July 2, 2014  Orange County Register

Autism Experts Respond to Parents Caging Their Child with Autism


There appears to be a lack of definitive research about autism and aggressive behavior in children.

In 2011, University of Missouri researchers surveyed the parents of 1,380 autistic children and adolescents and found that aggression appeared to be common. About 68 percent demonstrated aggression toward a caregiver and 49 percent toward non-caregivers.

But Lisa Ackerman, executive director of Talk About Curing Autism, said aggression hasn’t been a big issue among the 40,000 people who’ve contacted her Irvine-based nonprofit seeking assistance.

“Aggression is not something in as high as 68 percent of the cases,” she said, citing anecdotal experience.

Aggression can vary in severity from tantrums to physical violence. Some area counselors say modifying diet, medicine and communication can help reduce it. In some cases, routine behavioral therapy may be needed.

Only in extreme cases are autistic children confined to treatment facilities or group homes.

“That’s very, very rare. By far, it wouldn’t even be 1 percent,” said Larry Landauer, director of the Regional Center of Orange County, a nonprofit that provides publicly-funded services to people with developmental disabilities.

Ackerman said cases of aggression often involve children who are nonverbal or suffer from seizures, migraines or other medical issues. Unable to communicate their pain, it becomes more difficult for parents and doctors to understand what’s wrong.

“Ninety percent of the time, their kids fall into one of those areas, and the beautiful part of that is it’s treatable,” Ackerman said.

Dr. Joe Donnelly, medical director at the Santa Ana-based Center for Autism, said medical problems probably trigger aggression in a significant number of cases, but he doubts whether it accounts for such a high rate. The topic needs more study, and parents need more resources to care for their children, he said.

“Aggression is not rare, and it’s going to occur. People need to ask for help, they need to be comfortable doing so, and we need to make navigating the service delivery system more friendly,” Donnelly said. “We just don’t have enough.”

The most recent figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in every 68 children has autism. It’s known to cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. Signs typically emerge during early childhood and last for life.

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