Autism and Destructive Behaviour

I don’t like to be negative about autism, but the fact is that autism often comes with certain challenges. Today I want to focus on one of them: destructive behaviour. This type of behaviour can often accompany a meltdown and can be one of the most upsetting and frustrating aspects of living with an autistic child.

Broken Things

Our house has had its fair share of broken things. Generally, it tends to be gaming controllers. The controller is often seen as the cause of frustrations during gameplay, hence it will end up being bitten, thrown up a wall or pushed into a dustbin. However, we’ve also had our fair share of other “casualties.” Our walls are a bit dented and scratched in places. We have five dining chairs instead of a set of six. We are on our fourth broken TV set.

I read an excellent article by another autism parent, showing that we are not alone. I felt an instant cameraderie with the writer of the article, as though we were members of an exclusive club; the brotherhood of dented walls. But how can destructive behaviour be managed? And how do autistic people comprehend the destruction that they create?

Autism and Perception of Destructive Behaviour

I can’t speak for every case, but I think for a lot of autistic people there is an inability to cope with the aftermath of a destructive rampage. The child has calmed down, so therefore expects everything to return to normal as it was before the meltdown. Consequences simply don’t occur to them. “I was angry. I threw the game controller up the wall. But I’m calm now and it still doesn’t work.”

As parents we can make a big mistake in trying to shield our children from the natural consequences of their actions. We fear that they will never cope with the broken controller, so rush out and buy a new one. The child learns that there are no real consequences. The magic fairy has come along and fixed everything. Calm has been restored. For now.

But the truth is, that by shielding the child, we are actually exacerbating the problem. Broken things stay broken and that lesson needs to be learned. It’s a hard one for parents. We are conditioned to want to make everything right. But long term, this doesn’t do us or our kids any favours.

Autism and Destructive Behaviour: Natural Consequences

So I now let the broken things stay broken. Games have to be played on a TV with a less than perfect display. The thick streak of solid deodorant smeared down the bedroom wall has not been magically cleaned away. Broken games consoles remain unplayable. Living with the consequences of destructive behaviour may cause a child to think twice about doing it again.

As well as this, it’s a good idea to introduce more immediate consequences, tailored to the particular child. In our case, any destructive behaviour results in an immediate ban of all electronic games for the rest of the day. A favourite game may be put in “game jail,” only to be released after a full day of good behaviour from the child. These methods haven’t prevented every single meltdown or destructive episode, but they have helped.

I’d be really interested to hear how others reading the blog have coped with negative Behaviours. Please feel free to share your parenting strategies in the comment box below.

5 thoughts on “Autism and Destructive Behaviour”

  1. We have had our share of broken things. Like you I won’t fix them. We have also made him pay for things he has broken. This shows him there are consequences for behavior. Also I explain very clearly when he’s calmed down that just because he’s calm, doesn’t mean the situation goes back to normal. I then ask him to give me some space. I want him to know that his actions affect others.

  2. I really enjoy reading your blog. I am a mum of a child with Autism and also academic/ educationalist/ trainer and a speaker. I have been organising range of Autism talks/ workshops, etc and now in a process of writing up my talk for another coming event on Thursday, in Bristol (https://info.uwe.ac.uk/events/event.aspx?id=24265). Our previous title was a bit different, as aimed to focus on the challenges and to offer a safe platform for the parents to talk: “Learning to love- parenting a child with Autism”. Whilst promoting the event, I have received a response from a number of mothers (mainly autistic mums themselves) who disagreed on a title and on a stressful, anxious and a rather difficult perspective of parenting a child with Autism. As an effect of these, I’ve decided to change the title. However, as a mum myself who struggled to raise my son that resulted in a breakage of my marriage and in emotional distress, I’ve decided to raise this issue again. I would like to your blog as an response to my explanation to a title change. Can I please do it?

    Best,

    Aga

    1. Hi Aga, Glad you enjoy the blog. I think that sometimes when writing or speaking about autism it can be very difficult to find the right terminology as it can be easy to offend people unintentionally. I had a similar experience myself a few years ago when I tried to reach out to an autistic lady online and commend her but she misunderstood my comments and took it badly. I think you are doing really well raising awareness x

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