The Hitting Has Begun

13342959_1342236069120183_2382830390327838836_nI have been blogging about Cooper for a few years now. Since the beginning I’ve received more emails than I can count from autism parents who have teenagers. The emails always start the same way. They say they have a teenager who was just like Cooper. And they tell me about the diagnosis and the process and the where they are currently in the journey. And then they go onto tell me that their daughter or son started hitting and kicking and exhibiting really aggressive behaviors.

I’ve read enough of these emails to know how they end.

These parents had to make the heartbreaking decision about what to do once they behaviors got to be more than they could handle. Do they keep their child home and hire care? Do they quit their job? Do they home school? Or do they find a ‘home’ or facility that their child can go too.

These emails kill me.

I can’t imagine the weight of that decision. Just thinking about putting Cooper in a facility causes me to tear up. It makes me physically ill. But I told myself I wouldn’t have to worry about it. Cooper had zero aggression. He was sweet and loving. We were safe. I wouldn’t be faced with that decision ever.

Then two weeks ago Cooper started hitting me. Like, really hitting me. Mostly in the face. No matter what I asked him to do I would get a slap to the face or a kick to the stomach. And then it started happening at stores and in front of other people. That’s a game changer. People take notice of a kid hitting their parent. Or hitting their brother in a really aggressive way.

There is no hiding it. Unless of course we hide in our home. Which I try to avoid.

The hitting and kicking are impossible to deal with. I don’t know how to react. Disipline doesn’t work. Hugs don’t work. It’s almost like hitting is who he is now. SCARY.

Here is what I know:

1.) These behaviors happen when I remove him from his comfort zone…whether that be an actual place OR challenge him to do something he doesn’t want to do. For example he ALWAYS hits me at grocery stores. We will be standing in the checkout line and he will hit me in the face. It’s embarrassing and loud and it hurts. He hits me a lot at school drop off as well.

2.) He is rarely hitting to be mean. He is laughing and being silly. In his own way he is probably playing. You can even see the silliness in his face.

3.) Disciplining does nothing.Every time¬† I discipline for hitting it is like the first time. There is no recollection of ‘why’ he shouldn’t hit.

4.) He doesn’t know the difference between giving a loving touch and an aggressive touch. And that is sad. Really sad.

5.) I’m not going to be able to handle him much longer.

I put in a call to his social worker and told him what was happening. He told me about a group that will come into our home and give me ideas on how to combat the behaviors. Sigh. I really thought we could avoid this.

I never pictured a day when Cooper would be aggressive. It’s so new I am hoping it just goes away but…deep down…I know it’s not going too. This is most likely the next phase. Nonverbal kids…teens…people…get frustrated and MUST find a way to communicate. And often it comes out in the form of aggression.


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Kate Swenson

Kate Swenson lives in Minnesota with her husband Jamie, and four children, Cooper, Sawyer, Harbor and Wynnie. Kate launched Finding Cooper's Voice from her couch while her now 11-year-old son Cooper was being diagnosed with autism. Back then it was a place to write. Today it is a living, thriving community of people who want to not only advocate for autism, but also make the world a better place for individuals with disabilities and their families. Her first book, Forever Boy, will be released, April 5, 2022.

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  1. blogzilly on June 8, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    I’m really sorry to hear this. I haven’t blogged regularly in a couple years, always say I will get back to it but Life is so hard. And my son Bennett’s aggression continues to progress and yeah, I hear you…the thought of a “decision” of any kind sends my mind, my heart, into a kind of depressive tailspin I can’t explain to most people who aren’t living on that precipice every day.

    I can’t offer you words of encouragement or hope. Though I still have hope, if that is any encouragement. And he, Bennett, has had the aggression for many years. But I have to believe, until I can’t, that there are still options.

    You are all in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. Elisabeth on June 8, 2016 at 9:55 pm

    Don’t give up. Yes, indeed some parents will not be able to handle it and have to make heart breaking decisions, but many others find ways that work and many kids with nonverbal autism learn different ways to express pain, excitement and frustration. With a mom like yourself and the help you get, I feel confident that you will be able to teach Cooper.
    My son did bite and scratch me at some times in the past. I still have some scars on my face, which I cover with make-up. These are surface scars and not too bad. I found that he did hurt me when he was in pain himself.
    When he was Cooper’s age, he bit my young daughter in her face. It was in a shoe shop and the sales person was very loud. I think my son could not handle the situation and could not express it. He did not know what he had done, only that what he did worked…as we run out of the shop. It happened on one other occasion, also in a shop. After that I learnt to keep shop visits very brief and made sure I was close to him and by signs of frustration gave him positive attention and when he responded well, we rewarded him by leaving the shop.

  3. Amber Perea on June 9, 2016 at 3:12 am

    This breaks my heart for you and him. Even more so because it’s not an aggresive behavior, that almost makes it harder to “discipline”. I can’t exactly commiserate, but I wish you all of the positve vibes that the group can come in and give you all of the answers that you and he both need. Hugs!

  4. larva225 on June 9, 2016 at 11:21 am


  5. Dina on June 15, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    Does he have his AAC device with him during some of these events? Could you make available phrases like “All done,” “Get me out of here,” “Too loud,” “Something hurts,” “No school,” etc. They are not phrases we all love to hear, but they are things all kids say sometimes, and just being able to easily let you know may be a first step to circumventing the hitting.