Filed under: asperger's syndrome, autism, disability | Tags: AS, asd, asperger's, asperger's syndrome, autism, biting, hand biting, head banging, relaxation, self harm, sensory processing, stimming
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.
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