Though aggression is not typical of everyone with autism, new research suggests that it affects many with the developmental disorder and brings significant and often lifelong challenges.

In a study out of Canada, researchers followed 15 families of male children and young adults with varying levels of autism. Of the study participants, nine families said that aggression is an issue they face.

In-depth interviews were conducted with caregivers in the families that cited aggression. Researchers also conducted home visits with eight of the families, but the ninth declined indicating that they were “pretty embarrassed” about their “damaged house.”

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Overall, researchers found that families dealing with aggressive behavior struggled with social isolation, concerns about the safety of people and property, lack of respite care and limited professional supports as well as the added expense of repairs and home modifications. What’s more, the families were concerned about being able to find alternate housing for their child with autism as they aged, according to the study published online this month in the journal Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities.

Though the study was small, researchers behind the report emphasized that little has been done to understand the daily experiences of families coping with autism and aggression. Their findings suggest that there’s far too little support for individuals with aggressive tendencies and those affected by them.

Parents described an “unbearable” level of exhaustion, with at least one mother comparing her situation to being in “jail for life.”

While generally speaking families were happy with the care their child received for core symptoms of autism, most said professionals offered only limited knowledge and assistance for dealing with aggression either through medication or behavior supports. One family was actually kicked out of a home-based program for individuals with autism because of the boy’s aggression, with officials concluding that the environment was not “safe or productive.”

The study authors from the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary said they hope that the findings will offer insight into the type of resources families need.

“It is important to note that there were many similarities in families’ experiences despite much diversity in child and family characteristics, such as child age and type of aggressive behavior,” the researchers wrote. “From the perspective of the participants, there appears to be an urgent need for multidisciplinary professional services that adequately addresses aggression in individuals with ASD across the life span.”

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