Some individuals with Aspergers or HFA may engage in crisis behavior that interferes with their learning, puts themselves or others at risk, prevents them from participating in various activities, or impedes the development of relationships. Crisis behavior can range in severity from low productivity to meltdowns that involve aggression, self-injury, or property destruction. Many individuals unfamiliar with Aspergers may believe these types of behaviors are intentional and malicious. However, it has become well known that problem behaviors often serve a function for the individual engaging in the behaviors. Additionally, deficits in the areas characterized by Aspergers may impact behavior.

Stressed teen girl screaming, shouting

Characteristics associated with Aspergers and how it may lead to crisis behavior:


Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurological disorder that impacts the way that individuals think, feel, and react. Individuals with Aspergers are believed to react “emotionally” rather than “logically” during stressful situations and are unable to maintain self-control.


Some individuals with Aspergers or HFA may have difficulty applying information and skills across settings, individuals, materials, and situations. Even though socially appropriate alternative strategies have been learned, the individual may be unable to “recall” the strategies while stressed.

Theory of Mind Deficits

People with these deficits have difficulty understanding the emotional and mental states of others. They may be unable to explain their own behaviors or may be unable to recognize when they’re agitated. They may also have difficulty understanding the perspectives of others or how their behaviors impact others.

Problem Solving

Although many individuals with Aspergers may be able to engage in high-level thinking and problem-solving skills, they may not be able to apply those skills to situations with which they are not interested. The individual may utilize one of a few strategies consistently and may have difficulty thinking of other options.


Although most people with Aspergers have good structural language skills, they may have poor pragmatic communication abilities. That is, they may not have the ability to use those language skills during social interactions. Pragmatic language difficulties may result in repetitive phrases, exaggerated inflections or monotone intonation, or difficulty sustaining conversations.


Reciprocal social interactions are a core deficit and make it difficulty for the individual to interact with others. The social rules are not understood and individuals with Aspergers or HFA often attempt to rigidly apply social rules.

Sensory Issues

Individuals may be hypersensitive to sounds, visual stimuli, textures, or foods. These stimuli may evoke behaviors that allow the individual to attempt to escape or avoid settings or situations in which the stimuli maybe present.

When we understand the internal factors that lead to crisis behavior in individuals with Aspergers or HFA, it can be easier to prevent and manage the behaviors.

by Lupe Castañeda, M.S., BCBA


Smith-Myles, B. & Southwick, J. (1999). Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments: Practical Solutions for Tantrums, Rage and Meltdowns.

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  1. I’m a 53-year-old woman, and think I may have Asperger’s although I have never been formally diagnosed (too expensive now, and not covered by int, not much known about Aspergers when I was younger, etc.). I could really use some moral support because I have been bullied at practically every job I’ve tried, and lack self-confidence. One minute I can think I’m intelligent and competent, and then, the minute I don’t know how to do something that’s expected of me and need to either have more time to figure it out or to ask for help I get criticism that is often harsh. I try not to let it get to me, but it happens repeatedly, and that makes me anxious, leading to more workplace bullying, especially from bosses. I had always wanted to help make the world a kinder place, to help people evaluate information for themselves – basically all the things that aren’t marketable because this world has no patience and so these things aren’t profitable. Please don’t tell me I’m feeling sorry for myself because I have tried many fields, including having trained as a public librarian, with good skills in reference-service, readers advisory, cataloging, etc. I have taken much initiative in my own professional development, but libraries have changed so that we are dealing with all the problems of society. I am greatly sympathetic to people who struggle with homelessness, mental health issues, drug addiction, etc., but I want some workplace training and protection against threatening behavior from patrons, and when I asked about this my bosses said I was “focusing on myself” even though they were totally unsympathetic to the patrons who had struggles. I tried child care work, with great enthusiasm for helping childrens’ social and emotional development as well as their cognitive skills, but I couldn’t multitask as was expected, and had trouble with managing to get four toddlers to line up to move from playground to classroom to nap or meal area, especially if one or more were having tantrums. I had the same difficulty when multiple preschool children would “act out” at the same time. Thus, I got bullied by bosses and co-workers again.

    I ask for some source of moral support because I want to have a meaningful life. I don’t want to think I’ve blown all my chances to pass something encouraging and hopeful to future generations (by the way I am happily married but we decided to not have kids). I just want to be able to find people to talk to who can relate to my situation so we can support one another and raise awareness of the issues middle aged people with Asperger’s face.

  2. My son is suspected of being in the Autism spectrum. Right now he has a diagnosis of ADHD in his school record and that is all they seem to be willing to deal with thru a 504 plan (which really gets him no help at all). Teachers don’t seem to know how to deal with this high functioning form of autism, OR they simply don’t have the extra time required to assist these children in the classroom setting. I truly don’t know what to do at this point…I have been requesting that he be re-evaluated since 6th grade and again in 8th grade, both times I was told the IEP doesn’t feel he needs to be tested (even after I paid to have private evaluations done). I have been trying to get him an IEP since 1st grade!!!

    1. I am going through the same thing with my son. They finally decided to go threw with the testing because his anxiety attacks that are offset by the teachers yelling at the class to acheive some sort of order, at this point have caused problem in his ability to focus and learn. The yelling is a trigger point for him. He has even gotten to the point od cutting himself in class to ease the anguish he feels from the yelling. I demanded them to evaluate him based on these measures alone. You are so right they dont seem to understand how to work with our children. The fact that they did not lock the sharp objects so it didnt happen a second time or ever again is what allowed me to hold their backs to a wall and demand something be done. If your son is a harm to himself and others and is not staying focused thats what you need to say as the reason it is effecting his learning ability. They so often think of ability as being the know how but they forget focusing is a major factor in receiving the information needed to learn. Maybe try that angle to get the IEP. As well if you havent already see if he can see a child neurologist thats how i had my son diagnosed. My son is very much borderline where they could say no but he(child neurologist) witnessed and confirmed enough to say he can see it too.

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