Aggressive Behaviors or Intense Energy?

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Aggressive Behaviors or Intense Energy?

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Topic: Aggressive Behaviors or Intense Energy?

intense energy - children playing

When a parent describes their child as ‘aggressive’ they mean that they are hitting, biting, scratching, pinching, pulling hair, spitting in people’s faces, slapping, punching, kicking and generally using physical force. This term is also used if their child is biting their own hand, head banging or slapping their own head, and other self-injurious activities.

In the dictionary ‘Aggressive’ is defined as follows: ‘Characterized by or tending toward unprovoked offensives, attacks, invasions, or the like; militantly forward or menacing: aggressive acts against a neighboring country.’

Thus when we use this word to describe our children’s behaviors, we are saying that our children are out to attack us. When they are self-harming, are we believing that they are attacking themselves in an unprovoked way?

‘Violent’ is another word that is used to describe the behaviors listed above. We often have parents seeking help from us who say things such as, “My child is becoming violent,” or professionals who say they are working with “a violent child.”

‘Violent’ is defined in the dictionary as follows:‘Extremely forceful actions that are intended to hurt people or are likely to cause damage, using or involving force to hurt or attack.’

When we call our children violent, we are suggesting that they are intending to hurt us. The word violent can conjure up images of murder and war, not something that we would attribute to a child with Autism.

A New Perspective

At the Autism Treatment Center of America, home of The Son-Rise Program, we do not take the view that children are attacking us in an unprovoked manner as the word ‘aggressive’ suggests, they are not somehow inherently bad, or really actually want to hurt other people. We believe that they are trying to take care of themselves in the only way they know. We do not label this behavior as ‘aggressive’, or ‘violent’ – we call it ‘intense energy.’ The label ‘intense energy’ has none of the judgmental associations that the words ‘aggressive’ or ‘violent’ have, and more accurately describes what is happening.

Below are two of the most common reasons why your child may have intense energy.

Jump to Reason #1 Jump to Reason #2

Understanding the reason helps you to put into place the most effective strategies to minimize your child’s intense energy, as well as new thoughts and beliefs you can adopt to help yourself feel more comfortable with this aspect of your child. Intense energy does not happen “out of the blue.” Parents tell us that their children will hit them for no apparent reason, that it happens “out of the blue.” In our decades of experience working with children and adults with Autism, we have been hit, strangled, kicked, punched, pinched, bitten, slapped, head butted, and scratched by both little children and adults. Our training at the Autism Treatment Center of America teaches how to really observe a child and notice what is going on with them and the relationship between what we do and what they do. Children and adults alike give clear signs that they are about to hit the person they are working with. This is exciting news for you because it means that all you have to do is observe your child, and become clearer at understanding and noticing what YOU do.


We know that our children’s sensory system is very challenged. They may have energy that is building up inside them that they do not know how to successfully release. When we have excess energy in our bodies we do some exercise to help release it. Autistic children do not seem to understand what is happening in their bodies and so create unique and interesting ways to relieve the buildup of energy. They bite, pinch and squeeze someone else with great determination and strength. The action of biting or pinching actually allows them to release this energy, helping them organize themselves physically.

Try this exercise:

  1. Find an object like a bouncy ball or a washcloth soaked in water.
    • Really bite into it. Yes I do mean that. Sink your teeth into it with all your might.
    • Do this three times, each time lasting at least 20 seconds.
  2. Clasp your hands together and really squeeze them, again not halfheartedly but with all your might.
    • Do this three times, each time lasting at least 20 seconds.
  3. Write down how it felt to do this.
What people report is a release of any built up tension. It feels good to do this! And is helpful for the body. Our children are doing this for the same reasons. However, their need to release energy from their bodies is far greater than ours. The trick here is to help our child use something other than another person to release their energies. They may also give themselves their own sensory input by banging their heads, biting into the soft part at the base of their thumbs, slapping their thighs, and banging their feet. In this case, we see the children as acting as their own occupational therapists, trying to help their sensory systems balance.

What are the signs?

You may notice your child doing one of the following behaviors right before they hit or pinch you, or you may have seen an increase in these behaviors for the 30 minute period prior to their intense energy:
  • Jumping up and down intensely
  • Tensing part of their bodies, for example tensing their face so much so that it may shake a little.
  • Bang any part of their body more vigorously with either their own hand or an object.
  • Run around the house or room with increased energy.
  • Yell sounds louder and longer than usual.
  • Becoming more intense and faster in reciting their scripts from movies or books.
  • Urgently fire questions at you when you know they know the answer.
  • Get into a contrary pattern, where they ask for something, then say no when you give it to them, then ask for it again then say no when you re-offer it, and so forth.
If you are not sure what your child does during the period of time just before they have intense energy, become a detective, take your note pad with you and begin to record what you see. Noticing what happens before and after your child has intense energy will give you valuable cues as to why they are doing this. Once we know why then we can apply the most useful strategies to help them. We want to take care of the underlying reason for your child’s “intense energy” rather than just managing the symptoms.

What to do?

The idea here is to give them the sensory input that they are seeking throughout the day, so that it does not build up to a moment when they will seek it from us using ‘Intense energy.’

You can do this by:

  • Initiating squeezing your child’s hands, feet or head.
  • Initiating a bear hug, you sitting behind your child and wrapping your arms and legs around your child so that you can give them a really big body squeeze.
  • Rolling a big therapy ball over your child, this is a useful way to give a ‘bear hug’ to a bigger or older child.
  • Encouraging your child to jump on a trampoline.
  • For an older child 14 and above, I would suggest that you make sure that they get a lot of exercise, such as swimming, jogging/running/long brisk walks, jumping on a big trampoline, something where they really exert themselves. Do this three times a week.
You can do any of the above suggestions. Pick one that you think your child will enjoy the most. While doing the first three suggestions, you should experiment with the intensity in which you offer the pressure of the bear hug, squeeze or roll of the therapy ball. Slowly increase the pressure while looking to make sure that your child is enjoying it. My experience is that children who are using intense energy because of their sensory needs will like very deep pressure.

How to respond to my child when they hit for this reason?

  1. Think the following thoughts:
    • My child is hitting me in an attempt to take care of their sensory system.
    • It means nothing about their love or respect towards me.
    • I can help my child by giving them more sensory input to help them balance their bodies.
    • These thoughts will help prepare you to respond in a peaceful, calm and loving way.
  2. Squeeze their hands, head or jaw
    • If they are banging their head on you, offer to squeeze their head. Offer to squeeze their hands if they are pinching you. If they are biting you, offer pressure on their jaw line.
    • Explain to them that they do not have to hit, pinch or head butt you, and that you would be happy to squeeze them whenever they want it.
Now that you know the warning signs, you should be able to give your child the sensory input they are seeking before it gets to the stage of biting, pinching or hitting. Catch a hand before it reaches you to give it a squeeze! Give a mouth lurching towards you something to bite upon!
–>For a child who likes to bite oftentimes as they are hugging, have a small chew toy in your pocket that you can offer them, or place pads underneath your t-shirt to guard your shoulders. –>If your child manages to bite you, move into the bite verses pulling away from it. For example, if they are biting your arm, push your arm into the bite; if you pull your arm away it will hurt more. Take your thumb and forefinger and push either side of your child’s jaw line, this will not hurt your child and makes them instantly open their mouth.


Hitting, biting, slapping, spitting, punching, head banging, biting themselves can just simply be your child telling you that they want something. This can be the case for a child who has yet to become verbal and for a child who is highly verbal. If they believe that the people in their lives will get them something quicker if they hit either the person or themselves, then they may press the fast forward button by doing just that.

What are the signs?

  • They pinch/hit/bite/punch right after you have told them that they cannot have something.
  • They are having trouble making their wants understood.
  • They hit within different games usually rough and tumble – this can be your child’s way of re-initiating the game with you.
What happens is the people around them will start to move faster and ‘understand’ more when they hit, the adult suddenly becoming more responsive because they want to avoid getting hit. A child can start to think – ‘ok so the way to get more of what I want is to hit, then everyone tries to understand me more.’ In this instance it is important for you to become aware not only of when your child is using intense energy, but also what YOU are doing in response to it.

Try this exercise:

Answer the following questions in the context of responding to your child hitting you when they want something or are having a challenge communicating to you what they want:
  • How is your body reacting? Does your heart beat faster? Do your hands start to sweat?
  • What are you feeling? Angry? Sad? Scared? Happy?
  • How do you move? Faster? Slower?
  • Do you give your child the object or activity they were asking for?
  • If you do not understand what they want, do you offer them many different things?
Then start observing how your other family members interact with your child, how they respond when your child hits them. Inquire at your child’s school or therapy program about how they respond when your child hits them. If your child is hitting to communicate a want, it is because somebody somewhere is responding fast to this communication.

What to do?

  1. Think the following thoughts:
    • My child is clever! He is trying to get what he wants by the quickest route possible.
    • This means nothing about me.
    • I know what to do. I can help my child by moving slowly and letting him know that I do not understand him when he hits.
  2. Move slowly.
    • This is very important. We want to show our children that any form of intense energy will not help them get what they want quicker, in fact it makes people slower.
  3. Explain.
    • Tell your child that you do not understand what they mean when they hit you. Explain also that even if they hit you, it is not going to change the situation and you are still not going to take them to the store or park.
  4. Move out of the way, and give an alternative.
    • Now that you know why your child behaves in this way be prepared. If your child wants something to which the answer is no:
    • Know that they may hit you.
    • Step out of the way, so they cannot reach you with their hands. This will give you time to protect yourself by catching their hands and squeezing them, or offering something else to hit, like a ball or a drum.
    • If your child is an adult or bigger than you, always have a big therapy ball or a big cushion available that you can put between you and your child to protect yourself. If you think they may hit you, put it between you so that it is ready for your protection. Believe that you are strong and hold it in place with all your determination, do not let it go.
  5. Do not give your child the thing they hit you for.
    • This is very important! You want to help your child understand that intense energy of any kind will not get them what they want. This is a very important skill to teach your child, one that will serve them socially in the years to come.
    • If you want to give your child the thing they just attempted to hit you for, make sure that you ask them to communicate in a different way before you give it to them. Ask them to point to it, or use an approximation of the word, or the word itself. Celebrate them for doing this, and make sure you explain to them that you are giving it to them because they communicated in this different way, not because they hit you.
  6. Be Persistent and Consistent.
    • You already have a history of moving fast when your child hits you, thus it may take a little time for your child to realize that this is no longer the way you respond. Keep responding in the way outlined above until they get this concept. (see Timing & Persistence)

If it is taking longer than two weeks for your child to change this behavior, make sure that you are following all of the steps outlined above. Maybe you have left one crucial step out? If not, it is most likely that someone other than you is responding in a fast manner. Be a detective and find out who that person is.


NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration


NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration



NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration

Pre-Requisites for this course are:

  • Your child is 7 years or older.
  • Your child uses sentences, asks and answers questions and might even be able to have back and forth conversations with other people.
  • You have completed one of the following: The Son-Rise Program Start-Up, The Son-Rise Program Online Course, or you have done Son-Rise Program Consultations.


NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration


NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration



NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration


NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration


NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration


NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course. Please note, this is a per-person registration

Please make sure you understand the following pre-requisites for this course before registering.

Pre-requisites for this course are:

  • Your child is currently using babbling sounds or unclear words, or
  • Your child has a vocabulary of less than 20 words and is not yet speaking in phrases.


NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.
Please note, this is a per-person registration

Please make sure you understand the following pre-requisites for this course before registering.

Pre-requisites for this course are:

  • For parents or care-givers who have attended The Start-Up course or who have done The Son-Rise Program Online course.
  • For families who have already started running a Son-Rise Program for their children.


Amanda Louison

  • Director of Operations
  • Deputy CEO
  • Senior Son-Rise Program Advisor
  • Former Son-Rise Program Child Facilitator

Personal Statement

"I came to the Autism Treatment Center of America in October of 2008 where I took the position as the Intensive Coordinator. Before coming to the Autism Treatment Center of America, I worked with special children for 13 years, and upon my arrival fell in-love with the Son-Rise Program®. The modality of “Bonding through acceptance” opened my eyes to a world of love and acceptance for my own son, who has ADHD, and inspired me to want to live a happier, more loving life. I soon set the intention of doing the Son-Rise Program® Child Facilitator Training so I could share my love with children on a much deeper level. I spent six months observing and learning the Son-Rise Program, and in April of 2009 was accepted into the Son-Rise Program® Child Facilitator Training Program and in July of 2010, I became a Son-Rise Program® Child Facilitator staff member and cherished my time in the playroom as a facilitator.

I continued my training at The Autism Treatment Center of America to become a Senior Son-Rise Program® Advisor. My love of Son-Rise Program® inspired me to talk with parents who are just beginning their journey and who are continuing journey with their children using the Son-Rise Program® principals and techniques.

Through the years, I found myself wanting to help our staff grow and the organization flourish, so I have now moved into a managerial role while still working as a Senior Program Advisor. I am currently the Director of Operations and Deputy CEO of the Autism Treatment Center of America and the Option Institute and look forward to working with our staff and with parents of children on the Autism Spectrum for many years to come."

Fun Facts:

Amanda has been married for 24 years and has two amazing children, a son age 22 and daughter who is 18. Some of her favorite hobbies are hiking, reading, finding tag sales, traveling and spending time with her family.

Dear Donor,

Jeannie Reid was searching for answers to the challenges she and her family were facing. Jeannie and her husband Stuart’s son, Carson, had been diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a condition on the Autism spectrum. For Carson that meant being completely involved in obsessive behaviors and only using minimal words to identify objects, as well as frequently and completely melting down.

Soon after, Jeannie found the book, “Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues” and when she read it, she KNEW she had found what she was looking for. She began using some of the Son-Rise techniques described in the book on her own until she was able to come to The Autism Treatment Center of America for the Son-Rise Program Start-Up. As she put into practice what she learned there, Carson’s world was opening up. Today Carson is attending a Montessori school as a 'typical' student and functioning at or above typical grade level, being fully verbal and conversational, and very interested in learning about the world and interacting as much as possible with other people. He is even taking swim lessons at the local YMCA and doing great!

“It has been wonderful to get, and stay connected with other people and Son-Rise parents from all over the world. My son’s progress had already come very far, but now I truly believe we can go all the way!”

Jeannie wrote.

Stuart Reid then attended the Empower Yourself course and brought home a new sense of clarity, balance and personal power. He shared his new empowerment with Jeannie and she in turn gained in confidence, strength and enthusiasm. Their own relationship began to flourish anew, as well. Life-altering changes were happening for Jeannie and her family.

Jeannie journeyed again to Sheffield, this time for the Fearless course at The Option Institute to help her recognize and overcome her personal obstacles. Jeannie wanted to continue her amazing journey as she had found using the techniques she learned in The Son-Rise Program and in Fearless had absolutely changed the lives of everyone in her family.

But, because the Reids’ finances had been seriously stretched by then, their next steps were put on hold. Then an amazing event changed everything. Jeannie’s college roommate and lifelong friend decided to start a Son-Rise Program scholarship fund for people from the Cleveland area. Since then Jeannie has been able to move ahead with her courses, taking Radical Authenticity, Son-Rise Maximum Impact and Son-Rise Wide Awake ... and eventually she became a Certified Group Facilitator.

Jeannie Reid’s story is about wanting BIG and making it happen. She is about to embark on her renewed private practice as an art therapist, and plans to be a super advocate for The Son-Rise Program in her area. Her wonderful new life is a product of her persistence and belief, and of the wheels she helped set in motion for others when her friends learned of how she and her family had been impacted by The Son-Rise Program.

“I know I will be able to give back by helping others, and that will be the top of my personal mountain! Thank you to everyone who donates! You are making a big difference in the world!

Jeannie Reid


Dear Donor

Two years ago, Antonio's kindergarten teacher told us something was not quite right with our little boy. He was not socializing, he somersaulted all the time and hardly spoke at all. At the time I was working for a municipality close to Florence, Italy and basically I had nothing left after seeing to basic necessities.

In the meantime, I looked up Autism with Google and as I was also looking for happiness and personal growth, I was guided to The Option Institute, thence the Autism Treatment Center of America. I read up as much as I could and started trying to apply the “Happiness is a Choice” suggestions. I'm not quite good at it but it has helped me with attitude, and everything else that seemed trying is really different after all this.

When I decided to come for The Son-Rise Program Start-Up, I really had little or no money to pay for it. I spoke to my friends, old and new. My mother helped me, friends I thought couldn't [help] tried their very best and the scholarship did the rest.

What the scholarship did was give a HUGE boost to my fundraising. About six friends contributed the rest, at the travel agency a very kind lady who I may now call a friend helped me some more. I am overwhelmed with gratefulness. Here I am, happy to have attended the Start-Up program and looking forward to learning more and praying to God for guidance.

So the gist of the matter is, I am a happy mum who hopes to implement a wonderful relationship with her child and is riding a not so easy moment with lots of hope in her heart and THANK YOU is not enough for what I feel. I still remember William's words, “If you do what you've always done, you will get what you've always got.” Now I'm trying to do different, bit by bit, day by day. I feel the difference already.

About Antonio ... we are going on with the Italian program and I play with Antonio after school in a quiet room in the house. Knowing what the little guy is exposed to (he's always putting his fingers in his ears and he seems to have problems with too much light in his eyes), I find him very brave as he bears it tolerably. Drums a lot to digest it all.

When we went to the doctor, just weeks after starting the program at home, she told me that she found him more attentive. His attention span has increased. He is also tagging or pulling at one's arm when looking for attention. The child psychologist last Saturday reported the same thing and what's more, my son has always required that I enter the room, hence assisting in every session. Well, this time he went in along with the doctor and told me, “See you later.”

At school, his teacher who speaks English as well, read up and watched my DVD (Kyle’s Journey, Jade and “I want my little boy back”). Now she's changing, bit by bit and I do appreciate that very much. He seems to be OK with her and actually sent me away from class this morning, again telling me, “See you later.”

He is now ONE HUGE GREENLIGHT and I'm hoping to be able to really have volunteers (still looking), raise funds and settle down to business.

God bless,



Dear Donor,

I am the mother of three children, all on the Autism Spectrum. Before I heard of the Son-Rise Program and the Option Institute, I was a desperate, angry and depressed person…. I was on Anti-depressants, sleeping multiple hours of the day, and for a period of time, using alcohol to run away from my pain.

Then I heard of the Son-Rise Program. I called to find out more about it and thought “this if for me!” But I could not afford it. You see raising one child with Autism is very expensive but raising three is just outrageously expensive with all the therapies and dietary interventions that we were doing.

But I was offered a full scholarship to the SRSU program. I have since attended all of the Son-Rise Programs and many of the Personal Growth programs offered by the Option Institute.  Each time I have been given a scholarship and each time I go I learn more about who I am and I change for the better each and every time.  Because of your most generous support, my children are recovering from Autism, I have found happiness in my life!  I am no longer on anti-depressants and I have so much more energy.

YOU are the reason that my family is in recovery. It is because of YOU that my oldest son now is enjoying school.  YOU are the reason my second son is speaking. YOU are the reason my daughter is no longer as rigid and controlling as she once was.  Thank you does not even begin to cover how much gratitude I have for you.  I thank God every day for you and I do not even know you.

Please know that you are changing lives with your donation to ATCA and the OI.  It is because of you that every day people are getting the help that they need. Thank you, thank you and thank you!

With so much love,

Kerry Rihtar


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