Q&A Session 9
Q&A Session 9 with the Director of The Son-Rise Program, Bryn N. Hogan
Topic: Dealing with Agression and Autism
Q: My daughter, Schaefer Archard is seven years old
with a diagnosis of PDD with autistic spec., language disorder, EXTREME
ADHD, she is very impulsive. She also has epilepsy. She takes tegretal
and risperdol. She has not had a seizure since July 1997, since she
began taking the tegretal. Our biggest issue we are having with her at
this time is aggression. She will push and bite other children for no
apparent reason. She is disciplined for this and will even tell us “No
bite” but she continues to have problems with this. any suggestions
would be greatly appreciated!
A: Many children will bite, scratch, kick, hit, and throw things
unexpectedly at people, among other things. There are generally three
things to check out right away with your daughter. They are:
- How you (and the people around your daughter) react to the biting.
When bit, most people react both outwardly (by yelling, making pained
expressions on their face, pulling away quickly, among other things) and
inwardly (getting mad, frustrated, annoyed, upset, or another kind of
Many children will do behaviors specifically because of the reaction
they get from the people around them. It can be very entertaining and
interesting for some children to watch their parents gesticulate and
have tremendous facial expression. You become like a cartoon, and most
kids really like cartoons, specifically because of their exaggerated
quality. We have found that whatever you react to in a child grows.
Meaning, if your daughter bites you and you make a big deal out of it,
she is more likely to continue biting you, because it’s fun to watch you
make a big deal out of anything. Once you’ve been bitten, protect
yourself from it happening again, in a calm and easy way. Do not try and
discipline her right now... you are most likely just encouraging the
behavior by yelling or speaking with an irritated voice, etc.
Also, your internal reaction is vital as well. It’s not that you are
supposed to fake feeling calm, but that you actually do feel calm. This
is important because we see repeatedly that children can sense how the
people around them feel emotionally. If you feel bad (or sad, angry,
frustrated, etc.), this counts as a reaction too! And you very well may
be encouraging the behavior by having a discomfort. For ideas on how to
feel comfortable when this is happening, I recommend the book,
“Happiness is a Choice”, by Barry Neil Kaufman.
The second thing to check out is: Am I giving her what she wants
when she bites? I once worked with a mother whose child would throw
75-minute tantrums every day. “What happens when he finishes his
tantrum?” I asked her. “I take him to Taco Bell and get him soft tacos.”
she said. “Why do you do that?” “Well, he's cried for so long, I figure
if he wants a taco that bad, I'll give it to him”
Inadvertently, she was systematically teaching him that throwing a
75-minute tantrum worked really well to get what he wanted. This is just
one example. The idea is to ask yourself, does the biting work to move
me? Do I give her something because she bit me that I wouldn't have
otherwise given her? If so, it’s important that you change that. As long
as a child believes that biting works the best to get things, that will
be what they resort to when nothing else is working. So instead, when
your child communicates in a way that you want, have that work the best!
As a side note: I am not encouraging you to give your child ice
cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if they ask for it in a nice way.
You can still set whatever boundaries you feel are important.
Another thing you can try: if she starts to bite, or you see warning
signs that it’s coming soon, offer her different physical stimulations.
For example, squeeze her hands and feet, if she allows it, and even
massage her jaw. Some children get bursts of energy, which can be
released by your squeezes. You can also offer other kinds of physical
activity, like doing a chase game.
Q&A Session 9