Hardy is five and a half and has diagnoses of Autism (ASD), a complex language disorder and high levels of anxiety. The single biggest challenge we’ve faced over the last three years with him, without a doubt, has been his tendency to be violent. At nursery he had to be constantly watched as he frequently ran towards other children (often from across the room room) to push them over for absolutely no discernible reason. Being such a large child only made the effects worse. There was no improvement across the first two years he was at nursery. He hurt the staff too and would sometimes laugh as he did it and as they talked to him about what he’d done. At home he was no better. Every single day he’d hit us repeatedly. He would throw large heavy toys at my head and he once hit me so hard on the ear that I was still feeling the effects of it eight months later. For us this was the issue that upset us the most and caused us intense frustration. Why couldn’t we stop him hurting other people? It seemed that it should have been such a simple thing to do and yet we couldn’t do it. I know I felt like a failure.to push them over for absolutely no discernible reason), being so large for his age only made the effects worse. There were little signs of improvement across the first two years he was at nursery. He hurt the staff too and would sometimes laugh as he did it and as they talked to him about what he’d done.

At home he was no better. Every single day he’d hit us repeatedly. He would throw large heavy toys at my head and he once hit me so hard on the ear that I was still feeling the effects of it eight months later. For us this was the issue that upset us the most and caused us intense frustration. Why couldn’t we stop him hurting other people? It seemed that it should have been such a simple thing to do and yet we couldn’t do it. I know I felt like a failure.

What we’ve learnt is that there are no quick fixes. We have worked and worked, in tandem with the superb staff at Hardy’s nursery. We’ve had to keep the faith that we’re doing the right thing and keep on with our strategies. We didn’t react to being hit (very difficult when he took us by surprise!), we waited until he was calm to discuss what had happened with him and we had a specific reward system for kind hands. For me, the two key words when dealing with a person with an ASD are patience and perseverance. You have to believe you’re doing the right thing and stick with it. Those words are what keep me going when it feels like I’m getting nowhere.

The current situation is that we have a young man who no longer hits us at home and is very affectionate. We often get kisses and he throws his arms around us. If we lose at a board game to him, he’ll often comfort us! He has now been in a mainstream school for a full half term and we’ve not had a single incident reported; amazing considering where we were even a year ago. I foresaw suspension after suspension.

He’s learning to manage his anger in some difficult situations, which is a huge life lesson for him to wrangle with. I still worry sometimes about whether he’ll be able to hold his temper in the future, especially considering his size, but if this is how far we’ve come in three years, who knows what the future holds. If Hardy can have almost completely conquered an issue as challenging as this by the age of five, the world is truly his oyster.

My tips for coping with violent behaviour:

*Always stay calm. If you feel yourself reaching your limit, take yourself off to a quiet area and shut yourself away until you feel able to deal with the situation.

*Don’t try to address the issue until the person is completely calm (this can be hours, or longer!). Comic strip conversations can then be a good way of exploring what happened. You draw out the incident, the impact of the actions and what could be done to make things better in future. You don’t have to be a great artist, stick figures are fine! I found Hardy was fascinated by them and sometimes even tried to draw them himself days later.

*Social stories are great for helping visual learners to understand the impact of their actions and to help them work on strategies to manage their feelings. We wrote a social story for Hardy showing the effects of his violent behaviour and suggesting strategies to defuse it.

*Put yourself together a ‘Cross Box’. This is used when you can see a meltdown is imminent; you can sometimes nip it in the bud. You fill your ‘cross box’ (or bag) with items that interest the person on the verge of meltdown in order to distract them. I used soft things (like sponge numbers) that Hardy could squeeze or throw to work his anger out in a less destructive manner. The box needs to be kept out of sight and only produced when needed to stop the items inside from becoming boring. Swapping items occasionally also helps.

Cara is mum to Hardy, who is five and a half, has an autistic spectrum disorder, a complex language disorder and high levels of anxiety. She is currently taking an extended break from her career as a teacher. She fills her spare time making visual aids and resources for Hardy, and has a house full of PECS cards! She blogs at “Why My Autistic Son is Brilliant” which aims to focus on the positives of ASDs and living with a superhero who has an ASD.