Aggression In Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorder
Are adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) any more likely to act aggressively than neurotypical people? If so, why?
The first question is easy to answer. It is a myth that people on the spectrum are aggressive in nature. In fact, there is no evidence that adults with ASD are more prone to aggressive behavior than anyone else, either neurotypicals or those with other mental health conditions.
Yet, it is also true that some adults with ASD at times act aggressively, and it is important to try and understand why this is. Otherwise, we are left with little means of assisting them with this behavior and perhaps preventing it in the first place.
Here is what the scientific literature has to say about the causes of aggression in certain adults on the autism spectrum.
- Some, but not all, adults with ASD develop a life-long habit of social and psychological isolation. In some instances, detachment from the socializing influence of personal connections lends itself to an attitude of resentment about their lives, the circumstances they live in, and the people with whom they interact. Such resentment propels them towards aggressive and anti-social behavior against those who, in their minds, are causing their unhappiness.
Aggressive behavior is often born out of a conviction of being disrespected and unfairly treated, the remedy being an aggressive counter-reaction.
- As is the case with neurotypical people, some adults with ASD mentally push out of their awareness certain thoughts, emotions, or experiences that conflict with how they would like to think, feel, and act. Doing so leads them to behave aggressively while disassociating themselves from the act itself as if it had not occurred and/or is not as harmful as it actually is.
The result is a person who believes himself to be a law-abiding, rule-following person while at the same time acting in an anti-social manner,
- Some experts believe that a prominent trait of adults with ASD is a tendency not to pay close attention to how other people feel, due to their reduced ability to read social signals and to understand that another person has a different emotional experience of a shared event.
Lacking such an appreciation of what emotional damage their actions can cause, some adults on the spectrum react aggressively upon feeling offended, criticized, or in some other way mistreated. Without realizing how hurtful they can be, such aggressive actions seem entirely justified to the aggrieved ASD adult.
- A common characteristic of ASD is the presence of restricted, fixed interests. Interruptions of these interests can lead to aggressive reactions, reactions that appear to the recipient of the hostility way out of proportion to the nature of the interruption itself. In many cases, the ASD adult is not aware of how hurtful and damaging such aggressive acts are.
- Finally, the isolated lifestyle among some people with ASD is a factor in causing aggressive behavior. This lifestyle can lead to the development of a detached psychological system. That system, combining misguided reasoning, reduced ability to assess social situations, and limited appreciation of other people’s points of view, creates instances where adults with ASD lack full awareness of the consequences of their actions and the impact they have on other people.
Having a diminished understanding of how one’s actions affect other people creates, in turn, the potential for more and more aggressive behavior. Being unaware of one’s aggressiveness lessens one’s control over those tendencies, further reducing that person’s ability to understand the effects of that aggression.
Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Adult Autism Psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question or schedule an appointment, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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