There is still a lot that has yet to be discovered regarding Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Although a lot of progress has been made, and we now have a better understanding than we did fifty years ago, it is still a relatively new neurodevelopmental disorder when you look at the bigger picture. Because we are still learning new things about Autism every day, there is still a lot that is unknown about it. It’s this gray area that often leads to hurtful misconceptions or speculative myths about the disorder.
In the past, we have discussed the issues with misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Today, we want to discuss one of the most common and problematic myths associated with ASD: Autism violent tendencies, and aggression. Before we get into where precisely this myth started, let’s begin by stating that violent behavior is not caused by Autism, nor is it a direct side effect of the diagnosis. Now that we got that out of the way let’s dig a little deeper into the myth to properly explain why it has been debunked.
Origin of The Myth
The Autism community is an excellent place for parents to share and swap stories about their kids with ASD. If a parent is seeking advice or comfort, the supportive community can greatly help families of children with Autism. If you were to ask parents within the community about their experience with Autistic meltdowns or occasional aggressive behavior in their children, they would tell you that these instances do occur. Children can experience meltdowns or display aggressive behavior if they are in a triggering environment, but these behaviors are not violent.
So if you missed our previous article about Autistic meltdowns, then we will do a quick overview of what a meltdown is and how it compares to typical tantrums that are common in all children.
If a child with Autism experiences any type of sensory, informational, or emotional overload, it may trigger a meltdown. A meltdown can look very different for each child, but typical symptoms include signs of withdrawing, screaming, crying, growling, biting, or crawling into a ball to cry. This could be one of the reasons why people believe in the Autism violent behavior myth but it is your child’s way of expressing their emotions or their frustration.
When it comes to ASD, we know that children benefit from routines and schedules so if something unexpected happens or patterns change, this might cause incredible frustration from the child. We also know that loud noises, large crowds, and even bright lights can cause sensory overload, which may also cause meltdowns or aggressive behavior.
If your child has difficulty communicating their needs to you, their frustration can manifest in more intense behavior.
Autism Violent Behavior DEBUNKED
The media often plays a part in perpetuating these myths, and this is especially true for violent behavior in Autism. There have been several cases where a few troubled individuals commit heinous acts, and they just happen also to have Autism, and the media runs wild with it. The most infamous example would be the tragic events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. It was widely speculated and even reported that the gunman had Aspergers, which caused a lot of people to question the role that Aspergers played in his terrible and violent behavior - this was before 2013, so Aspergers was still a form of Autism and still a recognized medical diagnosis. Many people within the Autism community felt a shift in the public perception of individuals with Autism after this isolated incident. There have been a few other similar cases, but studies have shown no connection between violent behavior and ASD. One study found that general violence in individuals with Autism was extremely rare, and found that if anything, people with Autism are likely to be the victims of violence or bullying.
If you hear a myth about something, it’s important to do your own research to get to the bottom of it...after all, they are called myths for a reason. When it comes to autism violent behavior, we can consider this myth to be DEBUNKED. Just because a child is frustrated or overwhelmed does not mean that they are showing signs of aggression or violent behavior.
If you are a parent to a child with Autism and would like tips or strategies to help your child cope or handle their frustration differently, you can talk to your ABA or physician. But it’s critical that you do not associate your child’s frustration with violence.