Springingtiger's Blog

Autism Awareness: Two Posts on Headbanging
April 2, 2012, 21:08
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This morning I had a tooth pulled then went straight away to assist on my Wife’s NLP practitioner course so I’m in no condition to write a blog. However I know that I share, or have shared behaviours, that concern parents of autistic children. Here are two posts in which I share my personal experience of headbanging.

The Happy Headbanger

I have written about head banging before retrospectively, but today I have the opportunity to write immediately after the events.

I had thought tonight was going to be good, it started well, I am not sure where it went wrong. Somehow shortly after I got into work I found the lights too bright and my eyes were sore. There were too many sources of noise – the multiple conversations occurring round about me were particularly irritating – and they were too loud, even with my earplugs in. The smells were getting to me badly, someone had chicken pakore, the smell made me nauseous worse still someone in my vicinity seemed to be suffering a silent and noxious flatulence, but I have a pocket air freshener I like so that helped. Every inch of my skin has been crawling, itchy, every point of contact sensitive. I took Co-codamol to try and dull the sensation and it helped a little, but I was still being wound tighter and tighter by circumstances over which I had no control. Worst of all I had that sensation that I was losing myself and biting my hands and stabbing them with a pencil was not working to pull me back into myself. I was on the very edge of exploding which would may have impacted on a colleague or – more seriously – a customer.

Fortunately the disabled washroom is next to the stairwell and has a good solid wall on that side, it’s a good discrete place to bang my head as it doesn’t reverberate like a partition wall and is distant enough from the switchroom that the sounds don’t carry back. Gradually after a little time of repeatedly striking my head against the wall I regained my connection and felt much calmer. The problem with head banging is that although it helps me regain control, I always feel like sleeping afterwards which is not an option at work. Several times I relaxed back in my chair, closed my eyes and slid gently towards sleep and then after about forty minutes my alertness returned and I could sit up, take off my dark glasses and read comfortably.

I realise that to some people this will sound strange, but it is pragmatic, a behaviour that allows me to continue to function with the minimum amount of disruption to others.

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. 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 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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