Autism and head banging: how can I help?

If you’re a parent of a kid with autism, no doubt that watching them bang their head (or participate in other self-injurious behaviors) is extremely stressful! Fortunately, there are a few strategies you can try to steer them toward other coping mechanisms, or at the very least, make the environment safer.

Provide an alternative.

For some kids, head banging is about their challenges with sensory processes.

When your child starts to headbang, or if you have begun to tell when the trigger to headbang may occur, you can suggest other vestibular activities, like rocking in a chair, bouncing on a large exercise ball, or swinging (either outside on a swing, or just swinging their arms to start). Proprioceptive sensory activities, like jumping on a trampoline, chewing, blowing bubbles, or doing push-ups, can help too.

Don’t be afraid to make it fun! You can turn the music on and dance, have a pillow fight, or give tight hugs (if your child is appreciative of physical touch, of course).

Examine new coping strategies. 

For many kids with autism, emotional self-regulation isn’t easy. Coping skills are tough to learn for anyone, let alone for a child. Kids with autism who headbang do so because they’re communicating, in their way, how they’re feeling, and may just not yet know how to express themselves or their emotions.

Some of the things you can do to teach them emotional self-regulation includes using visual supports or social stories.

Visual supports are drawings, lists, pictures, or even written words that help kids with autism communicate. Such aids help kids interact with the world around them and help them make better choices. Social stories, on the other hand, explain social situations to autistic kids to help them learn how to behave in those situations.

Keep them safe.

Sometimes, your child will headbang when you’re not nearby and can’t help them apply other coping mechanisms, so you’ll want to ensure that you’re giving them as safe of an environment as possible.

Like babyproofing, you can remove anything sharp or dangerous in the areas of the home where your child spends a lot of time and may engage in head banging. Padding can be purchased to apply to some furniture like end tables and desks.

You may also want to have a lot of soft interior goods on hand, like lots of pillows, blankets, or fold out mattresses. Some parents have also invested in soft helmets.

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