Understanding Autism and Head banging
Children with autism may indulge in behavior that is self-harming such as head banging. They might hit or slam their heads against walls, floor, furniture or other hard surfaces.
This could be a part of the stimming behavior but can lead to grievous injuries if not cared for. The children may also be trying to express or communicate something or just performing a rhythmic motion.
Many children with autism start the head banging around six months of age and stop at around four years, while in some cases they may continue even afterwards. There could be several reasons behind the action such as, need to communicate, frustration or anger, sensory overload, attention seeking, a sensory deficit, a routine or they may be trying to avoid something.
It could be possible the child is in discomfort or pain or is just trying to release tension and stress. However, they can cause injury to their heads if the head banging continuous as they grow.
To be able to help the children in these scenarios, it is imperative to know the reason behind head banging and more understanding is required regarding their needs and feelings.
Nirmala Thiyagarajan, parent and special educator, says head banging is often a reaction to sensory stimulus.
Children with autism usually bang their heads to feel its presence. Some children seek to enjoy the tactile pressure while some do it so hard to hear the banging sound. Each child's behaviour depends on their sensory issues. Slowly the children start enjoying it and it occurs frequently. We have to analyse the trigger factor and eliminate it from the environment, divert the child's attention to something of his interest and provide the sensory tactile pressure through a gentle head massage or make the child wear a gentle head band that provides a little pressure. -Nirmala Thiyagarajan, Parent/Special Educator
Here are a few things that can be done to help children who bang heads.
It is important to understand what triggers the head banging and the frequency.
Consult a pediatrician or expert to identify the cause and rule out pain.
Padding areas where the child frequently bangs head.
If the cause is sensory processing, then provide some alternatives like pressure on head, massage, hopping, jumping, pillow fights, exercises etc.
Get a soft helmet for them to wear to protect the head.
Provide visual stimulation to divert them such as pictures and toys at the place where they bang head often.
Tell social stories to help children understand that head banging is harmful.
Help the child express emotions in a different manner.
A rocking chair may be used to provide rhythmic pleasure.
Involve the child
- Consult an occupational therapist to know more about alternate activities.
M Kriti, a parent, says some kids bang their heads as they are looking to grab attention or show they are in distress. "They are not able to convey what/why is making them feel agitated. It could be something that is emotionally disturbing or that has to do with physical stuff, we don't know most of the times. For a parent to see their child go through this is very painful and leaves us distressed."