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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Asperger's and Violence: Experts Weigh In

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When a Child With Autism Is Violent

Amy Lutz doesn’t buy the idea that people with autism may turn to violence as a way to communicate. Lutz is the president of the EASI Foundation, which stands for Ending Aggression and Self-Injury in the Developmentally Disabled, a new nonprofit she started to help parents with violent children.

Lutz has a 13-year-old son with autism who was once so aggressive that he was admitted to a residential treatment program for a year so doctors could stabilize his rages.

“I didn’t want to become that mom who was beaten to death by her son,” she says, referring to the case of Trudy Steuernagel, who was killed by her teenage autistic son.

Lutz says that in her experience, her son’s rages were unpredictable. She says they happened in reaction to something in his environment or to some chemical imbalance in his brain. They were never predatory, as the shooting in Connecticut seemed to be.

“There was no intention behind the aggression,” Lutz says. “He would go off a cliff and there was no coming back until the storm had passed.”

But the storms were terrible. When her son was 9, they had him committed to the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore for a year, where he was given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in addition to his autism.

A 2008 review found that 84% of violent offenders with autism also had co-existing psychiatric disorders at the time they committed the crime.  

Lutz says that in her son’s case, electroshock therapy to control the bipolar disorder has helped.

“He’s still very autistic, but the rage is gone,” she says.

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