I remember when I first started working in a childcare centre many moons ago we had a baby that was constantly biting and it caused the staff quite a bit of stress, not to mention the poor parents. We constantly assured them that it was age appropriate and we had a plan in place to monitor them closely. This behaviour continued up until toddler years and then just like magic it disappeared. That's the thing with biting, usually after some positive guidance and interventions children naturally grow out of it. It can be common in the early years and usually has a lot to do with age, learning the skills to interact and communicate.
However, more often than not this is not the case for children on the spectrum.
A common concern that many parents of autistic children have is when their child starts experiencing autism rage and autism anger. I know firsthand how upsetting it can be to deal with. It makes you question your parenting abilities and leaves you feeling overwhelmed that sometimes you literally have no clue as to what the hell you are doing.
Rest assured. You are not alone and autistic child behaviour problems and harmful actions such as biting, pinching or scratching can be a common behaviour for children on the spectrum. While this may bring some form of comfort it doesn’t take away the fact that you now have another ‘faze’ to try to navigate through, oh the joys!
Aggressive behaviour in children with autism can be quite common and a major stress for parents. Their ability to communicate and manage emotions can be extremely challenging at times and biting can be a result of their way to cope.
So, you have found your way to this blog for a reason. Perhaps to seek some answers around autism anger management, to find some coping strategies or simply to seek some comfort that you’re not alone. I get it, biting isn’t nice. The brutal marks it can leave, the pain it can cause is enough to make anyone freak out that their child is the culprit.
So, what exactly are you meant to do to stop biting? Is there a magic formula devised by those that have encountered this path before you? If only it was that simple! But I can bring some reassurance in the fact that there are strategies that can assist with autism anger management.
I think it’s important to firstly consider and rule out any underlying medical conditions which may be contributing to their behaviour. Are they in any pain or physical distress and is the action seeking to deliver some sort of comfort?
From here it’s helpful to try to understand the reasons they are biting.
When behaviours don’t make sense, we need to perform a bit of detective work and figure out why? Understanding their ‘why’ will often lead you to recognize appropriate ways to try to amend the issue.
The easiest way to do this is to start a diary. Record the day and time of the biting episode along with any information about the behaviours before, this can help to determine possible triggers. It is also useful to jot down the environment as this will show if there is a theme occurring at specific places.
I totally get that this can seem a little overwhelming, I remember oh too well when a therapist first suggested a behaviour diary for my daughter (insert stressed out overwhelmed emoji face here!). My initial thought was how the hell am I going to manage to keep a diary of behaviours when I struggle enough to write down appointments in my current diary, not to mention ‘mum life’ day to day shenanigans! But it doesn’t have to be complex and perhaps after a week or so you will begin to see a pattern forming.
Let's be honest there can be many triggers that can generate a child to go into an autistic rage but hopefully with the help of a diary you can begin to determine what the triggers are. A few to look out for;
-Tiredness and fatigue
-Lack of ability to be able to communicate their needs
-Frustration and anger
-Feeling overwhelmed in their environment
-Having trouble understanding and feeling confused
-Poor self-regulation skills
-Anxious or stressed
-Unexpected change in routine
-Escape or avoidance to do something
So, you have an idea of possible autism triggers. Where to from here? How should you react when your child engages in biting or other forms of harmful behaviours? Firstly, it’s important to seek professional advice, especially if the biting is quite aggressive and/or constant.
For me biting was one of the most severe actions my daughter presented and to begin with my attitude was like ‘nope, this is too much! No way I am tolerating this’. But overreacting to the situation actually wasn’t getting us anywhere.
I think the most helpful thing to remember was that the behaviour was coming from a place of distress or frustration, my daughter wasn’t being ‘naughty’ and patience was key. Making a point of constantly reminding myself of this allowed me to handle the situation in a calm and organised manner.
Limiting eye contact, a simple ‘no biting’ while removing from the situation is often the most effective way to manage the biting episode. Long explanations about why biting is not allowed will not be helpful. I learnt this the hard way and spent far too many occasions trying to talk to my daughter when she simply couldn’t take in or understand anything I was saying.
Further interventions (social stories/visuals) and discussions work best when your child is calm.
Remembering Patience, Persistence and Consistency is KEY!
During this process another fundamental action to keep in mind is to strongly praise any and all positive behaviours. Pay close attention to when they may choose another option rather than bite. Let's be honest, even as adults we all love to hear when we are doing well. It gives us motivation and fuels future actions. Kiddies thrive off positive reinforcement!
Aggressive behaviour in children with autism usually means they are seeking sensory stimuli of some sort to assist in regulating emotions. Perhaps providing alternative solutions to fuel this fulfillment can be used to deter the biting. For example, offering plenty of oral experiences can send strong signals to the brain to help maintain control.
- Offering snacks
- Blowing bubbles
- Chewing gum
- Crunchy foods
- Sucking on ice
- Biting chew toys of appropriate sensory tools
- Gross motor play – jumping, lifting, pushing
- Stress ball
- Fidget toys
Other ideas to keep in mind could be to create visuals for times of frustration - picture of a distressed face with a picture of two activities to choose from to calm down.
To plan for situations that may be unfamiliar or difficult – noise cancellation headphones for loud environments.
Routine board - offers predictability and a sense of knowing what to prepare for.
Social stories – to explain biting and how it hurts people and what can be done instead.
Autistic child behaviour problems can be very concerning and distressing for parents but it is important to remember that you are not dealing with it alone and it is common. The hardest task is finding out the why? What are the autism triggers that are fuelling this behaviour? Perhaps you have written a diary and still aren’t any closer to finding the answer, this is ok. Yes, you have a child with autism, this however doesn’t make you an expert on all thing’s autism related. We learn as we go through trial and error, through other parents’ journeys and from the advice and guidance of therapists. So, rest assured, this too is another obstacle you will conquer together!