with them, or reacting physically (flinching or making faces).
  • Calmly redirect your child to a different method of communication. For example, if your child usually hits you to get your attention, you can instead instruct them to tap you on the arm and say “excuse me”.
  • Only give your child direct acknowledgment (eye contact, etc.) when they engage in the appropriate behavior. Failing to do so could lead your child to associate aggressiveness with attention and getting what they want.

As mentioned, parents must refrain from reacting to their child’s aggressive behavior with exaggerated movements, loud voices, changes in facial expression, and other reactions that could validate the child’s behavior.

It’s important that you do not give in to aggressive behavior. If you continue to give in, your child will continue acting aggressively because they’ve come to learn that it’s an effective way to get what they want.

You can also be prepared by teaching your other children how to respond to their sibling’s aggressiveness. One of the best ways to do this is simply having the other child leave the room immediately. Your other children may react and spur more aggressive behavior, so having them walk away for a while can be helpful.


Treatment for Aggressive Children With Autism

Knowing how to stop an autistic child from hitting is key. Aggressive behavior can hinder a child’s progress at school, at home, and in social interactions. If your child has an autism diagnosis and is engaging in aggressive behaviors, seek treatment options as soon as possible.

The earlier the intervention (treatment), the greater your child’s chances of developing alongside their peers and becoming independent.

At Therapeutic Pathways, our Board-Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) put together an ABA treatment plan for each child engaging in aggressive behaviors. We work diligently to remediate harmful behaviors and encourage children to engage in safer, more appropriate behaviors.

For more information and to learn more about our ABA methods, contact Therapeutic Pathways at (209) 422-3280 to see if our Behavior Center program is right for your child.