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Boy with Autism who Hits

Question: I work as a one-on-one aide for a seven-year-old boy with autism.  He is non-verbal and sometimes takes his aggression out in a physical manner.  He hits his sister and her friends if they are being loud or in his personal space. In the past, he stopped doing that after time-outs.  Recently he has started hitting again. How can I get the message across to him that hitting is wrong?  Do you have any additional suggestions about how to deal with his hitting?

Adele Brodkin:
You are to be commended for taking on such a difficult assignment with compassion and concern for the welfare of both the boy and others around him.  I gather that the boy has no receptive or expressive language, making his care a very challenging assignment. I hope that there are professional experts involved; perhaps those who made the diagnosis continue to manage his case.  Ideally, that is a team of experts, including at least a child psychiatrist, pediatric neurologist, occupational therapist, clinical early childhood psychologist who specializes in PDD, and a speech therapist with comparable preparation/experience. I hope that one of those experts is the team leader who collects the diagnostic information and puts together recommendations for his home and school care. If there is such a resource, I urge you to present this problem to those in charge.  Without knowing anything about the family and school arrangements, etc., there is little worthwhile advice I can offer beyond that.  If there isn’t a full cadre of experts and a skilled professional leading the team in this child’s behalf, please make it known to the family that they are entitled to both. There is a federal law requiring the Board of Education to fund an ongoing oversight and whatever interventions required for this child’s well-being and the protection of those around him.  You can’t be expected to do this all on your own.   While you are waiting for the bureaucratic wheels to grind, I can recommend a reading resource for you.  It will not solve the profound problems surrounding this boy’s care, but you might find it useful. The book is “The Child with Special Needs” by Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D. and Serena Wieder, Ph.D. You can also go on line to find much material by these two author/experts on Autism and PDD.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.


I agree with Adele that the aide ideally needs to address this issue using a team approach. However, realistically speaking, this may or may not be available to her or him.

As the mother of a child with autism, 2 tools I and my son's teachers have found effective are visual aides and social stories.

A book that I found particularly useful over time is "Solving Behavior Problems in Autism: Improving Communication with Visual Strategies" by Linda Hodgdon, M.Ed., CCC-SLP. The book has lots of info about why visual charts work for kids on the spectrum, and provides lots of concrete examples of charts.

Don't forget books to read with the child:

"Hands Are Not for Hitting" by Martine Agassi reinforces the positive things kids can do with their hands (drawing, waving, etc.) and suggests more appropriate ways to deal with feelings of frustration.

"My Hands" from Sandbox Learning lets you print out a book customized for a specific child . You have to pay a subscription fee (about the cost of a book) and print the book out yourself; but I remember my child loved that the book had his name and a boy who looked sort of like him.

Finally, if you're familiar with social stories, you can create your own social story. Draw pictures and write positive ideas about ways to deal with feelings. I'm not sure, but I think has some good examples.

Hope this helps, and good luck.

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