Autism and Hitting: Autistic children deserve to be out in the community


What to do about autism and hitting?

Autism and hitting is such a touchy subject. Last week, Charlie hit a little boy at the park. The child’s dad walked over, rightfully angry, to tell me that, though he was okay, that Charlie had struck his little boy. I apologized profusely for not having watched him more closely and explained how Charlie has autism and doesn’t understand the consequence of his actions. He doesn’t seemingly intend to hurt people — it appears that he swats at people because he thinks it’s fun. It’s almost a sensory thing for him.

How to stop hitting in kids with severe autism?

We’ve been trying hard to stop this behavior, but it’s challenging. Charlie occasionally hits us, but it’s mostly strangers, or his brother, who gets hit. Sometimes, he’ll poke people in the face, and sometimes, like at the park, he’ll swat or slap them. I, of course, feel horrible about what happened, and I completely understand why the dad was angry. We try to watch Charlie as closely as we can, but it only takes a second for him to elope or lash out.

What’s the solution, then?

Charlie deserves to be out, in the community, as much as other kiddos. Would the dad have been as angry at me if he had noticed Charlie’s disability? We need to continue to build awareness and understanding of disabilities, invisible and not, and make sure that caregivers get the help and support they need.

I posted the above on Instagram and Facebook autism page, The Autism Cafe, and I’m genuinely shocked by the amount of judgment and superiority I received from a number of your comments on my last post. Though I do not think my post was at all unclear, I’ll repeat some things from the original post in case I’m wrong about that, for clarity’s sake:

Autism and hitting conclusion

  • Autism is not an *excuse* for hitting other people. But it is a contributing factor. It’s one of the primary reasons. And, as I mentioned in the original post, another reason for this incident was that I wasn’t watching him closely enough. •The dad was rightfully upset.
  • We’ve been trying hard to stop the hitting behavior. It’s a focus at home and in ABA therapy.
  • Just because it worked to tell your particular child, “no, that hurts — keep your hands to yourself,” it doesn’t mean it will work with all autistic children. And in Charlie’s case, suggesting something like this, while understanding the severe language delays he lives with, shows little more than the ignorance from which this type of suggestion comes.
  • Unfortunately, Charlie often doesn’t understand the consequence of his actions, including comprehending a phrase like “hitting hurts.”
  • Considering the relative severity of the single incident we’re talking about here, Charlie still deserves the opportunity to go out, to play on the playground, and to do it in the presence of other kids. Remember, if you know one autistic person, you know one autistic person.

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  • Reply
    2022-05-18 at 7:31 PM

    If your child fails to understand consequence, even if his disability were more visible, yes the father would rightly be as mad because you the parent are negligent bringing your hitting child out in the public and endangering other children. Your child’s rights don’t supercede the safety of others

    • Reply
      2022-05-18 at 11:30 PM

      Your response is not only extremely ignorant, but incredibly privileged. Sit down, check your privilege and realize you are talking about a person. A literal child.

      Her child’s has the SAME rights as you do last I freaking check d this is America. Land of the ADA. Sit down, shut up, and recognize your privilege and the fact your are literally advocating for a child to not be able to socialize and interact in the same world you live in.

      Get over yourself and don’t cut yourself on all that ‘edge’

    • Reply
      2022-05-18 at 11:31 PM

      Do think you neurotypical kids don’t hit other kids at the playground? Because you have a rude awakening coming. Like it or not, kids are mean to each other. It’s sucks but it happens. And autistic kids are no different in that regard. But autistic kids rarely strike out with out reason. Where a neurotypical kid will hit someone just because they don’t like them, an autistic kid will more likely walk away. So when if an autistic child hits your kid, it’s because they acted on the autistic kid in some way.

      • Reply
        2022-05-19 at 1:41 AM

        Are you a BCBA?! If not, you clearly didn’t do a functional analysis on his behavior to determine the function

    • Reply
      2023-05-30 at 2:32 PM

      Bitch he’s a child

    • Reply
      2023-09-12 at 2:41 AM

      The nature of my own disabilities is not autism. Having spent school year in self contained special education class. There were kids who weren’t aware they were hitting or hurting you. Cutting them off from neurotypical children doesn’t help them or their parents. They deserve to be with everyone else.

  • Reply
    2022-05-18 at 11:32 PM

    Nope “Kat”, we are not doing that here. We are not shaming parents. All children have a right to be in public spaces. Throwing the word “negligent” around does not make your opinion any more correct.
    Golden rule, if you can’t say anything nice, zip it.

  • Reply
    2022-05-18 at 11:44 PM

    You seem rather triggered Kat. At no point does Eileen say Charlies rights supercede anothers, at no point does she even judge or complain that the father was angry, she clearly says he was understandably angry. But she is also right, 1 incident is no reason to deny a child the right to be out in public. I’ve seen toddlers do far worse or kids push kids down the slide etc because they want a turn. Are you suggesting all kids be caged indoors because let’s face it, any child is capable of hitting another in the moment. Maybe it’s just kids generally you don’t like…. If not I don’t really understand where your comment comes from other than maybe your own judgements or insecurities

  • Reply
    2022-05-18 at 11:47 PM

    Eileen, I feel this SO deeply and I appreciate the nuance you try to draw here.

    All of us deserve to be and need to be IN community. My little is autistic and not severely autistic. We struggle in a similar way, whether at a park or even at school. It has happened that my kiddo hit/swats/pokes in the face/pinches another child at school even while there are two adults less than a foot away. All of those in my circle know how quickly this can happen.

    My reflection is that I have found other children to be more forgiving, more understanding, and more supportive than the majority of adults. The peers know it is wrong and seem to understand that my kiddo cannot NOT do it. My hope resides in the spirit of peers who see my real kiddo, with all his quirks, and accept him none-the-less.

    I know they have taught me so much through their reactions. I hope other adults can learn from this wisdom too…

  • Reply
    2022-05-19 at 4:30 AM

    Ugh I deal with this regularly when in public. It’s hard I am even the most helicopter parent a parent could probably be but I want my son to be able to socialize with other kids. When he does hit or push someone I make sure we say sorry and we are working on a three strikes rule not always is it hitting or pushing, eloping or taking others toys without permission happens. As a parent with an Autistic son just give us some grace. All kids hit all kids learn just in their own timing.

  • Reply
    Cheryl Hendrie
    2023-09-05 at 9:19 PM

    I have a severally autistic grandson he kicked a man at the public bus stop by the school this man is trying to sue him .The man is showing up in our neighborhood and trying to provoke my grandson

  • Reply
    2024-01-20 at 1:30 PM

    For a year I have been scared of taking my son to the playground. Many children don’t understand that he doesn’t know how to have a conversation. He is often rejected by other children because of this. Every so often there will be a very patient child who doesn’t care about my son’s lack of speech and they can play together.

    I’ve often had to be his advocate. Bullying is very prevalent because my son appears like any child but doesn’t understand the concepts of hide and go seek or tag. He wants to play, but the children get angry at him for breaking the rules. He gets yelled at and I have to intervene explaining that he doesn’t understand. He’s not trying to cause issues, he just wants to have fun!

    Sometimes I leave crying because I don’t want him to be rejected, but we are becoming braver and I have to reset my expectations. It’s understandable why people don’t understand.

    There’s only one other time that I saw a child like my son. And it really stood out. There was a grandfather and his granddaughter playing on the slide. And he had to be by her side all the time. He warned everyone that she would hit or pull hair if anyone got too close. My little boy loves to get really close to people. That’s his way of saying hi, he got hit a few times even though I tried to keep him back. My
    son finally understood he had to back off. But he still tried to be friends with her, my son doesn’t give up easily! I told the grandfather that I was so glad that they were at the playground. It’s such a rare occurrence to see children like this at the playground. It made me feel comforted to see how brave this grandfather was, and how joyful he was to see her going down the slide confidently.

    Anyway, you are right! These children do have a right. And sometimes it’s very very hard.

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