Todays post is inspired (after much searching for inspiration!) by Bill Nason’s Autism Discussion Page on Facebook. In quite a typical post for Bill, he presents six techniques for reducing self-harming behaviour.
His post resonated strongly with me, particiularly because self-harm was one of the final trigger behaviours which prompted the medical profession toward providing a diagnosis for my sons behaviour. As my son reached the ages that most children begin communicating beyond the very basic level – crying to mean “anything at all” to actual words – my son instead went in a different direction, continuing to cry and adding to that physically lashing out, and when that failed to have the appropriate effect, hurting himself in frustration.
As a parent, there’s not much worse that I have had to experience, than my son intentionally harming himself in a wide range of ways. We are still left with one relatively minor behaviour, where he will bite his own arm hard enough to leave individual tooth marks for a good few minutes. As an example of this, today I went for a walk with him through a nearby park. A family whose house fronts onto the park was holding a party and had a jumping castle in their yard. My son absolutely LOVES jmping castles. The result was anxiety, an actual verbal request, and an escalation of anxiety as I explained that we couldn’t just invite ourselves to an already overflowing home to join in a party hosted by someone we didn’t know. When it finally became clear that he wouldn’t be going to the house with the jumping castle, he bit his arm – well, started to. His forearm was certainly in his mouth. To some extent, this is a problem of our own creating – verbal requests are rarely denied!
It is certainly a measure of how far we have come that this initial temptation to self-harm did not spiral into a meltdown.
He did not even have a tantrum, though he was clearly upset – even distressed.
How have we achieved this transformation?
My son has had some wonderful support – at home. In the early-intervention pre-school setting, and at school.
He has been permitted to fail. He has been told “no”. He has been disapointed.
This has been countered with success, which has been praised. He has been given opportunity to negotiate – where appropriate – and knows that when he hears “no” it isn’t automatic, it isn’t a blanket “no”, it just happens to be the answer right now for this situation. He also knows that when he expresses himself to whatever his level of ability is at that time – he has the best chance of getting what he wants.
There are paths away from a child who lashes out at others, or themself, but they take work.