Head banging in addition to self-injury and aggression are very common autism symptoms. From a biomedical treatment perspective, these symptoms are considered a sign or symptom of an underlying problem. Something triggers the need to head bang, hurt others or for children to hurt themselves. These symptoms are not behaviours. They are a sign the body needs medical assessment and treatment
AUTISM & HEAD HITTING: 5 REASONS WHY IT MIGHT BE OCCURRING
There are lots of reasons why your child might be hitting or banging their head. And if you pay close attention to what happened prior to the onset of the head banging behavior, then you can usually pinpoint what the cause might be, especially if your child is currently nonverbal or preverbal.
Here are 5 reasons why head banging might be happening:
1. YOUR CHILD IS HAVING SENSORY PROCESSING ISSUES
Head banging can also be a sign of sensory processing issues, either from sensory overload or from a sensory deficit.
Head Banging & Autism: Why it’s Happening
Your child can get both vestibular and proprioceptive sensory input from banging their head and to them, head banging feels good and helps them self-regulate.
2. YOUR CHILD IS ATTEMPTING TO COMMUNICATE
You’re probably heard the phrase “all behavior is communication” and it’s so true. Head banging might be how they choose to express frustration or anxiety, for instance.
3. YOUR CHILD IS IN PAIN
It might seem odd to think that your child’s head banging behavior is occurring because they are currently in pain, but banging one’s head can serve as a distraction from any pain or discomfort they are experiencing elsewhere in their body.
The head banging behavior is essentially used to mask pain or discomfort.
4. YOUR CHILD IS SEEKING ATTENTION
Self-injurious behavior like head banging is sure to draw the attention of an adult. A child can quickly learn that banging their head is one quick way to make their parents rush over to intervene.
5. YOUR CHILD IS TRYING TO ESCAPE DEMANDS
If you are mid-activity with your child and they start to bang their head, then it might be that the head banging is being used as an escape tool.
Pain is the cause of head banging, self-injury and aggression. Medical assessment can identify why children are in pain. The most common medical causes of pain in autism are sensory issues and digestive issues. Biomedical treatment addresses sensory and digestive pain using treatments like dietary intervention and methyl B12 injections. Biomedical intervention improves quality of life by treating medical issues in autism. These untreated conditions cause pain which certainly reduces quality of life while also negatively impacting development
Sensory strategies for headbanging
As head banging is a sign of a child’s need for release, it can be altered with other physical activities that are not harmful to the child. Some tips for giving replacement behavior for headbanging are:
1. Consider padding areas you find your child frequently bangs his/her head against.
2. Use a headbanging helmet with an MD prescription.
3. Utilize vibration. This will activate the vestibular system, and your child will thus receive input in a safer and more functional way. Examples include vibrating stuffed animals, vibrating toothbrushes, vibrating pillows, vibrating small massagers, etc.
4. Have your child sit in a rocking chair at home and school.
5. Have a yoga ball chair at home and at school to help provide vestibular input (make sure it is stable with a proper back).
6. Have your child do movement exercises that go against resistance and activate the proprioceptive system.
7. Have your child do movement breaks that incorporate rotation and place the head below the heart (to integrate vestibular input). An example of this would be the yoga pose of “Sunrise, Sunset.” Have your child stand with feet planted and back straight. Your child should reach up with straight arms while taking a deep breath in.
This should be followed by your child reaching down towards the floor and touching his/her feet while breathing out (it’s okay if your child bends his/her knees here).
8. Have your child help with chores around the house that require lifting heavy objects. This can be the laundry basket or a water bucket. Also, encourage your child to push and pull chairs before and after meals. Teach him/her to pick up items from the floor to clean up, etc.
9. Use a weighted hat/weighted halo to provide proprioceptive input to the head. A regular baseball cap is also fine, as this will still provide input to the head.
10. Have your child use a tactile brush around the hair area at transitions (you can buy a bathing brush with bristles at your local drug store). While many children with ASD do not like having their hair combed or brushed, having them use a tactile brush themselves will allow them control over a noxious feeling while providing necessary input at the same time.
By providing children who engage in consistent head-banging behavior with doses of routine sensory input throughout the day, we can help moderate feelings of distress by establishing a calmer sensory system, a happier child, and (I’m sure) a thrilled family.