Autism and Hitting | Resolving Autism Aggression

When people find out I’m a Behavior Analyst and work with children with autism, the most common question I get is “how do I stop my child from hitting?” Today, I have some strategies on how to deal with autism and hitting.



A few months ago I published two blogs on the subject of reducing problem behaviors. But since autism aggression is such a big issue, I could literally talk about this every single week; in a way, I actually do. Even if I’m talking about teaching a child to answer questions or tie his shoes, half of the equation of teaching a child any skill is considering how to best prevent and treat problem behaviors.

Before I get started with some strategies on how to stop autism and hitting, I have a disclaimer. This information and all the information in my video blogs are not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation with medical and behavioral professionals. Only qualified professionals who know and work with people with autism on an ongoing basis can adequately assess and supervise a child’s program. I always recommend including a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst on a child or client’s team and getting an ABA Analysis. This is especially important if a child is in danger of hurting themselves or others.

Autism and Hitting

With any behavior we want to decrease, especially physical aggression, it starts with an assessment. How often does the child hit? Who or what is the child hitting? Some kids hit walls, others hit their own heads. Kids could also hit their siblings or teachers. Also look at whether the hit is with an open hand or a slap, or a closed fist like a punch. Take into account the child’s age, size and strength. If we are talking about a two-year-old that’s kind of flailing and hitting, versus a 15-year old who’s punching people in the face, those are very different circumstances of the same challenging behavior. The most important things to assess are the situations where the child is most likely to hit and then to analyze the function of the challenging behavior.

Assessment on Tablet with Everett Pointing

Find the “Why” for Autism and Hitting

Some kids have aggressive outbursts with people who put demands on them or try to tell them they can’t have something they really want. Other kids have aggressive outbursts when they’re not engaged or when they’re bored or when they’re in pain. Another important thing to look at is when the hitting does not occur. So, if you said your son won’t hit if he was given free access to his iPad all day long or if he’s in a swimming pool, then that will give you important information as you make a plan to understand how to stop autism and hitting or at least reduce the behavior.

Track Other Behaviors

The final thing to look at in terms of assessment is how frequently the hitting and other problem behaviors are occurring. The thing about hitting is that it usually doesn’t happen in isolation. Hitting usually happens with screaming, with kicking, with falling to the ground or the floor, and sometimes with biting, too. A lot of people treat problem behaviors without knowing the answers to these important questions first. Interventions end up backfiring and the behaviors can often worsen, especially if there’s no Board Certified Behavioral Analyst to help assess and help the family or school team make a plan.

Make an Autism and Hitting Plan

After fully assessing the hitting, make a plan around how to prevent hitting. Once hitting starts, it can become dangerous for the child and for others. Making a plan is really going to be helpful if, while you were assessing, you checked when the behavior happened, as well as when the behavior never happened. Most people are way too reactive to problem behaviors and we need to turn that around and look for ways to prevent problem behaviors. You might want to increase the activities for your child or client that don’t cause a hitting reaction.

Now, if they like swimming in the pool, you wouldn’t be able to use that plan all year long. The child or client also might not hit when using an iPad, and you certainly don’t want to let a child play with screens all day long. As you increase some of the preferred activities, also increase reinforcement for not hitting during those times. Make a plan to increase demands and slowly fade out some of those reinforcing activities. That way, when it is winter and you can’t go to the pool, you can still work with the child on not hitting.

Three-Step Guide

When thinking about how to stop a child from hitting, take it day by day or step by step. I have a three-step guide to help you assess, plan and even learn how to start taking easy data.

To get things turned around for any child with autism download my free three-step guide, which covers the three steps you can take today to help move forward in starting to turn things around. Whether you’re a novice parent or a seasoned autism professional I know you’ll find some helpful new tools in this guide.

Assessment on Tablet with Everett Pointing