For When You Feel Like Your Child’s Behaviour Is Never Going To Change

Sometimes it's so easy to get consumed by all the difficulty of yours and your child's life. 

It can be overwhelming. It can feel relentless.  It can feel like there's no solution.

The first thing to know is that it's completely okay to feel this way.  There are going to be days when you take a look at your life, take a deep breath and think to yourself, "This is my life and I'm exhausted."

During these times, take a deep breath, look around you and accept the chaos and slow your breathing down. 

When you slow your breathing down, you allow for the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in which will enable the conscious part of the brain to come back on line and make sense of everything you're experiencing.  From that place you can start to become solution focussed about your reality. 

Then, recognise that what you just did, was only focussed on part of your life, not the entirety of it.   

You see, we live in a world of polarity.  Where there is a high, there is a low and where there is a low, there is also highs going on too.

The problem is, your mind likes to keep finding evidence of what you have your attention on, so if you keep looking for the lows, guess what you'll find more of?

That's right.  The lows. 

We have to recognise that all experiences have an expiry date. 

Although your child might always have autism, their life isn't always difficult.  Your life isn't always difficult. 

However, because the difficult aspects of life are so dominant sometimes, the mind starts to draw the conclusion that it's ALWAYS difficult. 

Once the mind gets into those absolute statements - ALWAYS,  NEVER, EVERYONE DOES THIS,  NO ONE ever helps me - it's only bringing to you evidence of that focus. 

What we need to remember to do, is look at the polarity of life so that you are looking at the balance of things, not just a narrow minded viewpoint of it. 

So when you're feeling overwhelmed by a moment try saying this to yourself...

This too shall pass.  Everything rises and passes away. Everything.

Take a moment to look for evidence of how EVERYTHING comes and goes.

Find examples in life like how flowers grow and die, snakes shed their skin and transform into something else.   

Even the cells in your body die off and get replaced. You’re not even the exact same person you were yesterday!  

Think about another time you had a problem and it came and went. 

Think about times when your child’s behaviour escalated and then died down.  

Find evidence of the impermanence of life to help you to accept the reality of this unwanted moment and trust that it will pass too, just like everything eventually does in life.

There’s no need to get fixated on the unwanted.  That will only keep you from moving through it quicker.

Create a timeline that illustrates the highs and lows in life (visually or verbally).

This exercise is particularly good for those who tend to catastrophise their day. You will often find yourself saying, “this ALWAYS happens to me” or  “I NEVER get to….”, or “My WHOLE day is bad” 

Pick a period of time (the last day, week, month or even year) and create a time line that illustrates all the highs and lows that have occurred during this time.  

Remind yourself that these jagged lines that illustrate the highs and lows of life IS reality.  This isn’t you having a wrong life!   This is you having a life.

Looking at your timeline visually helps you to remember that life is just a succession of experiences – some of them unwanted and some of them wanted.  

Also, it helps you to see that out of the wanted came the unwanted and out of the unwanted came the wanted.   

We often fear the unwanted and try to predict and control our future because we fear that it is going to go wrong.  

You try to control in an attempt to get life to go back to this straight line where everything is perceived as right again, but that’s not how life goes.

We need to learn to embrace all aspects of life because we never know where life is going to take us and how those perceived unwanted times can actually lead us to the wanted times.

For example, that job your partner lost from the example at the beginning of this lesson could very well lead to another job with more pay, or more satisfying or where you meet people who become life-long friends or connections that allow for other experiences to occur.

The opportunities are endless for exploring new experiences that are enjoyable. Let life be interesting because of its twists and turns.  There is no wrong path!  There’s just life unfolding.  

Are you giving in to your child if you have to leave an event?

Think of a situation when you’ve been out in public or at a social event and your child suddenly started to become overwhelmed, overstimulated and started to become angry, have a meltdown or get aggressive with other kids.

You know that they’ve reached their window of tolerance in regards to being out and about and you start to pack up and go home.

You may start to stew, “why am I letting this child dictate when we’re going to leave. He/she is going to think they are ruling the roost and will walk all over me.”

Or perhaps someone else who may be ignorant or naive to the challenges of autism says something like, “why do you cave to your child and let them rule you and what you do.”

Here’s another perspective...

In a separate situation, let’s say you had a child that had just had surgery or had an accident they were physically healing from and you were out at an event.

They were going really well for a period of time and then they started to hurt from the injury or surgery, started to get really tired and voiced to you that they needed to go home and rest because they needed to restore their energy.

Would you feel they too were ‘dictating’ to you or demanding something unreasonably?

The truth is, your child who is overwhelmed and overstimulated is also communicating to you that they need to retreat, rest and ‘heal’ from what may feel like a mental injury to them because they’ve held their anxiety together for long enough or because their senses are literally hurting them and exhausting them.

Both scenarios are equally valid, don’t you think?

As usual, how you feel about it though comes down to your perception of your child’s behaviour.

Once again, your child needs you to really ‘get’ what’s going on for them and not assume that they’re trying to make your life miserable or that they are acting like a spoilt brat.

Rarely is that actually the case.

Food for thought...

Stopping your irritability when you’re sleep deprived

Sleep deprivation is one of the most challenging situations to finding your calm when faced with challenging situations.

Aside from advising you to make your sleep as much of a priority as possible – asking others to help you with your children so you can catch up on some sleep; sleeping while your children nap or go to school,  having a rest when you can; meditating in an attempt to feel rested etc, -  I want to also focus on a mindfulness approach to dealing with the reality of sleep deprivation, because we all know that the above mentioned advice rarely is an otpin.

When we are feeling tired, we often go into resistance. We recognise how tired we are and we roll around in a story about how tired we are and how we never get any sleep (the missing out lens) and how we’re never going to be able to get through the day, and how we just want our children to co-operate.

We create this momentum of resistance, resistance and more resistance to being tired and experiencing life in this state.  Your thoughts create how you feel, so what is it that you create by doing this?  Being more tired, more irritable and less functional.

We get easily agitated and can go from 0 to 100 in a heartbeat because we feel too tired to fight or deal with the normal battle situations, yet we continue to try, making us feel even more angry and impatient.

We often try to function at the same level that we would if we had adequate amounts of sleep but the reality is we can’t actually function to the same capacity if we would if we’d had a good night’s sleep, so sometimes we need to cut ourselves a bit of slack.

So what’s the answer?  

The answer is Allowance.

Allow yourself to be tired.
Acknowledge it, don't resist it.
Don't have a conversation about it, just allow yourself the sensation of being tired and feel it to its fullest in this current moment.

Where does tiredness sit in the body anyway?  Where do you actually feel tiredness?
Allow yourself to feel it just as it is.

When you're looking at the 'chaos' around you (the reality that's different to the 'picture of how you think it 'should' be), just look at it.

Observe it. See it without resistance.

The house is messy - it's stuff on a floor.

There's a bill - it's a piece of paper. It will come and go.
Look at it. Really see it there. The price, the works.

Watch and listen to the sounds that come from your kids screaming, yelling and fighting. It’s just sound.

Feel the chaos around you.

Then, Surrender. allow it to be there. Watch it around you. This is the art of acceptance.

Sometimes what we do, is go into a panic mode. We try to do more, be more and have more.  When we are feeling tired, the answer isn’t to do more. It’s to slow down.  Allow yourself to be in the moment, instead of resisting it and needing to fix it straight away.

Even when you’re in a moment where you literally do have to take action to stop danger from occurring or just need to get something done, be deliberate about it.  Focus on the thing that you are doing with all of the five senses.

When we can allow chaos to be unfolding around us and be in a state of surrender and allowance, often that peace of mind will help you to feel lighter and less consumed by it all, and THEN you start to just systematically work on whatever is happening in THAT moment.

Often what we're trying to do during our 'stacking' moments that cause overwhelm, is fix everything that doesn't even need fixing. In fact, most of the time, you don't even know what's going to even be a problem.

We worry the kids will fight forever or be in this stage forever.
We worry that bill won't get paid.
We think about ALL the housework we have to do instead of just the next task.
We think about the past and what has already happened and we focus on the future.


Just focus on right now.
Where are you? The answer is always here.
How do you know you're here?
Because of what you see, hear, touch, taste, smell.
This is reality. Everything else is judgement.

Come back to one or all of the 5 senses and try to take the labels and judgements away.

BE in the present moment without resistance, without fear and you will feel the overwhelm rise and pass away.

Anxiety in Autism

There are three anxiety concepts that are going to help you to understand anxiety in general, and in an autistic child.

  1. Anxiety is a result of how someone is perceiving life experiences.
  2. Anxiety is almost always future focussed – anticipating a potentially bad or painful situation will happen based on experiences from the past.
  3. Anxiety is about Control and Prevent

Before we get into these three concepts, however, let’s first talk about what anxiety might look like in Autism.

In autism, anxiety can present itself in many ways, such as:

  • Being more insistent on routines or rituals.
  • Avoidance behaviours.
  • Meltdowns.
  • Self-harming including head banging, scratching, cutting, or biting themselves.
  • Aggressive behaviours towards you or others.
  • Obsessive behaviours like lining objects up, ritualistic behaviours or spinning objects.
  • Stimming behaviours like rocking, spinning or hand flapping.
  • Echolalia Anxiety – repetition of words, phrases or noises when stressed.
  • Selective Mutism in social situations or when anxiety is felt.

The challenging part of this list above, is that you may see these behaviours whether anxiety is present or not, so becoming observant about what is going on for your child will be imperative to helping you to help them to manage their anxiety.

If the behaviours above are associated with anxiety, they are really just a symptom of what’s going on for your child, not the cause. To understand the real cause let’s look at the first concept from today’s lesson:

#1 - Anxiety is a result of how someone is perceiving their life.

When we experience an event, we experience with the five senses – we see it, hear it, taste it, touch it, and / or smell it.

The sensory information goes into the brain for evaluation.

The brain asks: “What is this that I see, hear, taste, touch and smell? Have I seen it before? Do I have a reference point of this event, or an opinion? What does this event mean and what does it mean about me and my survival?”

The brain accesses the memories that are kept in the hippocampus and says, ‘What have we got stored in our memory bank hippo? Is this experience dangerous or safe? What do we need to do about this?”

Depending on how your child is evaluating the events, based on their past memories, beliefs or reference points, they determine a response – a physical response: their emotions and their bodily response like sweating, shaking or tensing; and a behavioural response. The behavioural response will always be an attempt to pursue pleasure and avoid pain.

When trying to understand your child’s anxiety, we need to try to get a sense of how they are perceiving the events they are anxious about?

There are several influences that have come from your child’s experience of life to date that may have become contributing factors to an anxiety mindset. Some of these could be:

  • Someone of influence tells them what they should or shouldn’t do and they feel they have to play by those rules or else.
  • Developing a fixed viewpoint of right vs wrong leading to inflexibility and fear of doing something wrong or fear of failure.
  • Where your child is at in their brain development isn’t giving them the whole picture of how an experience will occur.
  • Difficulties with social imagination can cause an autistic person to struggle to understand someone else’s point of view or predict their behaviour. They only see the outcome through their own perceptions and thus the world can feel very confusing and unpredictable.
  • Experiences from the past where they have been hurt, scared or had an adverse outcome becomes their reference point of something bad happening again in the future. (PTSD may also be a contributing factor).
  • Not yet having the skills to deal with a difficult situation (eg social situations) which may lead them to feel anxious and want to avoid certain situations.
  • Inability to communicate or express their emotions and thoughts accurately.
  • An actual threat to their physical or emotional survival (eg loud noises can feel like an actual threat to someone with sensory processing challenges).

Because the brain is always interested in survival, it’s always looking to pursue pleasure or avoid pain. It’s trying to feel good and avoid feeling bad. That will always be the agenda behind our behaviours.

It’s important to understand that what may seem like a perceived threat to you, may be an actual threat to them. For example, being in a shopping centre and being exposed to what feels like loud or traumatising noise, can feel like a literal threat to your child’s survival, but may seem insignificant to you.

Therefore it’s super important to delve into the world of your child and try to understand – what must they be thinking to be feeling this way? What information are the referencing to be thinking and feeling anxiety?

#2 - Anxiety is almost always future focussed – anticipating that a potentially bad event could happen.

What makes this thinking / feeling / behaving loop even more complicated when it comes to anxiety, is the brain doesn’t just think about what’s happening in this present moment.

It’s constantly thinking about what’s coming up. It’s accessing the hippocampus to reference memories, learnt knowledge and beliefs and using it to predict any potential problems in the future so it can activate the appropriate physical and behavioural responses that will prevent them from physical or emotional harm.

The problem is, when the brain does this, the person feels this in real time. It doesn’t matter to the hippocampus whether the event is happening in the now or is imagining or anticipating a future, it still sends the same messages to the body to react the same.

That means your child is often responding to an anticipated future in real time.

You could be seeing avoidance behaviours or coping behaviours in a child when there doesn’t seem to be anything happening right now.

Because their body is responding as if the threat is in real time, your child may not understand what’s happening in their body that makes them feel anxious and will engage in coping behaviours to try and reduce their anxiety.

In addition, the anxiety mindset if only ever focussed on what could go wrong. When anxious, the body is in survival mode, so your child is looking for evidence of threats, not evidence of their safety or security.

#3 – Anxiety is About Control and Prevent

This concept is probably the most important one out of the three concepts and will help you to understand why your child may be behaving the way they do and how it is associated with anxiety.

When you look at the diagram above, you will see that the behaviour is just the result of how you think and how you feel.

As mentioned before, behaviour always has the agenda to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. It’s the body’s survival mechanism.

What that means is the behaviour that you are seeing in your child is a survival strategy designed to attempt to control something to go right (by their standards) or prevent something from going wrong.

This will always be based on their perception or reference point of right and wrong to begin with, which can be problematic in itself.

For example,

  • A child who is stimming when in a stressful situation, can be using those actions to control (regulate) their emotions.

  • A child who is refusing to go to school could be preventing being teased or feeling worth-less among his peers or preventing the feeling of confusion when they don’t understand the work.

  • A child who is acting aggressively may have learnt that when she behaves aggressively other people cater to what they want or leave them alone, thus is trying to control the outcome.

  • Alternatively, anxiety can be about feeling out of control. Aggressive behaviours or meltdowns can occur for these reasons too.

  • Self-harming is a behaviour designed to soothe or distract. They may find the self-harming act comforting, they may like the sensation, or may use it to distract themselves from stronger, more painful emotions.

  • Echolalia anxiety – the repetition of words or phrases or noises, can take their attention off anticipating a future they don’t want to deal with or don’t know how to deal with, or it can feel soothing when a child is anxious.

  • Obsessive compulsive behaviours occur when the child feels other areas of their life are uncontrollable. The OCD behaviour becomes the one thing they can control, thus becoming another coping or calming strategy.

When you look at these examples, you can start to see the intelligence of the human mind and body. While we may initially look at these behaviours and see them as problematic, from a survival perspective, they are actually quite ingenious.

Your child is just trying to learn how to survive and has adopted certain behaviours to try and fulfil this objective.

While yes, some of these behaviours need to be addressed due to health and safety, we have to first recognise that there is a reason for these behaviours and it’s all about what can be gained or what needs to be avoided to feel good and avoid feeling bad.

So how is knowing this information helpful?

Firstly, it’s helpful because you can start to look at the anxiety behaviours as a survival strategy not as naughty, disobedient or dysfunctional behaviour. You can start to look at what your child is trying to control or prevent.

Secondly, it’s helpful because now you can get curious about the thought process leading to these feelings and behaviours, and thus get to the real source of the problem.

Start by asking yourself these questions:

What is my child trying to control right now?

What is my child trying to prevent right now?

Why does it make sense that my child is using this strategy (their behaviour is the strategy) to control or prevent?

And the most important question, how can I help my child to manage this situation, so they don’t feel so anxious about it? How can I help them to control or prevent in more productive ways?

The first step to helping your child with anxiety is about understanding and curiosity first.

The ‘why’ behind their anxiety (ie their thoughts, beliefs, reference points and memories driving their emotions and behaviours) is going to dictate your approach to reducing the anxiety.

For example,

  • A child who is anxious because they think everyone hates them, needs help to identify why they are likable, see evidence of people who do like them, or help them to find opportunities to feel good in a social situation.

  • A child who is anxious because they have a memory of how something went wrong before, may need strategies to plan the next event, help to see ways the situation can go differently, or help to see other points of view they may not be considering.

  • A child who is hurting themselves when anxious or overwhelmed, may need alternative strategies to use when feeling overwhelmed.

  • A child who is fixated on a something needing to go a certain way, may need help to talk through why they need things to go a certain way and what their fear is if it doesn’t go to plan.

While they are learning to adopt a new viewpoint, they may need help to cope with things when they don’t go to plan and be gently exposed to gradual conditions where they have to practice more flexibility (depending on the situation of course).

How to apply this article to your child

This article first focuses on the ‘why’ behind anxiety in your child. 

Why are you seeing these anxious behaviours?  Why is your child feeling anxious in certain situations?

To understand, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my child trying to control right now?
  • What is my child trying to prevent right now?
  • Why does it make sense that my child using this strategy (behaviour) to control or prevent?
  • How can I help my child to manage this situation, so they don’t feel so anxious about it?
  • How can I help them to control or prevent in more productive ways?

Because going into observation mode is going to help you make sense of the behaviour, which from that point either makes it obvious what you need to do to help your child, or gives you ideas on how to source information to help your child.

A Perspective on Meltdowns

Imagine going into work and confronting the following day in, day out:

  • Knowing that you were probably going to be confused about what the boss is wanting from you because you can't quite understand his requests.
  • He talks too fast. Uses strange language, doesn't mean what he says. Has different tones of voice you can't quite understand and gets impatient if you can't keep up.
  • Knowing that you weren't going to be like all your colleagues, and knowing that they'll notice.
  • Feeling anxious that you weren't able to predict with any certainty what the day was going to look like or whether you're going to be able to cope with all the changes.
  • Knowing that you can't focus on one thing when there are so many extremely loud and over bearing sounds or sensory distractions going on competing for your attention.
  • Just getting your head around one task and then being asked to quickly stop what you were doing and try to adapt to another task that you not only have to understand but have to achieve within a set time frame.
  • Then feeling inadequate / worthless / like something's wrong with you because you notice that all your colleagues are able to do things but you can't.
  • Then noticing that your boss was angry or impatient, or saying something mean, but having no idea what you did wrong or why they were being mean.
  • Then feeling inadequate / worthless / like something's wrong with you because of your boss's reaction.
  • And then have your colleagues join in, wondering what's wrong with you because you keep making mistakes or misunderstand what they are saying too, entering into conflict with them, and having no idea how that happened.
  • Then feeling inadequate / worthless / like something's wrong with you because that incident gave you even more evidence that defines me as not good enough.
  • And then, after doing that all day - feeling inadequate, not knowing yourself what's 'wrong with you', not having a solution to work with and just wanting to escape it all - you come home from work into your home environment, and enter into another world of more expectations, feel misunderstood, overwhelmed, tired from being in survival mode all day, and completely intolerant of any more stimulus, but still having chores to do, transitions to try and navigate and more personalities to work with, or appointments you need to go to, and wanting nothing more than to escape reality and crawl into a hole but not being allowed to?

How would you feel by the end of your day?

Calm, relaxed and reasonable?
Or irritable, exhausted and defeated?

As an adult in this scenario, you may have some knowledge that there is help for you and you could research how to manage your day differently tomorrow or learn more about what could be happening for you and your brain.

As an adult you have some knowledge on what self care is and what things you might be able to do to put things in place when you recognise you need a break and give it to yourself, or ask for help.

As an adult you have some sort of emotional regulation skills to draw upon to deal with the build up of all these emotions.

But at the age and stage of brain development your child is at, do they have this information?

Does it all of a sudden make sense why your child might have a 'meltdown' or struggle with depression or anxiety trying to cope with all this, day in day out?

This is why we MUST get into the world of our child and understand their thought processes, their fears, their reactions and their behaviour.

Their behaviour is communicating how they are dealing with life. Their emotions are showing you how they are perceiving life and their self-worth.

Look for the patterns, the clues and the evidence that paints the real picture of why the behaviour exists.

These important pieces of information when put together will show you how the behaviour is serving your child - pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain.

It will show you the skillful ways your child has learnt to SURVIVE because that's the state your child is often in - survival mode - and they are doing the best they can with the resources they have TO SURVIVE.

And when you make sense of their behaviour FIRST, you are going to be better equipped to devise a 'behaviour management' plan that actually helps your child and organically stops the behaviour, instead of punishing them in the hope of subordination.

They are not being insubordinate. They're trying to survive!

As a parent, it's not easy. It's not clear cut. It takes time, investigation, trial and error and flexibility.

What works today, may not work tomorrow, and today's behaviour may be different to tomorrow's behaviour, but your child needs you to be their detective, continually trying to investigate their perception of their world and help them and you make sense of that perception so you can put the correct supports in place and help them learn how (and when) to adapt or how (and when) to retreat from life's situations.

Because they literally can't do this on their own.

Are your other children really missing out?

Are your other children really missing out?

I often hear parents voice their concerns about their other children missing out either due to the behaviours of your autistic child, or because they are being taken from appointment to appointment, or because you have to pay so much attention to your autistic child.

Now an important thing to know about the brain, is it will keep finding evidence of what you put your attention on.

When we are looking at something through the missing out lens, we are only looking at that viewpoint. We are often filtering everything else out.

When in the missing out lens, we are not looking for the hidden good in the bad, what is being experienced instead of the unwanted, where the opportunities are, or what is being learnt.

Your mind is filtering all that out.

What's more, we often feel worse about the situation with distorted thinking like all or nothing thinking, assumptions and catastrophising our thoughts about what's happening for my child.

For example. you might say:

  • My child won't feel loved or will feel less important.

  • Because my child said something wasn't fair, we assume this is their permanent stand point.

  • If I have to say no to my child, they'll automatically think I favour the other one.

  • I'm NEVER able to give my other children the attention they need.

  • Their childhood is RUINED by what's happening.

These assumptions and over-dramatisations are going to affect how you feel and how you behave when you feel this way.

The first thing we need to do before you even attempt to balance things out between your children, is get an accurate viewpoint of what's happening for your other children and what their needs really are.

  • What is it they are really needing right now?

  • How are they actually perceiving what goes on in the household. Do they understand what's going on?

  • What is my children's love language (acts of service, physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time or gifts). Knowing this can help you to deliver the love they need in a way they can receive it, not the way you think they need it.

  • What does giving them 'more' look like exactly?

  • How much time will it take to start implementing a little bit more of these wants/needs into my day or week?

  • What do I need to communicate to them to help them to get a healthy understanding of the time that I spend on other areas of running the home.

  • How can I continue to let them know that I'm thinking about them? (often it's the smaller details you do, not just the copious amounts of quality time you give them).

Can you see how these questions make you a lot more solution focussed?

When you are looking through that missing out lens you can easily fall into dramatising what's going on for your child.

Maybe they only sometimes feel things are unfair.

Maybe they're only needing a little encouragement or acknowledgement or showing interest here and there about their lives too.

Maybe they like that they get special treatment when you try to compensate for them having to go to yet another appointment.

Maybe they get it and are understanding of what you need to do and know that you love them.

Maybe they don't feel like they're missing out at all (at least no more than any other child complains about missing out, lol).
And that's another point, are they complaining any more than any other kid complains they are missing out?

Before you address trying to 'balance things out' or 'make up for what is happening' perhaps first establish what need needs to be met by knowing how your child is actually perceiving the events they are experiencing.

Handling Aggression – Step One

Handling Aggression - Step One


The first step to being able to handle aggression is knowing the function of it in the first place?

All behaviour is communication and all behavioiur is driven by the motivation to pursue pleasure or avoid pain.

Here are some questions that will get you thinking about why the behaviour even exists:

How is this behaviour serving your child?

Does it get them what they want?

Does it get them out of what they want?

Does it help them to control you or people around them?

Does it serve to express a frustration due to trouble communicating?

Is it a build up of sensory stimulation or an attempt to seek stimulation?

Is your child reacting this way because they are feeling emotionally overwhelmed and doesn't know what else to do?

Does it make them feel powerful because they are feeling powerless in another area of their life?

Is this a form of panic for your child because they don't know how to manage feeling so out of control in one or many areas of their life, or feeling out of control with anxiety?

Is your child lacking in knowledge on how to handle the situation at hand any differently (aka they don't know any other way)?

Is your child modelling your behaviour or that of someone else's?

What was happening just before the behaviour occurred?

What happened afterwards, or what normally happens afterwards?

What sort of things are they repetitively saying, before, during or after the aggression?

Who was involved before, during or after the aggression?

Is there always a common factor involved in their aggression?

What seems to calm your child down?

What is it your child wants in that moment?

Are they misunderstanding something or misinterpreting something?

What is your child not able to understand or what are they needing to learn in regards to this situation?

Your child's aggression can be a response to something, or a result of how they are thinking, a misunderstanding, an environmental trigger where they are literally in pain and angry that they've been physically hurt.

It could be confusion, rejection, criticism, overwhelm, frustration at their lack of ability, they could be struggling with their self-esteem, comparing themselves to other people, or feeling rejected, isolated or it could just be that they don't want to comply with any more rules or don't even get what the rules are or why they have to exist.

Or it could be all of the above.

How do you deal with aggression?

Well that depends on what the problem is in the first place.

Because if your child was aggressive because they are literally in pain from too much noise, or were struggling with extreme anxiety would you punish them by taking their ipad away?

Or would you want to help your child with their pain?

Finding the most effective behavioural approaches will always be reliant upon having accurate information about how your child is or was perceiving the situation to trigger the aggression.

Understanding 'why' the aggression is there, is always the first step.

Handling Aggression – Step Two

Resource:  Therapeutic Crisis Intervention Student Workbook, Sixth Edition 2009

Handling Aggression - Step Two

Therapeutic Crisis Intervention Training, used to help professionals in residential youth care (and other industries) handle aggressive behaviours, talks about the 'Stress model of Crises' (pictured)

This involves explaining 5 Degrees of Stress.

- Pre-Crisis State -

This is your child's baseline behaviours.What sort of typical behaviours would you see when your child is at baseline?Baseline behaviours can be different for different kids.Sometimes slightly anxious can be their baseline.Sometimes being very talkative can be their baseline.Sometimes quite withdrawn can be their baseline.Essentially, this stage is about recognising what behaviours we might see in the child that is NOT stressed.

- Triggering Event -This stage is about recognising events or situations that predicatably agitate your child.These can be environmental conditions or settings like too much noise, too much light, not enough sensory stimulation etc.It could be not having certain routines go to plan, or expectations that haven't been met.Or it can be psychological conditions that can be triggering - eg not being able to understand something or has failed a test, or someone was mean to them and they are feeling bad.

At this stage of the stress model, we are identifying that there was a triggering event that has made my child feel agitated, and I am providing encouragement, comfort, support and gentle reminders or physical or emotional help so they can regain control of their frustrations or anxieties.

Having strategies at hand to help your child to retreat, calm down, relax, escape from their emotions (like watching a movie), giving them a hug, playing a game, distracting them with something enjoyable and using your relationship with them to help them cope.

Once the child has returned to baseline you can help them with more adaptive coping skills, but for now, your main aim is to help them to return to baseline.

- Escalation Phase -
This is where the intensity of the behaviour starts to increase. There are obvious signs of more intense anxiety and failure to cope effectively with the stressful situation.

At this stage, the behaviours are intensifiying and they are becoming less likely to respond to interventions. When in this phase, the fight or flight mode has been activated, which means their rational, logical brain has become more offline.

They are in 'survival mode' and their body is responding like it's being chased by a lion (aka they are not thinking straight and are not going to listen to new teachings). This is not the time to try and help the person to rationally work through a problem or teach them how to cope.

At this stage you might see a child start to yell, withdraw, become demanding, destroy property and they are showing more signs of loss of control. They are at a point of aggression, but not at the point of violence.

At this stage there are still some strategies we could be using to de-escalate the situation but the aim is to also try to stop them from getting to the outburst stage where they have moved into violence and you or others are under physical threat.

Here are some non-restrictive approaches you can try at this stage:

  • Try to resolve the problem if it's obvious, like helping them with the task or removing the triggering environmental condition or finding an immediate solution to the problem.
  • Manage your environment to keep yourself, your child or anyone else out of harm's way. Discretely remove items that your child could use to harm themselves, you or anyone else and If your child is self-harming, you may need to intervene or provide a safer way for them to drain off their emotional energy (eg providing a pillow for them to hit their head into instead of the floor).
  • Continue to listen to the child's concerns, don't enter into the conflict cycle by arguing back or trying to assert your authority. This can trigger the child into full outburst crisis.

    Behaviour management needs to come later when back to baseline and behaviour can be discussed calmly in a solution focussed way.

    Right now you're just trying to de-escalate the situation. You could try the following:
  • Use empathy to convey understanding of their thoughts/feelings.
  • Clarify the events - without arguing with them, if there are details that are misunderstood that triggered the escalation, you may be able to give this information (briefly) here to de-escalate the situation.
  • Stay calm so the child can co-regulate their emotions with yours.
  • Continue trying to figure out what the child needs to feel calmer
  • Use clear directive statements at times (although fleetingly) to help remind the child of a clear instruction that may break the cycle (eg 'Joseph, stop hitting that wall and come over here to the mat please.')
  • Use redirection or distraction (an activity that provides calm).
  • Don't tell your child to use their words or calm down!
  • Use your relationship 'capital' (your rapport) to help with communication (Joseph, I've been able to help you before haven't I? Remember when...... let's do that again) or 'Hey, honey, this is not like you. I know you are a good kid and I love you. Why don't we come over here to the mat and watch some Netflix')
  • Sometimes communication isn't the answer and your child just needs to be left to drain off their emotions. Please always let them know that you are nearby ready to talk when they are ready, however.
  • Appeal to your child's self-interest (eg 'Joesph if you do that it will break and you won't be able to use it anymore' or 'Joseph, you love your anime. Why don't we put that on for you?')
  • Drop or change expectations - I know this sounds like you're giving in, but at this point that may be the temporary solution to de-escalate the situation until you can come up with a better strategy to incrementally teach your child a new skill or way of approaching these triggering situations.
Outburst Phase

This is the phase where aggression has led to violence and the main aim here is to decrease the level of stress and de-escalate the problem, while keeping everyone safe from harm.
  • Ultimately we need to try and give them some space to drain off their emotions if you can and give them some time to cool down.
  • At this stage you are using very little conversation - silence, occasional nodding of your head to show you've heard them, minimal encourages ("I see", "Uh-huh", "go on"). How you use your tone of voice is going to be critical to de-escalation too - it needs to be empathetic and non-threatening.
  • Body language is also going to be key along with minimal eye contact, height differences etc all needs to communicate non-aggression and not authoritative so as not to further trigger the child.
  • Use your relationship capital if you can
  • Remove the audience if this is the trigger (sometimes children can be heightened even more by people watching them because they feel even more judged, or because the audience gives them more attention)
  • Help them co-regulate by staying calm yourself.
  • If another child is triggering them further we need to remove them from the environment if you can.
  • Discretely remove any weapons or targets (like another child) or a potential trigger to violence (eg you might be their trigger or another parent or caregiver. )

    We need to try and give them some space to drain off their emotions and give them some time to cool down.

    In extreme cases where you are unsuccessful at de-escalating the situation and your child or others are in danger, emergency services may need to be called for assistance.

Once the child has cooled down and has come back down to baseline, then you can look at exploring what was happening from the child's point of view and develop a plan of what could be done next time that situation occurs.

This may not be right away either. It may be the next day when they are not so exhausted from the escalation.

Of course all of this is governed by where your child is on the spectrum and what their communication abilities are.

The whole process is hinged on being able to get to know the patterns of your child's behaviour so you can identify the triggers early on in the piece and to implement behaviour support strategies so behaviour doesn't escalate to outburst phase, however sometimes this is just unavoidable.

The more rapport you have during the calm times (baseline) where there is loads of love, support, encouragement, fun, connection etc with the child, the better you'll be able to use that to help diffuse a situation because there will be trust and relationship 'capital' to draw from.

Also, the better you are at not personalising your child's behaviour ( I know this is not always easy), stay calm and work towards an immediate solution, and then an ongoing one out of context (aka when calm), the faster the situation will de-escalate.

Most solutions to problematic behaviour are implemented at baseline where the rational brain is online and we are continually working towards teaching your child the skills they need to manage their environment and develop coping and adaptive strategies to life's triggers.

Remember, there is always a reason for your child's behaviour. It serves as a function to bring pleasure or avoid pain. When you can spend time understanding the behaviour and working on intervention strategies to resolve the reason for the behaviour, you will lessen the likelihood of an outburst.

There are so many tools I could teach you that would expand on this, but I might leave it there for now.

Remember if you want to join our 8 week Autism Parental Stress Relief & Support Program, it starts on the 28th September where I'll be teaching you loads of tools like this to help you stay calm and help your child with a healthy mindset and to set up the foundation to work on behaviour management with your OT / psychologist.

You can find out more here:

And remember, it can be NDIS funded under the 'Parent & Carer's Training' Section of a self-managed or plan managed plan, or if you are not NDIS approved, payment options can be arranged. 🙂

Are You Fighting With Your Reality Today?

Stress is a conflict between belief and reality!

Our mind checks in with what you're experiencing in the present moment and then forms an opinion, or has a conversation about it. 

If what you expected or desired is being met, it's a positive conversation.

However if you are experiencing something unwanted, often the conversation in your mind turns into judgement, criticism, negativity and then leads to emotions like anger, regret, frustration, anxiety or sadness.

This is because the mind is in conflict with reality.

Your mind is often fighting with what is. 

It's rolling around in a story about how wrong something is, how it's not supposed to be this way.  It's finding evidence of everything you're missing out on because this unwanted thing is happening.  It's looking at who's fault it is - is it me that should have done something differently, or should someone else be doing something differently. 

And finally, it's making a judgement - what does this mean about me or my life that I'm experiencing an unwanted event like this. 

When we get caught up in a story like this (I call it rolling in your pit of shit),  the mind will keep finding more and more evidence of what you have your attention on.  

You keep finding more things that are wrong and it prevents you from accepting your current reality and becoming solution focussed about it. 

What's more, the anger or frustration you feel when you think this way, literally starts to shut off the conscious part of your brain you need to think about what you're going to do about this unwanted situation. 

So we need to find a way to pull ourselves out of this mindset of 'rolling in the pit of shit'.

Often one of the quickest ways to do this, is to have a 'go to' catchphrase that will remind you of what you're doing. 

Here's what I say when I'm 'rolling in the mud':

'Jac, You're in conflict with Reality!  
The Reality is……. so what am I going to do about it?

Using this terminology – ‘the reality is’ - helps you bring your attention back to reality.  ​

State the facts rather than your judgement of the facts. 


  • The reality is there is no milk left.  No point focussing on who didn’t go and get it or how wrong the morning will go if the kids don’t get their cereal in the morning or what a bad parent you are because you weren’t organised enough to get it.  Stop!  There’s just no milk.  The reality is there is no milk!   
  • The reality is there are chores to do.  Dishes come and go.  Washing comes and goes.  Things get spilled and cleaned up.  There’s always a list.  This is life!  

    Bring your attention back to the present moment and do what’s in front of you, or don’t.  Life is full of priorities and maybe this chore needs to be a priority right now or maybe it doesn’t. There are no right and wrongs. 

    If the reality is the chore needs to be the priority right now, then stop with giving it all these other meanings. 

    The reality is It’s a chore and its there needing to be done.  Use the 5 senses to come back into the present moment and deal with this reality that’s in front of you. 
  • The reality is the kids are going to have good days and bad.  They’re going to have good moments and bad ones.  They’ll have happy emotions, angry emotions, sad ones, excited ones and everything in between.   Just like you do. 

    Be present to that and don’t make it mean something about you whenever they’re having an emotion.  It’s just part of the reality of having kids – they will have their moments.
  • The reality is life doesn’t always go our way, and that’s okay. I know you’re disappointed, but the reality is, it happened, so now what do we need to do - get solution focussed.

    What do you think we could do about this now that we are here in this moment?  Try asking yourself that question when life doesn’t go to plan.
  • The reality is there are times my child is going to have a meltdown and I couldn't predict it or prevent it and I have to ride it out.   Don't roll around in your story about what people are thinking of you, how you wish they would just stop, how sick of these meltdowns you are, or go into catastrophising how you're going to have to live this way forever because nothing is ever going to change.   The reality is my child is having a meltdown and it will pass.  That's all you have to say.  Take a deep breath and surrender to your reality in this present moment. 

​​​​See if you can practice pulling yourself out of your 'pit of shit' today.  Recognise how often you find yourself stuck in s tory that's in conflcit with reality and tell yourself. 

'Hey, you're in conflict with reality.  The reality what can I do about it?

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