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We have two kids, a 4yr old girl, diagnosed autistic, and a 2.5 yr old boy, never assessed but unlikely to be autistic. Our daughter, who has recently begun receiving services, lashes out a few times a week at her brother (kicking/scratching/pushing) when she's overstimulated/not getting what she wants immediately. She's drawn blood by her attack of him. We usually try to restrain and raise our voices at her as quickly as possible to prevent her causing him any serious damage. Unfortunately, we now see our son mimic her behavior, albeit nowhere to same degree.

Should we pursue any particular approach to quell her outbursts that could, ideally, not be indicative of aggression (so that our son does not perceive our behavior as similar to hers) or is this something requiring professional intervention beyond what she receives at school?

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The best way to deal with autistic meltdowns in a young child is to avoid them as much as you can. Get ahead of the problem by redirecting her away from the upsetting situation as soon as she starts to seem agitated, or act to reduce the unpleasant sensory stimulus that is causing her to be overwhelmed. This could mean limiting or closely supervising the children's time together.

It could mean changing other things about her life to reduce the overall stress and sensory load (softer lighting, comfier clothes, less demands and expectations overall). It could mean that if there's a particular time of day she's most likely to be overwhelmed, she doesn't play with her brother, but instead spends some preemptive time in her favorite soothing place or activity.

Introduce a steady diet of pleasant and regulating stimulus. Swings, mini trampoline, climbing, crashing into a beanbag, moving cushions around to build a fort, crawling through tunnels, and other "whole body play" can help keep any young child emotionally regulated, and many autistic children rely on it to an even greater degree for day-to-day contentment and management of stress and overwhelm.

You might also provide her a little calming retreat in a child's pop-up tent or playhouse, her room, or just a pillow and sensory toy filled corner so she has a safe place to decompress. You will likely have to model and prompt going there for a break, and reinforce that it's a comfort, not a punishment. The end goal would be for her to eventually recognize that she's feeling overwhelmed and take herself to calm down before lashing out, but that's not realistic for most four-year-olds, with or without autism. It will take time to learn.

In general, a raised voice is likely to further overwhelm and escalate her when she's already lashing out, so focus on protecting your littler one - remove the toddler from her reach and make much over any hurt done to him so he understands that you will keep him safe, and you don't approve of hitting/scratching without you having to make "aggressive" actions of your own, or act harshly towards your autistic preschooler.

Although it's important for her to learn that hurting others is not okay, your daughter is probably acting out of severe sensory discomfort, dysregulation and/or upset. She is unlikely to be able to control these meltdowns and may need comfort as well once she is calm enough to accept it. Any attempts at "punishing" or correcting true meltdowns will likely make matters worse.

Disclaimer: This is very general information from reading and personal experience. I am not a professional and would never discourage asking your care team about this and getting more personalized strategies from a professional.

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