The Asperger Brain
Various structural and functional abnormalities in certain areas of the Asperger brain, notably the amygdala, may influence the perception and regulation of emotions – particularly anger and aggressive behaviours.
These regulation deficits, combined with years of perceived rejection, isolation and bullying, may coalesce during times of stress, thus creating a “blind rage” or “meltdown”, and potentially culminating in an act of explosive aggression.
Why So Angry?
The Asperger adolescent, when threatened by perceived personal injustice, may either withdraw or alternatively present an aggressive, oppositional, emotionally brittle or narcissistic façade.
Contributing factors may include the under-rated phenomenon of victimisation and bullying toward Asperger individuals by both peers and siblings. Why? Because they are different. Research suggests the prevalence of peer and sibling victimisation, bullying and peer shunning of Asperger individuals is as high as 94 percent!
Aggression Inspires Aggression
Adolescent aggression is multi-dimensional, comprising of proactive and reactive aggression, verbal and physical aggression, and instrumental and hostile aggression. Peer aggression may be further divided into relational and overt aggression.
Intentional verbal and behavioural manipulation (relational aggression) is commonly used against a vulnerable, unsuspecting Asperger adolescent to undermine relationships. This covert form of aggression includes silent exclusion or scape-goating (the act of framing/blaming an innocent party).
Asperger adolescents are typically confused by these non-verbal social interactions and struggle with “reading” or sensing the motivations, intentions and behaviours of others.
Overwhelmed by confusion, the Asperger adolescent may react with overt aggression in the form of verbal threats of physical harm, the use of physical dominance and/or destructive behaviour.
Meltdowns – Why?
Many unforeseen factors contribute to the formation of a meltdown; some examples include sudden change, sensory overload or frustration.
For the Asperger adolescent, a seemingly innocuous situation such as not being able to understand a question (or an answer), or being offered too many choices, may trigger a degree of emotion or stress that rapidly becomes overwhelming.
This emotional state effectively prevents an angry Asperger adolescent from considering alternative strategies (such as taking time out to cool down) and instead, potentially creates an instantaneous, inappropriate physical response. The adolescent may punch a hole in a wall, throw an object or lash out at another. Interestingly, lashing out at a peer, sibling or parent in anger/frustration may be a deliberate act employed by the Asperger adolescent as a mood restorative, thus becoming a powerful negative reinforcement for aggressive behaviour.
Important Note: parents and carers need to be aware that meltdowns may often be followed by potentially harmful self-recrimination and/or self-harm.
What To Do?
Would you like to talk to a psychologist who has a lived experience of Asperger adolescent anger, aggression and meltdowns and has lived to tell the tale? Would your teenager like to talk to someone who understands why they feel compelled to punch holes in the wall?
I will listen and provide support and strategies within a calm and safe environment.
Remember, with a little help and understanding, anything is possible …
Author: Christine Burnett, B Psych (Hons), AMAPS.
Christine Burnett is a registered psychologist who offers therapy from a person-centred, holistic and integrated approach. As a mother of five, including a teen with Asperger’s Syndrome, Christine has a personal understanding of the day-to-day challenges of family life and the complexities of living with disability in the family. She is passionate about facilitating positive change within the areas of parental health and wellbeing, adolescent mental health and adjustment and coping within a family context.
To make an appointment with Psychologist Christine Burnett, you can book online 24/7 or freecall 1800 877 924.