Out of Reach

Some children, teens, and adults with autism strike out at other people. How can we keep our friends from hitting, biting, scratching, or pinching strangers, family and friends, or their fellow students at school?

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While we can gradually teach some of our aggressive friends with autism to keep hands down, we simply must be responsible for preventing harm to others. Each situation is different, but the key is to block access.

1. Out of reach. Keep all people out of reach by placing chairs more than arm’s length away. In a school setting, for example, the student need not be isolated from the group, but his friends and fellow students need to sit out of reach in the classroom, during circle time, in the lunchroom, and other places. Without fanfare, simply place chairs or lunch trays or desks slightly beyond arm’s reach.

2. Barrier. When walking in a store or playing at recess, our more aggressive friends with autism may be tempted to reach out and pinch or scratch someone. Again, there is not need to isolate him from crowds, but we can block access by making certain there is a preventative barrier. For example, you can be a barrier -walking between your friend with autism and other people in the hallway or on the playground. You can also use an object as a barrier. For example, you can place an empty desk between an aggressive student and other kids in the class. Or you can have a compulsive hitter keep her hands on a shopping cart while you guide the cart through the store.

3. Avoid. If your friend with autism is a particularly aggressive, you can simply avoid situations where it is impossible to keep people out of arm’s reach. For example, one of my older teen students is a large, strong youngster who compulsively hits or scratches anyone in reach. We are addressing some of the root causes of his hurtful behaviors, so he is gradually learning to keep his hands down and to “be nice.” The barrier method keeping people in contact but out of reach works well in the classroom and lunchroom, but crowded hallways and school assemblies simply put too many targets in easy reach. So he walks down the hallways to change classes AFTER the bell rings – when the halls are empty.

TIP FOR THE DAY: Remember there are MANY reasons for a person displaying aggressive, hurtful behavior. After making arrangements to keep people out of reach, then you need to tackle the root of the problem. The best place to start is with our “Pinpoint the Problem Toolkit.” Take a look at the first chapter by clicking on the Toolkit tab at our website: http://FAQautism.com

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at talk@FAQautism.com with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com

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