I want to address this topic because I know that for families and especially parents it is terrifying to see your young child biting themselves, hitting themselves, and intentionally crashing their bodies into walls and tables. I want to tell you why I did these things.
As a child, I was overwhelmed every single day. I was even overwhelmed in my sleep with terrible nightmares that occurred from my brain attempting to process the entire sensory overload it had experienced that day and the feeling of floating out of my bed. In short, I had very limited refuge and ways to recharge.
Have you ever pinched yourself to stay awake? Well the reason I bit and hit myself is somewhat the same concept. If I am experiencing an overload of some kind I do these things because it focuses my mind on one point of my body. As a result, it eliminates most everything else going on around me until I am able to refocus my mind.
I know this sounds scary.
But I want you to know that I never wanted to harm myself and I did not do these behaviors to harm myself. I did them to get relief from my environment.
For example, if I am hitting or pinching my leg then eventually all I am focusing on is that action and the resulting feeling. It subsequently clears my mind and I am able to feel focused. To this day there are times where I feel agitated and out of control and I still hit my thigh at home or pinch myself. Not as badly, but if I am struggling enough it happens. This may sound strange, but I would also hit my legs against tables over and over. In many ways this was methodical to me and created a way to bring myself back. We lose ourselves in the meltdowns too. The self harm is our attempt to come back.
There were many times in my childhood where this method did not work and I became more and more agitated no matter what I did. My way of resetting not working, which resulted in more biting and hitting myself. Until it eventually escalated into an extreme meltdown.
Know that your child does not want to hurt themselves and that is not why they are doing this. They need a way to clear and reset. For me, if I was doing these behaviors it was because nothing else had worked and I was now desperate for relief.
If they are doing this look around and try to see what it is that may be setting them off.
Lights? Sound? A texture? I also found great relief using candies or anything I could bite down on very hard with extreme force. This gave me the same sensation of biting or hitting without hurting myself. Have Starbursts or a similar type of item ready for these moments. My mom even sent me to school with them so that when I felt a meltdown coming I had them at the ready and a way to re-center myself.
I also find that I can tell when I am about to have a meltdown when I start getting stuck on one topic that begins to agitate me more and more. I get stuck on many topics and they go around like circles in my head. But some cause me extreme anxiety. If you see that happening, I think it’s a good indication that for at least for me, it means that it could be escalating to the biting and hitting.
I have now found that these strategies have helped me avoid these scarier types of behaviors. As long as I can find ways to redirect I can calm down. None of us want to do this or meltdown. It is the worst feeling in the world. Find the biggest triggers for those on the spectrum in your life and then you can use that knowledge to find ways to prevent escalations to this point.
I hope this gives a glimpse into what the experience is like and why I seek those behaviors.