Understanding Crisis Behavior in People with Aspergers

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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2 thoughts on “Understanding Crisis Behavior in People with Aspergers

  1. 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!!!

    • 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.