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Aggression in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Supporting the Entire Family

Sabapathy, Thusa MD; Vanderbilt, Douglas L. MD, MS; Zamora, Irina PsyD; Augustyn, Marilyn MD

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: October 2016 - Volume 37 - Issue 8 - p 685–686
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000347
Challenging Case

CASE: Juanita is a 13-year-old non-verbal Latina girl with autism spectrum disorder, moderate intellectual disability, and a seizure disorder whose aggressive behaviors toward her parents have significantly worsened over the past few months.

Juanita's monolingual Spanish-speaking parents are here today for medication management at her primary care clinic. The parents report that Juanita pinches them, pulls their hair, and hits her head with her fists. Her aggression toward them is usually triggered by feelings of frustrations, leaving her parents feeling like they have to walk on eggshells around her and have led to differing parenting styles. Her father reports that he tries to avoid getting her upset and prefers to watch TV with her, whereas her mother takes on the day-to-day caretaking. Although he wants to take a more active role in parenting Juanita, when he tries, Juanita becomes more aggressive and reacts violently toward him.

During the visit, Juanita keeps her eyes downcast, is withdrawn, and some strain is noted between her parents. While speaking to them, Juanita's mother chimes in and reports that she considers herself the primary caregiver and the one who knows her daughter the best. She often dismisses Juanita's father's reporting, saying that “he doesn't know what really is going on.” When Juanita is taken to the restroom by her mother, her father tearfully reports that he feels that it may be best for everyone that he leaves the family because of Juanita's worsening aggression toward him and the toll it is taking on his marriage. How would you approach her management?

*Division of General Pediatrics, Children's Hospital Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA;

†Department of Pediatrics, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA;

Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, University Center for Developmental Disabilities. Los Angeles, CA;

§Department of Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston Medical Center, Boston, MA.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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