It's Not Nice to Fool with Mother Nature But It Is Profitable
How Flattening the Autism Curve Fell.... Flat

Insider Look at Autism and Aggressive Destruction of Property

B249F6DD-BBE0-4873-9C1D-33654FC3876B Below is an excerpt from a blog called Thinking Autism Guide.  Please note: the article might not use the same type of person centered language that you or I use.  That said, I have a loved one with autism who just yesterday shattered the last of our cereal bowls on the granite countertop.  During a ride in our minivan, I was worried she would break the window with her pounding palm. At dinner, the noise of her banging her hand on the table frightened her sisters (also with autism) away from the meal. I found the information useful. 

###

When Autistic Kids Destroy Things

Sometimes autistic kids, and the adults they grow up to be, are really hard on physical things. Sometimes they consistently break devices or furniture, or take them apart. What many frustrated parents and caregivers may not understand is that there is usually a reason behind these urges; it's not just random autistic behavior. And if parents can try to figure out why their children have these needs, and then accommodate them as much as they can, everyone can have a much easier time. Not always, but in many cases.

With this in mind, we talked to two advocates with both personal and professional experience in this area: Ivanova Smith, and Aiyana Bailin. Here's what they had to say; we hope it is helpful to you.
 
Thinking Person's Guide to Autism: Tell us a little bit about yourselves
 
Ivanova Smith: I am a self advocate leader in Washington State. I am Chair of Self Advocates in Leadership, and Member of People First of Washington. 
 
Aiyana Bailin: I've been a respite care worker for over seven years. I've worked with kids and young adults with various developmental disabilities (Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, etc.), but I specialize in "severe" autism. Or rather, I prefer "profoundly autistic clients," because we generally get along really well. I'm probably on the spectrum, but have never tried to get diagnosed.
 
TPGA: When you see parents complain about autistic children or youths destroying furniture or other household objects, how does that make you feel?
 
Ivanova: When I see the media complaining about autistic people it makes me feel sad. I also think it is not an effective way of helping the situation. There are ways to work with autistic people that help, but that do not stop autistic people from having freedom of experience. 
 
Aiyana: I don't have a general answer to this. There are a lot of factors—tone, intended audience, etc. But often, I think parents need to be more careful about how they discuss their autistic (or otherwise disabled) kids. These kids already feel like they cause their parents a lot of stress, and they can be very sensitive about it.
 
TPGA: What do you think makes some autistic children need to take things apart? 
 
Ivanova: For many autistic people, we do not only have sensory experiences that are negative. Lots of autistics, especially those with intellectual disabilities, and/or who are non-speaking, also sensory seek. Sensory seeking is when the autistic person seeks out a sensory stimulus. Stimming is actually a form of this. 
 
Staring at certain objects and taking them apart is stimulating. Have you ever taken a pen apart? For me I really like lights and water, I like touching fountains, water, and feeling water move. 
 
Lots of times autistics need to avoid sudden sensory things, but can also seek out sensory things. Autistic people need understanding for both sensory issues, and sensory seeking. It is important to allow autistics to sensory seek. It as important as allowing us to stim. 
 
TPGA: Do you have ideas for how parents might be able to help those children?
 
Ivanova: I understand that property damage can be frustrating. I know my family struggled with it when I didn’t understand. I wore out the lazy boy armchairs because of my intense rocking. It would been helpful to have armchairs that were adapted for autistics who wear things out.
 
Some ideas I have for this issue: Find things that person enjoys to sensory seek with, and make sure they have access to those things easily. It also can be a form of communication, like an autistic person who is non-speaking ripping up a mattress—they may be trying communicate that the mattress is uncomfortable. If it seems like sensory seeking, then get cheap things that are OK for them to sensory seek and take apart. 
 
Another factor is that a person may need support in learning what property is. When I was adopted, I didn’t understand property because everything in the institution I had lived in was collective, and none of the orphans had property. I would just take things, not knowing it belonged to someone else. Helping to understand by using plain language and social stories can be helpful. It took a couple of years for me understand. It may take time to learn, but there are ways to teach. 
 
Aiyana: I'm going to answer your last two questions together, because they are closely related. How to help depends on the reason for what the kid is doing. Parents usually focus on stopping a particular behavior, and that rarely works. They need to provide alternatives instead, or solve an underlying problem.
 
Curiosity can be a reason. One of my clients always wanted to see how things worked, and what was inside things. He couldn't ask questions, so he tried to figure it out himself by dismantling everything he could. And since things were usually taken away once he broke them, he learned to break things quickly, or in secret. 
 
The answer was to respond to his curiosity. I started explaining more about how things worked. I tried showing him books (which he wasn't very interested in), and videos and shows about how things are made. He went through a phase of grabbing for people's cameras whenever he saw one, which was scary because cameras are fragile and expensive. Eventually I bought an old one from a thrift store for $10 and we took it apart together. He stopped trying to grab them after that.
 
Boredom, restlessness, and dysregulation can lead to destructive behavior. They're related, but not quite the same. The answer is more input to occupy their mind and body. This can be physical exercise, like long walks or swimming, or mental stimuli like audiobooks, educational videos, puzzles, and building/crafting toys. Often, they need a "sensory diet." I have a hard time with that phrase, because it's not a food diet. It means getting the right amount of different sensory inputs. For example, a person might need a hammock or swing at home, being rolled tightly in a blanket every morning, a few hours of music, low lighting, a bath before bed, and a toy for chewing on. 
 
Dysregulation can also have medical causes. A lot of autistic people have allergies, difficulty sleeping, and other conditions that cause general discomfort. Dietary or medication changes may help. If a kid suddenly develops a new distressing behavior, the most likely reason is that they are feeling sick or in pain.
 
Emotional stress is another reason kids get destructive. They may need more downtime, when they aren't scheduled to do anything or reminded to act "normal" (no demands to speak, make eye contact, or sit still). They might need hours alone in silence. Sometimes it means just letting them do whatever makes them happy, including stimming and making noises. Be aware that nonverbal kids often understand everything they hear, even if they don't respond. That includes overhearing how their parents talk about them.
 
They might be expressing a specific emotion. Try to acknowledge their feelings respectfully. For example, you could say, "I understand that you're mad right now, but don't want you to throw dishes. I can give you some alone time if you like." Don't use the choppy baby language that therapists teach. You'd be amazed how many of my clients behave better once their family start talking to them more normally. Parents can also teach/allow other ways to deal with strong feelings, like yelling or punching pillows.  Read more: When Autistic Kids Destroy Things

Comments

no-vac

Many autistic children are excessively aggressive or self-aggressive, because they have markedly elevated androgenic steroids in the blood and brain. This combined with their frequent intellectual deficits makes them prone to destructive or violent behaviors.

Aimee Doyle

I read the whole interview: here are some excerpts from the full interview after the link.

"A good home doesn't have to look a certain way... Stop fighting the inevitable, and learn to be different." And, "If your kid keeps breaking electronics, only buy cheap ones."

Some of this works if parents never take their kids out of the home and if they can "change their mindset" enough to "live with it". The fact they may want to be comfortable in their own homes doesn't matter, apparently, or the loss of a piece of heirloom furniture (their great-grandmother's), so what. And what about siblings, who may have stuff they cherish destroyed? Certainly toddlers aren't going to be able to keep everything - perhaps a beloved teddy bear - away from their autistic sibling. Even older siblings can have stuff destroyed. I know an autistic young man who broke his sister's phone, and all her personal music from high school was lost. Irretrievable, after the phone had been stomped on several times.


And, if your kid ever leaves the house, relatives and friends may not appreciate the reasons for property destruction or be able to take it in stride. Parents of severely impaired kids don't need any more isolation. Schools certainly won't appreciate multiple broken computers or ipads or other electronics - such kids will likely be banned from all computers and never learn those skills. And BTW, not all parents can afford multiple electronics, even if they are "cheap". Group homes (the ultimate destination for many of our kids) will not keep residents who continually break stuff or punch holes in walls...whether group home furniture or other residents' furniture, and by the time a young adult reaches a group home, it may be too late to change ingrained habits. Believe me, if these kids are accepted into group homes (and that's a big if - I speak as a disability attorney), with these behaviors, they will be drugged to the gills.

And regarding the re-direction of behavior. May work in some instances, but I've never personally seen a kid who wants to punch walls redirected to punching pillows. Just not the same impact.

That's why I hate interviews like this. So many questions are unanswered, and if parents can't make these strategies work, well, it's all their fault, anyway. BTW, don't ever, ever, ever, complain.

Carolyn M

Jonathan Rose,

From what I have seen online, the neurodiverse have a tendency to blame parents/caregivers for any maladaptive behavior by individuals who have autism. On the subject of aggression, one individual went so far as to put the word "attacks" in quotation marks and then stated that the person with autism "may have been speaking truth to power."

Jonathan Rose

To add to Carolyn M's point: What if other family members are covered in teeth marks? It's one thing to destroy material objects, but autistic young people can often turn violent against other people (including autistic siblings). The neurodiversity people prefer not to talk about that.

Grace Green

I'm no expert on this, but it seems to me that brain damage, or chronic brain inflammation, could cause any number of unfathomable consequences in terms of distress, suffering, incomprehension along with resultant abnormal behaviour. The comments here are deeply moving. What would "They" do if they had one of these patients in their care? I know - give them a pharmaceutical cosh. The patience of so many parents writing on this website is extraordinary.

Anita D

Beleaguered autism mom your comments are mind blowing. Seriously they do look like a bird at times or other animals.

Carolyn M

One of their statements shows inadequate analysis of possible consequences to a behavior: "No one is going to die if all the furniture is covered in teeth marks."

Possible consequences to the individual who does these behaviors:

1. If the furniture is made of wood, the individual who bites it can damage their teeth. If splinters break off, the individual could have oral damage - or internal damage if the splinters (or small chunks of wood) are swallowed. Internal damage can lead to death if severe.

2. If the furniture is upholstered and parts are bitten off, the individual may choke on them - possibly dying from that action. Damage is also probable if the bitten off portion is swallowed.

If this behavior generalizes to locations other than the individual's home, then it may lead to lessened ability to be taken into the community. Doctors' and dentists' offices may be unwilling to see an individual who has these behaviors. Schools may require parents to transport their school age child who has these behaviors (due to damage of seats on buses).

There may well be other possible consequences to an individual who has these behaviors; these are the ones that came immediately to my mind.

I suspect this article by the neurodiverse was written in response to an article written by Jill Escher for the National Council for Severe Autism blog on June 11.

Aimee Doyle

The interviewees talk about the importance of looking for the underlying issue to address behavioral problems.

However, it's certainly possible to understand what the problem is, yet not be able to solve it. You can understand that your child has gastrointestinal issues, which result in pain and aggression and self-injury, yet there isn't a good medical or supplemental solution to solve that problem. I'd like to see the interviewees address this issue.

Also, my son had extreme anxiety about certain words and would melt down over certain words (or even variations of those words)...common words like cat and dog and teenager (these are just a few of the many, many words he doesn't like) ...we don't know why and he couldn't explain it. We recognized the underlying problem, the anxiety, but drugs didn't resolve the anxiety, supplements didn't resolve the anxiety, behavior mods didn't resolve the anxiety, medical marijuana didn't resolve the anxiety. We tried to avoid words he didn't like, but he generalized and started reacting to all words with a long "o" sound or a short "a" sound. Ignoring the problem didn't work, since he would hit anyone who used a word he didn't like, or hit himself if he heard a word he didn't like in a song, or in a movie, or on the TV set, or said by an unwitting (or forgetful) relative or friend. Talking to him didn't work.

I understand what the interviewees are suggesting , but we've tried a lot of these things without success. I do hate the judgmental tone (toward parents) that I've often seen from TPGA.

Marie

In my son's case, bowel issues can lead to aggressive behavior. I give him a supplement to keep him regular, but sometimes yeast develops for which he has to take an anti fungal. He is 17 and non-verbal, so it's been a guessing game for years when trying to figure out what's bothered him. Thank God with the help of a good doctor, I've been able to help my son when he's in distress. I pray for the parents who aren't as lucky. You are my heroes.

Anita Donnelly

I had strabismus which can be invisible. I talked all the time and a dr told my mom it wAs so I could figure out how far away I was from walls. For the same reason I touched everything. I still do. Poor depth perception. But sometimes it’s there. So imagine going through life with a constantly changing perception of what you see. You hang on more tightly. Or you kick to see where you are. This is just from a visual difference: but I can see if you can’t tell if a bowl is plastic or glass by vision you might want to explore it by dropping it on a hard surface. Or you might want to hear how it sounds. Or you might have wished it bounced and didn’t mean to break it. Read born on a blue day it will blow your mind and make you see your child in a more hopeful light. And I am sorry you have to deal with this. I have personally accidentally broken something Or spilled something at least weekly my whole life due to depth perception and shaky hands (I am not autistic as far as I know). But my ASD son Has an amazing sense of balance and even as a toddler never broke anything or spilled anything . Ever. And looked at me in shock when I did break things or spill them. Now he laughs with me. Which is a gift from all the DAN Drs who helped us chelate and supplement him enough to escape most of autism. My heart breaks this hasn’t happened for all . That you all haven’t gotten your child’s laugh and humor back. I pray all the time for cures and treatments. For respite in the meantime. For insights and compassion from those who are in your lives.

Beleaguered Autism Mom

I wonder if uncontrollable urges are from DNA insertions. Years ago I noticed an ASD boy in the school yard who would bow before he began to run for no apparent reason. I thought, why does he run like a chicken? More recently, when I saw a post on AoA with a photo of a young man precariously perched on vertical support of a staircase, I had the same thought - that is bird behavior. Why are so many with ASD stuck in fight or flight mode? Listen to Teresa Deisher:
https://childrenshealthdefense.org/news/robert-f-kennedy-jr-q-a-with-dr-theresa-deisher/ . The foreign DNA insertions are coming via vaccine syringes. As far as I know - chicken eggs are still used for the flu shot. According to the interview, babies must be born alive (dead tissue doesn't work) to harvest their hearts and brains for vaccines. I don't understand why more people are not outraged.

ain't offering my name on this one

Maybe they are in an imaginary world of video games and don't know their own strengths.

As in coming down the stairs and box kicking a hole in the wall. I fixed it, but I should have made him fix it. That way he would know it is harder to fix things that tear up things.

Or he punched my brand new refrig and dented it a little bit. Well I get to point that out every time we are in the kitchen getting ready to eat. Never let him forget it.

Or as the hole in the shower, He says he was about to have a seizure --- I say he is lying and he was again fantasizing about being a great video game fighter.

He is going to fix that one with bondo; He is going to watch the video of how to on the computer and then he is going to sand and paint.

He likes puzzles? Yes he does. IF he breaks a bowl or a plate he gets to glue it back together, and then I later throw it away. I do understand the clumsiness that comes with all of this, I am not mad

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)