Special needs kids struggle just like other kids to adjust and cope with the world. However, their conditions and challenges may cause them to act out aggressively.
If you are a parent or caregiver, you will likely have dealt with a fair share of your child’s emotional freakouts, tantrums, and meltdowns. Aggressive behavior is common among teens and young children but more severe among kids with special needs.
Learning self-control is a skill that children have to learn over time. Unfortunately, some children, especially those with special needs, may take longer than others to understand. Special needs children have a unique medium of expression. Their manifestation of anger and aggression is higher and can be more problematic than other children. While different special needs children may have different severity of aggression, it is always a complex emotion to handle.
Common Causes and Triggers
A mood disorder is a mental health issue that affects a person’s emotional state. Children with ADHD, including major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder, are more likely to experience mood disorders. Also, Bipolar children, especially in the manic stage, tend to suffer significant mood swings that can cause aggression. Mood shifts, a common symptom among bipolar patients, can also cause your child to feel irritable and bad-tempered and eventually lash out!
This is a type of behavior disorder where a child displays antisocial behavior. Children with this disorder may be irresponsible and disregard rules and social standards. Most children with conduct disorder may also have a mood disorder, Tourette syndrome, learning difficulties, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), among other special needs conditions.
Children with cognition or communication problems quickly get frustrated and are highly likely to manifest aggression. Such kids may include those who have autism and intellectual impairment. Frustration may translate to aggression when the special needs kids cannot handle their frustration or anxiety and can’t verbalize their feelings like normal kids. These kids may also express aggression in impulsivity form.
Impulsivity is a tendency to act without thinking, especially among kids and teens. Most kids with ADHD tend to be more impulsive and make poor decisions that tend to be interpreted as aggression. Children with this condition barely consider the outcome of their actions, causing them to look malicious and callous.
Psychosis is a severe mental condition that affects how the brain processes information. Psychosis is common among patients with Down syndrome and bipolar and highly manifests with aggression. Kids with schizophrenia may also express aggression since they often respond to internal stimuli that are irritating and disturbing. Such kids may also become suspicious, mistrustful, or paranoid and show aggression as they fight their fear.
According to research, most children who express aggressive or passive-aggressive behavior have low self-esteem. On the other hand, children with learning disabilities are more likely to experience lower self-esteem since they often face stigmatization and failure. Such children may use aggression when their feelings and opinions are undermined.
Triggers of Aggression among Children with Special Needs
Aggression among children, especially ones with special needs, could be expected and part of growing up.
Typical changes that may trigger aggression among special needs kids include the following:
Bodily changes in puberty, whether physical or hormonal, can be confusing and stressful to any child. However, the experience gets more challenging for children with different forms of special needs. It can be pretty rocky to confront additional challenges such as hormonal change and mood swings on top of their communication and developmental struggles. Such changes cause them to show aggression, especially when they don’t know how else to share their fear and frustration.
As your special needs children continue to grow, they experience changes in their peer relationships and understanding of things around them. Some of these exposures can be overwhelming and frustrating. They may also have fewer opportunities to form relationships and friendships with their peers. The feelings of isolation and loneliness can cause them stress and aggression.
Changes in a classroom setting as your child changes from one grade to the next can cause them a lot of stress as they try to adapt. As they transition to the new grade, they may have anger outbursts for being separated from their favorite teachers or peers.
We have only mentioned a few triggers of aggression, but in the real sense, they can come from anywhere. Every minor change in a child with special needs can cause them dissatisfaction, mainly when they can’t express their feelings or thoughts verbally. Therefore, parents and caregivers should always be sensitive to their needs and help them adjust to changes in the best way possible.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is Aggression?
Aggression is hostile behavior that is meant to hurt another person. It is seeking to cause another person pain. Under normal circumstances, aggression can be a reaction to a threat. However, there are times when it is a reactive, unprovoked, and abnormal behavior, such as when a person has an intermittent explosive disorder.
What is passive aggression?
Passive aggression is when a person expresses aggression indirectly. While this behavior is also meant to cause harm, it is usually challenging to identify or address. An example of passive-aggressive behavior is deliberately avoiding another person or shutting down on a person.
What is reactive aggression?
Reactive aggression, also called impulsive aggression, occurs when a person reacts to a specific trigger. This type of aggression is not always planned and is mainly associated with significant anger. A good example of reactive aggression is hitting back at someone who hit you first.
What is the goal of showing aggressive behavior?
Aggression aims to cause pain or harm to another person who is not ready or doesn’t want to be harmed. The motivation behind aggression varies from one individual to another. Most children with special needs react with aggression due to fear, helplessness, low self-esteem, or pain, among other reasons. In different scenarios, people may become aggressive to achieve a goal, such as stealing another person’s property or money.
A Word from Kids on the Yard!
Aggression is primarily a byproduct of another underlying condition or factor. Exploring and properly addressing that root cause can help minimize aggressive behavior. Watch out for Part II of this article to explore the best solutions for aggression among special-needs kids.
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