Springingtiger's Blog

Mature Autism – Happy Headbanger Part 2

I don’t know when I started head banging or how it started, I have been doing it for as long as I remember. Generally it is something I tend to do in private although when I was in prep school (junior school) I managed to make an indentation in the chapel wall by banging my head against it during services, I think the retreat into a quiet place is part of the process. I also learned in school that lathe and plaster walls are unsuitable as it is too easy to damage them. I suppose the finger biting – which has left me with callouses along my right index finger and transformed the knuckles of my index fingers into hard lumps – began at the same time as the banging.

If I go into meltdown I have a tendency to break things, at school it included locker doors and the wall of a kitchen, I do not have an intact door in my house. Head banging is a mechanism that prevents meltdown, I am not sure how it works, but it restores control, relaxes tension and induces a sense of calm. What head banging is not is self-harm, it is beneficial and necessary. There is no appreciable pain, but rather an intensely focussing sensation followed by an enjoyable feeling of relaxation and sleepiness.

I know some parents worry – not unreasonably – about behaviours like hand biting, head banging and stimming, but perhaps they should assess carefully the behaviour to evaluate whether it is useful. If you stop a behaviour that serves a useful purpose then either another behaviour will be found to replace it or a need will remain unsatisfied with concomitant consequences, there is always a possibility that the replacement behaviour will be more damaging. Obviously action needs to be taken where someone is self harming, but it should be observed that – in most cases – the actual harming is done to produce a positive result and is not life threatening, the key is to satisfy the need by acknowledging the behaviour, satisfying the need and substituting alternative mechanisms to satisfy the need. I don’t need to substitute an alternative to head banging because it is not very damaging – at worst a little bruising – and it is not anti-social. If someone’s strategies for self-control are not offensive or dangerous perhaps it’s best to let them keep them.

7 Comments so far
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Time and time again you write of things about you and your childhood that trigger long forgotten, or lost, memories of my childhood.

Comment by WorldWright

I hope the memories are happy, some at least.

Comment by springingtiger

[…] Mature Autism – Happy Headbanger Part 2 « Springingtiger's Blog […]

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It is very interesting to read your insights on this.
I totaly agree my sons head banging serves a useful purpose – many.
But sometimes he knocks himself out or he miss judges a corner of a door frame and cuts his head open. It is also very antisocial.
And i am still looking for answers (not substitutes) as the intensity is escalating.

Can i ask if the head banging is to prevent a melt down – what do you consider a meltdown to be?

Comment by Casdok

Prior to the head banging I am very aware that I am feeling fragmented and losing control. Is it to prevent melt down? I think it is one – previously unconscious – strategy but I have a variety according to circumstance, for example withdrawing to a quiet place when I’ve been subjected to too many noises for too long. The virtue of head banging is that it brings me back into my body, focuses me and leaves me feeling calm. It does tend to be a strategy of last resort when my usual strategies fail me.

Comment by springingtiger

Your variety of strategies – have they evolved and changed over time? Do some just stop working?

Comment by Casdok

I am aware of the core strategies having been in place since primary school (kindergarten) what has evolved is the subtlety with which I employ them. I generally try to get privacy, although occasionally I lose control in public it is much rarer than when I was young. My home tends to be one of my safe places as one can see by the amount of damage I have done to it.

Comment by springingtiger

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