Autism and Violence: Understanding Autism In the Midst of Media Reports
Lately there have been a lot of news articles about violence and autistic children and violence, and a lot of parents concerned for their children when an autistic child is around them. Â As a parent of an autistic child, I have had some of these concerns brought to my attention with little reason other than the news media hype. Â So, as I have explained to other parents about my child, I think it's a good time to make it public. Â Understanding AutismAutism is, as I have posted before, a genetic predisposition for increased brain size. Â There are currently 10 suspected genes, with six of them being identified, that can each individually cause autism, and the effect is accumulative if more than one gene is predisposed. Â These genes cause swelling and enlarged brain gray matter, which increase the processing of data in the brain to an overwhelming point, causing meltdowns. Â For instance the data that is read from looking at one's face is so intense that many autistic children cannot look anyone in the eye. Â Because of this condition, autistic children are slow to develop social skills. Â They don't like to play with other children, they don't want to be bothered with other people. Â They are intensely focused on their task and if interrupted, they get angry. Â They also do not process auditory responses or body language separately as do "normal" children, but need a combination of both in order to understand. Â Hence, just waving your finger silently will be ignored, or calling out the child's name alone will be ignored. Â Sarcasm, anger, jokes.. Â these things are generally lost on autistic children because they don't understand the subtle, non-verbal hints that identify these subtle social situations. Â This is the basis of what autism really is. Â With this foundation of understanding, perhaps you can better understand the social situations that occur around autistic children. Â Autism and ViolenceAutistic children are not any more predisposed to violence than any other child. Â Period. Â They can get angry, hurt, frustrated, and feel hated just like any other child. Â They also are more prone to getting frustrated and angry if they are forced into social situations that interrupt their current task. Â But that doesn't make them more prone to violence. Â As a matter of fact, they are more likely to do injury to themselves than to other people. Â So why are reports of autistic children and young adults engaged in violence more prominent in the news? Â Because autism is scary. Â We don't know what causes it directly, we don't know how each autistic child will react in a social situation, because every autistic child is different. Â But keep in mind that there are plenty of reports of violence among young children that are not autistic. Â It's just not news because they are normal children. Â What's interesting is that no one has crunched the numbers to see, statistically, whether or not autistic children are more prone to being bullies than normal children. Â My guess is that if someone actually did crunch the numbers, they would either find little evidence to prove that autistic children are any more of a danger than normal children in any given social situation. Â Autism and FearSo why do we have this conversation? Â Why are school boards around the country being threatened by parents of "normal" children to take autistic children out of schools? Â Because parents are scared. Â Idiots and fear-mongers have whipped up myths about autism in order to profit by it, and as such parents want to justify their actions out of fear. Â But instead of wanting to learn more about autism and children with autism, they prefer to label them as they would a thing, and dehumanize them in comparison to their children. Â I recall a made-for-TV movie with George C. Scott and Judith Light called "The Ryan White Story", about a young hemophiliac who contracted AIDS from a transfusion. Â The young boy was kicked out of school because of the perceived danger to other children, and when he was allowed back into school because of a lawsuit he was forced to be segregated. Â All because parents were panicking, afraid of the then misunderstood disease. Â It is now happening all over again with autistic children. Â What To Do As a Teacher, Parent, or CaregiverSo what do we do if we find behavior that is not appropriate? Â It does need to be addressed, and yes, autistic children CAN learn new behaviors. Â Autistic children are not stupid. Â Quite the opposite, in fact. Â You just need to address them with both a physical motion (not hitting or restraining, please! Â We are not in the Middle Ages), and a verbal command. Â Often times simply placing a hand on the shoulder or arm can get their attention if they are not in the middle of a meltdown. Â If they are, you may just need to wait until the child looks at you. Â Also, do not use subtle body language. Â You need to be as direct as possible. Â They will not understand the "silent treatment", being shunned, or being sat in a corner. Â Be clear, be authoritative, and be firm. Â Do not yell, do not be threatening, and do not try to restrain the child. Â Treat them as you would any other child, but without the subtle comments, sarcasm, cutting remarks, or other methods of "humbling" children. Â They will either not be noticed, or do more damage than you can imagine.Something else that would be of great benefit for children around the autistic child is education. Â Have an autism specialist visit the class and explain autism to the entire class. Â Help them understand what their peer is going through, what they mean by their comments and actions, and how best to address them. Â Education is generally the best method for all concerned. Â If parents are concerned, have a special parent student meeting to help them understand the science behind autism. Â Let them know that autistic children are just like all other children, they just process information differently. Â They still have feelings like other children, they think, laugh, love, hate, envy, and live like other children, just in a different world.