Behaviour is Communication; Violence is Behaviour

There have been a lot of discussions around my blog “circle” about Kelli and Issy, and what violence from autistics actually means, and what are some ways to deal with it (both from the autistic and the parent point-of-view). In fact, as I believe I mentioned in yesterday’s post, there are some specific posts on other blogs about the subject I want to recommend. I also want to talk about my own experience (minor) with violence in myself, as requested by Ariane in her post in Emma’s Hope Book on Tuesday (see below, it’s one of the ones I’m recommending you read).

From LoveExplosions’ blog:

  • Driven to Murder: The first I heard of Issy. A very good point, that leads into the next post, that if you think “driven to murder” is at all, in any way, shape or form justifiable, then you are part of the problem.
  • The Road to Killing a Child: Pointing out the problem with the claim of parents who have killed their children that “I killed her because I love her”. As LoveExplosions says, this doesn’t work.
  • Where was I when Kelli needed help?: People are actually asking this of autistics and other autism parents. Well, LoveExplosions doesn’t just get (justifiably) upset about this – after all, we do have our own lives, and some of what I’ve heard of these people saying to autistic adults who try to help is disgusting – she also explains what she does to help provide support to other parents. Not the least of which is publishing her blog. Thank you, LoveExplosions.
  • Rock Bottom: Autistic Hate Culture: About the situation people referenced in the above post are in.

From Chavisory’s Notebook:

  • Assuming mental illness: Chavisory points out that assuming that someone is mentally ill when some tragedy like this occurs is wrong. It dehumanizes both the victim and people who suffer from a genuine mental illness, but who don’t go ahead and murder others. Written based on comments chavisory has made elsewhere, on other blog posts – so if you read the others I’m recommending here, you’ll probably encounter them. Still, good to read in and of itself.

From Musings of an Aspie:

  • Monday Mourning: Essentially a post like the beginning of this one – links to posts by others whom Musings felt were able to say things that she couldn’t.

From Emma’s Hope Book:

  • An Analogy – Communication via Violin: A guest post written just before the situation of Kelli and Issy happened, but it seems appropriate to comment on it here, given that this post is really about communication. The title says it all; the poster asks, what would it be like for the everyday person to live in a world where all important communication was done via violin music, and you just… didn’t have the talent for it? I think it works reasonably well, because there are a lot more people out there, “normal” people, who cannot play the violin. In the same way that spoons work as an analogy for lack of energy, a concrete example that someone can see, playing the violin can work as a concrete example for inability to communicate in a way that the majority of people expect. Which leads into the posts Ariane wrote Tuesday and yesterday (which are at the end of this list).
  • Peering into the Darkness: Depression happens. This is a fact. Ariane has told us before that she has experienced it. This post talks about it – and is very relevant. Because of the need for help. Please, read it.
  • Dehumanizing: This is where Ariane talks directly about the situation with Kelli and Issy, and points out what society and people who think it right to murder an autistic child are doing.
  • Justifying Actions: Kindness is necessary for the world, it works better than anger for getting things across… and children are not burdens.
  • When Upset Turns Violent: This is the first of the two posts I’ve been referencing since the first paragraph. Ariane is using this post (and the subsequent one) to ask people to share their stories, both autistic adults who have gone through the violent actions, and other autism parents, in an effort to get knowledge out there of what violence in autistics really means, and ways in which you can cope and / or deal with it. The comments section of this post is chock full of responses, and I suspect that there will be more as time goes on.
  • What Others Had To Say: Love, Overwhelm, Violence: The follow-up post to the previous one, this is where Ariane starts to put together the responses she’s received so far – not just in the comments of her previous post, but in emails to her as well. (She carefully avoids giving any information that her correspondents didn’t want her to – she’s very upfront about the fact that they can request that she not share things publically.) This post pulls together things, and starts to provide suggestions for parents who do have violent autistic kids on how to help cope, and help deal with the violence.

I was chatting to a friend of mine, another autistic adult, about the situation, and she gave me permission to mention some of the things she said here.

I have to admit, I’m tempted to say my response to “where were you” in this situation would be, “um, in case you didn’t notice, I have problems handling social stuff.”


And getting into a situation like that – 1) why would I donate to a “treatment” that sounds like it’d make me run screaming the other way, and 2) if you hit the point where you assault your own child, what the heck is wrong with you?

I’m Aspie, and I know you don’t do that!

There is something called Child Services.

They’re the people you’re supposed to call if you realize you’re a danger to your own child!

And for goodness’ sake, if they say they won’t take the child – assault one of them!

Then you get arrested and they have to take the kid.

Seriously, it’s what I’d do if I were driven to that point.

Better to hit someone who can hit you back than your own kid.

So… to wind up what a lot of people have said, both in Ariane’s post comments and elsewhere, previously…. Usually, when an autistic is violent, it’s because we’re in a meltdown, in sensory overload, or in the middle of an anxiety attack, and we want to GET AWAY – and people trying to talk to us, or touch us, or stop us from reacting and attempting to self-regulate (aka “stim”) are BAD. They make things worse. Instinctive response (by anyone, not just autistics – and not just humans)? Hit it to make it stop, or make it go away. Move. Run away. Hide. And if something or someone tries to stop that? It’s a threat. GET AWAY. GET IT AWAY. MAKE IT GO AWAY. (For more details, and suggestions on how to help, read Ariane’s last two posts.)

There’s a story I read somewhere, I think on one of the blogs of my “circle” (see my Links Page), though I can’t remember exactly, about an autistic girl who was constantly banging her head against things. [Edit: The post in question is We Are Not in Our Own World by Judy Endow on Ollibean. It also talks about a boy who had proprioceptive issues when he crossed a threshold with more than one person because of changes in light and sound, and so fell down when leaving a classroom with his class, but not solely with his aide.] Her parents and teachers tried everything, including a helmet, but it didn’t help. Nothing helped… until they found out why. She had lice. She was hypersensitive to the sensation caused by said lice. And banging her head against things was the only way she had to communicate that something was wrong. (This is where the guest post on Emma’s Hope Book, and the title of this post, enters the picture.) Violence is a behaviour, and all behaviour is communication of some sort or another. Especially when verbal communication isn’t possible for you.

Now, my turn.

As a child, for a few years (I think from around 5 to 7 or so, based on what I vaguely remember of my childhood and how soon the teasing and manipulation started – Mom would have a better idea), I used to get violent with my younger sister (see my post “Let’s Talk About: Bullying” for details on why). At the time, we had no idea I was autistic – see my early posts about how Asperger’s Syndrome wasn’t even re-discovered until I was in the middle of high school, and wasn’t acknowledged in the DSM until the year I graduated – and so Mom thought (reasonably enough, based on the knowledge at the time) that it was because I was watching violent television (I loved GI Joe at the time). So, she cut me off. (Which may have been a good thing, totally aside from the violence aspect – less TV watching meant more reading, and, as I will go into in that long-promised post about stims, my psychologist suspects that reading is actually a stim for me.)

But I was reading the comments to Ariane’s posts, and thinking about violence – both outwardly and inwardly directed – and I’ve started to find myself wondering if I wasn’t experiencing the same sort of reaction as other autistics do. My sister has always been very verbally quick-witted, and I sucked when it came to responding to her taunts verbally. I just don’t have the ability to respond quickly when it comes to verbal reactions. (Writing, I’m good at. Talking… I’m completely verbal, in the autistic sense of things… but I’m not comfortable with it, except under certain circumstances, usually involving things I’m interested it; and I can’t talk quickly about things. I have to think – and think for a while – before I can respond to anything verbally.) So it’s quite possible, looking back on things with the knowledge I have now, that I was lashing out physically because that’s the only way I knew of to control the situation, and to avoid being overloaded or sent into meltdown.

(Please note: At the time, my sister was – if I’ve got my age right – between 3 and 5 years old. She did continue the tormenting into adolescence… but she changed as she hit adulthood. We’ve even managed to communicate a bit about things since my post on bullying, and I can safely say that I think our relationship is greatly improved from what it was. I still have trouble communicating with her… but I have trouble communicating with my other siblings as well, so I think that’s probably just the autism and my personality in general.)

Other than that… the question of whether I’ve ever been violent since then would, I think, depend on exactly how you define Self-Injurious Behaviours (aka SIBs). If you think of SIBs as cutting, as bashing your limbs and head against things, etc. – then no, I’ve never engaged in that, and can never see myself doing so. (Anymore than I can see myself as suicidal; yes, I’ve got clinical depression – dysthymia, if one wants to be specific – but it’s not that kind of depression.)

If, on the other hand, you include things like digging your nails so deeply into your palms that the fact that they don’t start bleeding is lucky, in an effort to try to control sensory overload or pain somewhere else in your body… then yes, I have engaged in SIBs. Have engaged a lot in them.

[Correction: Sept. 12/13 @ 09:10] Okay, just actually talked to my mom about this. She said that there was definitely one occasion in which I did engage in SIBs – when I went and placed my hand over the lightbulb in the fridge. I think I was about 5 or 6? I was a bit confuzzled when she said that, because I had thought that was me being curious about something (like when I used to poke forks into plugs), but Mom said that no, I’d told her that it “was because I needed attention”. She also said I never told her what type of attention I needed, and she’d been confused at the time as to why I hadn’t just told her that I needed attention. (Now, of course, we both understand that it was probably the autism and my alexithymic traits kicking in.) [end correction]

I’m… not sure what side I come down on in that, to be honest. It’s one of those situations I mentioned in one of my earliest posts, about being able to see both sides of the argument, and not being able to decide between them because of that.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make – and yes, all this rambling and linking to other posts does have a point – is that: A) violence is a form of communication, and when you’re autistic, sometimes it’s the only form of communication that people will actually pay attention to (unfortunately, in that case, it’s usually negative attention, which can lead to that unpleasant positive feedback loop that I call a whirlpool); and B) if you are the parent or caregiver of an autistic child who does have issues with violence… there is help out here. There is hope.

There are parents who have gone through the same things as you, and there are autistic adults who have gone through the same sort of things as your children, who are willing, ready, and able to help you understand what’s happening with your children, and who can provide you with support and advice. Please, take advantage of it. This is why we (and by “we”, I’m taking a moment to speak on behalf of other adult autistics, not just myself) are putting ourselves out here, on the internet, talking about what our lives have been like, and what works for us, and what doesn’t. To help others. To help other autistics, and to help the parents of autistics. We want to help.

If you’ve read all the way down here, thank you – I do appreciate your patience with my rambling. I hope that this post is useful, whether because of the links I’ve provided, or because of what I’ve said about my own experience.


😉 tagAught

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