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Autistic children may find it difficult to tackle emotions and it is crucial to learn safe ways to release their anger.
Autism or autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder usually diagnosed by the age of 2 or 3 and includes a wide range of conditions. Children suffering from autism experience trouble with social skills, show repetitive behaviours, speech or nonverbal communication. According to WHO, around 1 in 100 children has autism. The abilities and needs of autistic people vary and can evolve over time. Some people with autism can live independently, while others would need life-long care and support. (Also read: World Autism Awareness Day: Lifestyle changes for expecting mothers to reduce risk of autism in babies)
It is common for children with autism to showcase behavioural problems such as anger outbursts as they may feel frustrated due to their inability to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Recognising their triggers and letting them manage or release anger in a safe way can keep in check any kind of destructive behaviour or self-harm.
“Behavioural problems such as frustration and angry outbursts are quite common in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and can be difficult to manage. It is important to understand what is causing the anger in a child with ASD. At times it might be just because the child cannot communicate his/her thoughts and feelings to others and feels frustrated. At other times it might be that the child with ASD prefers ‘sameness,’ in routine and may be upset because of changes in the daily schedule or familiar surroundings. Anger may also be the result of medical illness wherein the child is unable to express pain, fatigue, or physical discomfort,” says Dr. Pratibha Singhi, Head, Department of Pediatric Neurology, Amrita Hospital, Faridabad.
Children with autism often have difficulties in social and communication skills. Coupled with repetitive behaviours and thinking, this leads to poor emotional regulation, anger, and impulsivity. It is very important to find the cause of aggressive behaviour, which can range from physical illness, discomfort, fatigue, disruption or recent change in behaviour, sensory overload, to anything that leads to stress and anxiety,” says Dr Megha Mahajan, Consultant – Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road.
“Children with autism in India face unique challenges in managing their emotions, especially anger. According to a recent study, the prevalence of autism in India is estimated to be 1 in 68 children, indicating a significant need for effective anger management strategies for this population. In India, families and schools may face challenges in creating a safe and supportive environment for children with autism. Limited awareness and understanding of autism may lead to a lack of accommodations and resources for managing emotions effectively. However, studies have shown that providing a calming space for children with autism can significantly reduce their stress levels and improve their emotional regulation,” says Dr P. Venkat Swathi Ramani, Consultant Paediatrician, CARE Hospitals, Hi-Tec City, Hyderabad.
ANGER MANAGEMENT TIPS FOR AUTISTIC KDS
“Calming down a child with autism can be stressful and challenging. Look for obvious triggers -If one is identified, then one should try to remove it -example if it is loud noise, then stop it. Ensure that the child is not ill or in pain. If there is no obvious trigger and the child continues to get anger outbursts, different strategies will need to be tried to find the ones that work best for the child. This is an ongoing process. It is important to deal with these manage anger outbursts constructively,” says Dr Pratibha.
USE SIMPLE WORDS, DIRECT INSTRUCTIONS
“Parents should talk to the child using simple words and direct instructions without judgment. Distraction and redirection are important ways to deal with the anger outbursts. For higher functioning kids, keep a list of distractions handy so that those can be readily implemented. A change of the environment in which the child gets angry can be helpful,” she adds.
SAFE PLACE TO VENT ANGER
“For a slightly older child who refuses to listen, one could also let the child safely vent his/her feelings in a safe place for example scream into a pillow to or to use it as a punching bag. After a while, the child will become tired and begin to calm down. The child could also be asked to express his/her emotions by writing down their feelings. Never let the child get away with aggressive behaviour. If anger is related to underlying depression, anxiety, or ADHD then these should be appropriately treated,” says Dr Pratibha.
TRAINING IN EMOTION RECOGNITION AND SOCIAL SKILLS
Teaching emotional recognition and communication is another crucial strategy for helping children with autism manage their anger.
“According to a study conducted in India, children with autism who received training in emotion recognition and communication showed significant improvements in their ability to regulate their emotions. Visual aids such as emotion charts and picture cards have been found to be particularly effective in helping children with autism recognize and communicate their emotions. Social skills training is also vital for children with autism in India. Due to the unique cultural context of India, social interactions can be particularly challenging for children with autism. Studies have shown that social skills training can significantly improve the social functioning and emotional well-being of children with autism in India,” says Dr Ramani.
“Providing a structured routine, emotional labelling, time-outs, offering safer outlets for releasing frustration, and clear communication, can be helpful. Medications also play an important role in controlling anger and aggression when all other measures fail,” says Dr Mahajan.
“Managing anger for children with autism in India requires a comprehensive approach that considers the unique challenges and context of India. Providing a safe and supportive environment, teaching emotional recognition and communication, developing social skills, and building a strong support system are all effective strategies for helping children with autism manage their emotions effectively and lead fulfilling lives,” concludes Dr Ramani.