The article is based on research conducted by Dr. Pamela Gaye Ambler towards her professional doctorate degree at the School of Psychology, University of Newcastle. Pamela is now in Private practice in Forster, working with children and adults. She is also undertaking a Master of Laws degree to better understand the experience of people with autism who have become involved with the criminal justice system.
This study was prompted by the observation that students with high-functioning autism were frequently reported to engage in apparently unprovoked aggression toward other students and sometimes teachers. These incidents would often result in suspension from school.
Student participants completed questionnaires measuring their anxiety and anger, and their teachers completed questionnaires reporting physically and verbally aggressive behaviour. Students with autism reported higher levels of anxiety and higher levels of reactive anger (immediate response to feelings of fear, frustration or threat) than their peers, while their teachers reported more incidents of aggression. The students with autism were also more often suspended. Importantly, students with better developed anger control strategies, regardless of their level of anxiety, were no more aggressive than their non-anxious peers.
These results suggest that providing students with autism with appropriate treatment for anxiety and helping them to develop effective anger control skills may help prevent incidents of physical aggression and improve the educational outcomes and quality of life for these students.
Ambler, P., Eidels, A., & Gregory, C. (2015). Anxiety and Aggression in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders Attending Mainstream Schools. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 18, 97-109. [link to paper]