SpeechPathology.com Phone: 800-242-5183

Global Teletherapy - Remote Therapy Experts - April 2021

Proactive and Reactive Aggression

Dawn R. Girten, MA, CCC-SLP, Kaitlyn Laskey, MS, CCC-SLP

November 28, 2016



What is the difference between proactive aggression and reactive aggression?


When children exhibit proactive aggression, they are very calm. Everything is planned and reason dominates. These children are not very emotional. The aggressor is in control and the action is completely designed to achieve a goal. With proactive aggression, the child may appear to be staring, or smiling/smirking. They are very deliberate and methodical in their actions. They are impassive, often not showing any feeling or emotion. They remain firm, calm and menacing. These children are very much in control of their actions.

Here is an example of proactive aggression.  A child approached a boy and stole one of his toys.  The boy, whose toy was stolen, did not react at that time.  Rather, the next day he purposely sat next to his peer and attacked him.   It was a pattern for this boy to hold a grudge if someone wrongs him.  He doesn’t react in the moment because they are expecting it.  He waits a day or two and then targets the person.  That is a very proactive type of aggression.

When working with children with proactive aggression, the first goal is to make sure that they're not risking the safety of other people or themselves. We need to contain the situation. Since these children have cognitive control and they know what they're doing, you can try to engage and reason with them. Reasoning strategies might be the most effective since they are aware of what they are doing.

When children are using reactive aggression, it's more fear-induced. Emotions take over. It can trigger a fight or flight response. These children have no control over their emotions, there's no rhyme or reason to the behaviors that they're doing. It's very emotion-based.

When a child is engaging in reactive aggression, they might look wide-eyed, red-faced, or pale. They might be disorganized and impulsive, use angry and shrill voices, and they might be highly aroused. When a child is engaging in more reactive aggression, we want to try to remove that stressor, whether it's a person or an object that's causing them stress. Since the child is in a heightened state of emotion, we want them to be able to drain their emotion. Also, we want to address any valid concerns, regarding their emotions, and remove any targets toward which they might turn their aggression. 

dawn r girten

Dawn R. Girten, MA, CCC-SLP

Dawn R. Girten, MA, CCC-SLP is the Coordinator for Speech-Language Pathology services in Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. The speech-language pathologists serve as part of a multi-disciplinary team for children in both inpatient and outpatient. Her specialty areas include evaluation and treatment for children with autism spectrum, auditory processing, language and/or social communication deficits.  She also enjoys working with the child who displays behavioral difficulties.

kaitlyn laskey

Kaitlyn Laskey, MS, CCC-SLP

Kaitlyn Laskey, MS, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center College Hill satellite. Her areas of interest and expertise include autism, metal health, language, and social-pragmatics.  She has been with the Division of Speech-Language Pathology for over 3 years. 

Related Courses

A Practical Treatment Approach for Students with Social Communication Disorders in Schools, Part 1
Presented by Mary Asper, MS, CCC-SLP


Mary Asper, MS, CCC-SLP
Course: #9499Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'too much info in too short a time'   Read Reviews
This is Part 1 of a two-part series. This course helped SLPs build a repertoire of social communication intervention strategies and improve functional outcomes with evidence-based treatment plans for students Pre-K to 6th grade. Individual case studies will demonstrate how social communication disorders present in a variety of diagnostic categories. Practical tools for treatment from the therapy room to the classroom - including collaboration with other professionals - will be discussed.

Autism and Neurodiversity
Presented by Diane E. Treadwell-Deering, MD


Diane E. Treadwell-Deering, MD
Course: #1033757Level: Advanced1 Hour
  'I liked how the presenter progressed through her information and the flow of the presentation'   Read Reviews
This course will review the concept of neurodiversity as it pertains to autism spectrum disorder, clarifying aspects of terminology, framework, and beliefs and comparing this model with the medical model.

A Practical Treatment Approach for Students with Social Communication Disorders in Schools, Part 2
Presented by Mary Asper, MS, CCC-SLP


Mary Asper, MS, CCC-SLP
Course: #9515Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'Great presentation'   Read Reviews
This Part 2 of a 2-part series focused on functional social communication intervention for grades 7 thru 12 into adulthood. Treatment plans and case studies are presented to highlight techniques for engaging teens & adults in therapy, tips for extending social communication strategies into the classroom, and methods for helping adults overcome social anxiety.

Communication and Independence for the Young Adult with Autism
Presented by Lisa R. Audet, PhD, CCC-SLP


Lisa R. Audet, PhD, CCC-SLP
Course: #9005Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'Lisa Audet continues to be the best! Her knowledge about ASD and practical solutions are invaluable'   Read Reviews
Intellectually capable young adults with autism have unique social, communication and emotional needs. This course will explore the socio-cultural aspects of equity and inclusion that individuals in this group encounter. It will also address the interrelationship of individual needs, therapy strategies, and the skills needed in order to navigate this socio-cultural context.

Autism Outreach Podcast: Autism Teletherapy Strategies
Presented by Rosemarie Griffin, MA, CCC-SLP, BCBA


Rosemarie Griffin, MA, CCC-SLP, BCBA
Course: #9797Level: Introductory0.5 Hours
  'to the point'   Read Reviews
This podcast discusses five strategies to use when serving autistic students via teletherapy, including how to involve and train parents. Helpful therapy resources are also provided.