ABA Therapy Tactics for Managing Aggression in Autistic Children

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As ABA therapy is designed to help children with autism, its possible benefits on managing aggression are understudied. However, recent research has found that it can be a useful tool in teaching children how to regulate their anger and stop themselves from expressing aggressive behavior.

The “aba interventions for physical aggression” is a type of therapy that has been shown to be effective in managing the aggressive behavior of autistic children. This therapy is typically delivered by an occupational therapist.


For youngsters on the autism spectrum, anger and violence are frequent feelings. Angry and rage-like behaviors may emerge out of nowhere, with no warning, and then go just as quickly.

Stress, overstimulation, and sudden and unplanned changes in routine and schedule are the most common causes for this behavior. A youngster with autism, for example, who feels neglected is unlikely to be able to express his or her emotions properly. They may strike out without recognizing that they are endangering themselves and others because they lack the vocabulary — metaphorical and literal — to express their feelings.

Using different types of self-awareness and mindfulness training, it is possible to moderate anger and reduce it down to manageable levels.

Autism and Aggression Research

Autistic children’s aggression is common and well-documented. According to a research published in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 25% of autistic children exhibit violent behavior, which includes but is not limited to:

“Aggression was more prevalent among children with moderate autistic symptoms and low IQ quotients,” the researchers said. Additionally, children with higher levels of anger were more likely to have mood and anxiety issues, as well as difficulty sleeping and paying attention.

Another research, published in the journal Autistic, looked at the reasons of violent conduct among college students who were not on the autism spectrum. The most consistent predictors of verbal and physical violence were social anxiety and the propensity to spend a lot of time concentrating on unpleasant, hostile feelings (anger rumination).

A syndrome known as cognitive perseveration affects people with autism, and it causes them to ponder or speak about the same topics over and over again. People with autism who suffer from cognitive perseveration are more likely to concentrate on unpleasant emotions and antagonism.

What Makes Autistic Individuals Aggressive?

While rage is a prevalent element in autism, leading to individuals harming themselves and their carers, the researchers in the Autism journal found no evidence that autism causes purposely or maliciously violent conduct.

Given that autistic people obsessively dwell on certain topics and feelings for long periods of time, and that people who obsess over hostile emotions are more likely to engage in aggressive behavior, the researchers concluded that the link between anxiety, anger rumination, and aggression may lead to violent behavior in some people with autism.

Despite the similarities, violence is not a sign of autism spectrum condition, and not everyone with ASD is violent. The links that lead to aggressive conduct in autistic people aren’t completely understood.

Biological variables connected to various brain regions in persons with autism may have a role, according to some study. For example, Brigham Young University reported in 2017 that MRI scans of two groups of autistic people revealed that the group with the most aggressiveness had smaller brain stem volumes. According to the findings, there is a “core, autonomic link between autism and violent tendencies.”

Social and communication issues are two of the most common symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, and they’re also two of the underlying causes of the worry and frustration that may easily rise to fury in persons with autism. While neurotypical persons can communicate vocally and nonverbally, autistic people often find themselves in circumstances where they are unable to communicate. Most types of profound irritation and anxiety, which may lead to a meltdown or other forms of violent conduct, are caused by this.

In the end, it boils down to autistic children’s inability to communicate their ideas and wants. These children may learn early in life that hitting, shouting, throwing or smashing items, scratching their skin, biting, or ripping out their hair is the only way to be heard.

ABA & Managing Aggression

Therapists who specialize in applied behavior analysis (ABA) are often asked how to deal with aggressive conduct in autistic clients. Because violent conduct may rapidly spiral out of control and put the client and caregivers in danger, schools and ABA practitioners typically make this a primary emphasis.

ABA therapy is a common alternative for managing aggressive behavior in individuals outside of autism treatment. The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis reported in 1999 that ABA was helpful in controlling aggressive and impulsive behavior utilizing varied and delayed reward approaches.

Therapy programs that mix ABA and pharmaceuticals have proven efficacy in treating clients who have shown violent or aggressive conduct, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in 2011.

The use of ABA treatment to control aggressiveness in autistic children cannot be done in a vacuum. It requires ongoing engagement from parents, carers, and instructors, all of whom must work together to offer feedback and support to the kid.

Examining Aggressive Behavior

How might ABA treatment help children with autism regulate and control their aggressive behavior? The first step is to determine the extent of the problem behavior.

A board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) will examine how often the kid hits, who or what they strike (items, themselves, siblings, or parents – these details are critical), and even what they do (slapping, punching, scratching, biting, pulling hair, or throwing). The child’s age, the times and locations of the conduct, and the severity of the behavior are all elements to consider. Controlling violence in a 2-year-old child is substantially different than controlling violence in a 15-year-old adolescent.

It’s equally crucial to figure out when the hostility doesn’t happen. If a kid is repeatedly placated when they obtain what they want or is allowed to stay in a safe location for as long as they want, the BCBA will have critical information on how to curtail or even stop the violent behavior.

These particulars must be designed with a long-term perspective in mind. When a youngster is distressed, the remedy is not as easy as giving them what they want.

The evaluation should provide enough information for the BCBA to figure out why the kid is injuring herself or others. Some youngsters, for example, may lash out at individuals who tell them they can’t have something they really want or who tell them they have to do something they don’t want to do. Other children will only scream if they are bored, uninterested, or feel neglected or misunderstood.

Understanding the precise pathways that lead up to violent conduct is key.

Making a Strategy

There will be enough information to build a strategy to manage and lessen the violence after the board certified behavior analyst has completely analyzed the type, breadth, and frequency of the violent conduct. The strategy will assist the BCBA and other caregivers in determining which circumstances are most likely to provoke aggressiveness, which approaches work to reduce it, and which scenarios are least likely to result in an outburst.

The purpose of this strategy is to shift away from being reactive to issue behaviors and instead seek for strategies to avoid problem behaviors. These activities may be enhanced if the plan demonstrates which constructive and good activities do not result in hostile responses. Similarly, if it is established which behaviors cause angry reactions, those activities may be reduced.

It is sometimes necessary to limit one’s favourite pursuits. A kid cannot be given a tablet gadget all day, even if it is what they truly want, since being on the device calms them down or depriving them of the device causes them to become aggressive. As the number of desired activities grows, so should the amount of reward for not responding violently.

Those reinforcements may be gradually taken away over time and with caution to normalize non-aggressive conduct. Even if the youngster is forced to give up their tablet, they will be more open to finding positive methods to communicate their dissatisfaction or disappointment.

A expert will need to understand the specific mechanism of aggressiveness in children with autism in order to adequately treat the behavior. Aggression in autism encompasses much more than just poor conduct.

Is the youngster showing dissatisfaction with the caregiver’s actions? Is the youngster attempting to express that the work at hand is too difficult? Is the youngster wishing for something he or she cannot have?

The BCBA’s job is to figure out what the intended message is behind the hostility. Understanding this is crucial to laying the groundwork for a child’s ability to recognize their needs and desires in more acceptable ways.

What Should You Do If Your Child Is Abusive?

A special education teacher writes on her blog that if an autistic kid is acting violently, they should not be physically assaulted or restrained unless their conduct poses a clear danger to themselves or others. Even then, there are procedures to follow in order to reduce the child’s trauma.

It’s possible that if a kid with autism is provoked or overstimulated to the point of antagonism, typical soothing approaches will not work. Instead, using particular imagery to remind children to breathe, check their emotions, and process their ideas might help de-escalate the situation to the point where the kid responds positively.

Living with an autistic kid may be difficult, but when aggressive conduct is a part of the experience, it can put a lot of strain on parents and caregivers. When your kid behaves dangerously, it’s critical to keep your emotions in check so that the issue doesn’t become worse. You can be cool, patient, firm, and comforting by staying calm and breathing. This will result in a better result.

Speak quietly and seldom. Trying to reason with your autistic kid during a meltdown will only make the situation worse for both of you. A youngster with autism who is acting out is unable to think on a cognitive level. A smart method to consider this is to intentionally speak less than you wish to. Whatever you say must be brief, straightforward, and to the point, as well as accompanied by visual cues.

Create a sense of security. Remove as many individuals as possible from the room (but have one or two trained and calm adults with you). Any item that might cause damage should be removed or locked down.

If at all feasible, transport your kid to a more secure location, ideally without touching them. The best location for them to be relocated to is a calmer environment with less stimulus for the kid and room for them to pace, jump, roll about, or do whatever they need to do in order to naturally calm down. These areas may be prepared ahead of time so that the youngster can be moved there swiftly and efficiently.

Physical restraints may be necessary in certain cases, but they should only be used as a last option when the kid is plainly and directly endangering himself and others. This should not be considered without the advice of a BCBA, who will provide caregivers and parents with specific training on how to protect oneself from a violent kid. Restraints should be safe, utilized only for a brief period of time, and never employed as a threat or deterrent.

A Long-Term Strategy

While short-term strategies might help manage an acute violent episode, getting to the fundamental causes of the violence is critical. An ABA therapist can assist you in identifying these triggers and developing strategies to reduce occurrences of violence. While you won’t notice benefits right away, you will see them over time.


In Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder, There Is a Link Between Anger Rumination and Autism Symptom Severity, Depression Symptoms, Aggression, and General Dysregulation. (2018, August). Autism.

Autism Aggression: What It Is and What It Isn’t (December 2014). Spectrum.

Prevalence and Correlates of Aggressive Behavior Problems in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders in a Large Clinical Sample. In September of 2014, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) research

The Impact of Anger Rumination and Autism Spectrum Disorder-Linked Persistence on Aggression Experience in the General Population (2015, August). Autism.

Anger Rumination in Autism Spectrum Disorder Children (October 2019). Autism Spectrum Disorders: An Encyclopedia

In autism, brain stem volume is linked to aggression (February 2017). Science Daily is a news site dedicated to science.

Evaluating Impulsivity and Self-Control in Children With Severe Behavioral Disorders (1999, Winter). The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis is a publication dedicated to the study of human behavior.

Is It True That Autism Spectrum Disorder Causes Violent Behavior? (Updated October 2013). Current Psychiatry is a journal published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Results of a Randomized Clinical Trial of Medication and Parent Training in Children With Pervasive Developmental Disorders and Serious Behavior Problems. (Dated December 2009) The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s journal.

Special Brains, Special Risks: Autism and Screen Time (As of December 2016) Today’s Psychology.

When is it appropriate to restrain a child? Autism Adventures is a website dedicated to people with autism.

ABA Therapy Tactics for Managing Aggression in Autistic Children is a book that provides parents with strategies to manage aggression in children. The book offers tactics such as how to discipline an autistic child for hitting. Reference: how to discipline autistic child for hitting.

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