Parents, caregivers and mental health professionals have often reported violence and aggression in children or adolescents with autistic disorder. However, most of these observations derived from anecdotal reports, and studies remain limited on the frequency and characterization of aggression in autism. Thus, researchers set out to better characterize and understand the different types of aggressive behaviors displayed by a large group of individuals with autism in different observational situations using objective measures. Check the end of this report for a link to download this open access study.
The study was conducted with 74 children and adolescents with autism and 115 typically developing control individuals who were matched for sex, age, and pubertal stage. Other-Injurious Behaviors (OIB) were assessed in three observational situations (parents at home, two caregivers at day-care, and a nurse and a child psychiatrist during blood drawing) using validated scales.
The frequency of OIB was significantly higher in individuals with autism compared to typically developing control individuals during the blood drawing (23% vs. 0%, P < 0 .01). The parents observed significantly less OIB in their children than caregivers (34% vs. 58%, P < 0.05). In addition, the most frequent concurrent behaviors occurring just before the appearance of OIB in individuals with autism were anxiety-related behaviors and excitation according to the parental as well as the caregiver observation.
These results suggest that in a stressful situation, such as the blood drawing, individuals with autism release their stress through behaviors, such as OIB, whereas typically developing individuals regulate and express their stress through cognitive skills, such as mental coping strategies, symbolization skills with representation and anticipation of the stressful situation, social interaction, and verbal or non-verbal communication.
The findings underline also the key role of the environment in assessing OIB and developing therapeutic perspectives with an individual who modulates his/her behavior according to the environment, and an environment that perceives this behavior and reacts to it with different tolerance thresholds according to the observers.
Material adapted from PLoS ONE.
Download / Reference
Bronsard G., Botbol M., & Tordjman S. (2010. Aggression in Low Functioning Children and Adolescents with Autistic Disorder. PLoS ONE 5(12): e14358. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0014358