Adult Autism Perspective Understanding Autistic Head-Banging and Rocking

I began special education teacher training in 1982. I chose EI and CI because I wanted to teach autistic children. ASD (autism spectrum disorder as it's now called) wasn't an endorsement of its own yet.

Working with autistic children, I realized that as a child, I showed symptoms of mild autism. Let me clarify: children exhibit some autistic behavior as a normal part of development. It is the combination, severity and perseverance into older childhood, that marks a child autistic.

Two of the most unnerving, to those not familiar with autism, are rocking and head banging. I did both of those and it freaked some people out.  If less was known about autism when I was in college, it was virtually unheard of in the 1960s.

Let me try to explain what I remember of how I felt when I rocked and banged my head. Maybe this will help you get inside the head of your autistic child or student.

Rocking, bouncing and swinging motions soothe infants and lull them to sleep. Persons with autism need that sensory stimulation in older years, sometime throughout their lives. It's thought that these help autistic people "integrate" (organize, control) their sensory perceptions. This makes sense, especially if the child has auditory, vision or perceptual problems, dyslexia, balance issues, allergies, sinus or ear trouble that affect the Eustachian tubes (vestibular balance center).

I had all of those, plus sleep apnea. Many didn't get diagnosed till adulthood. So my self attempted to fix them in the only ways it knew. I'd rock endlessly in my little rocking chair. I'd bang my head and face against my pillow to get to sleep. In the car, I'd bounce my head against the seat. It was an automatic respose, done to sooth, not hurt.

At 10, I still banged (bounced) my head at night to settle racing thoughts. If I was unable to, I felt disoriented, dizzy, tense, crabby. I couldn't sleep. I believe that's why autistic children resort to dangerous self-stimulation: picking skin, pulling out hair. I remember it felt like an itch I couldn't scratch if I couldn't rock or bang my head. They seemed to reconnect loose wires and neurological gaps for me.

One of my sons exhibited head banging or bouncing behaviors. Even as a very small baby he'd bounce his head as he fell asleep. This pattern developed as soon as he was able to hold his head and neck erect. He never cried and was happy and placid. Like me, he didn't head bang when upset. Just sleepy. He'd do it wherever he was, car, couch, on someone's lap.

If you have a non-hurtful headbanger, like my son and I, my advice is to let it happen. So long as he's not hurting himself, he may just be self-soothing. Make sure baby has a firm but soft mattress and child, a pillow so they don't hurt themselves. I believe that correctomg non-hurtful rocking and head banging, may cause latent, more dangerous forms. Thwarted, children may head bang less-safe places.

If she continues as she gets older, tactfully remind her to do it the privacy of her home, so others don't ridicule. Sadly, though our society accepts inappropriate self-soothing, smoking and drinking, natural forms upset us.
My family never shamed me. They accepted it and trusted I'd outgrow it when I was ready. That's how we dealt with our son's head
. He outgrew it and so did I. For more on autism spectrum disorder (ADS) and autistic behavior, follow this blog and

Helping Special Needs Kids Cope with Bullying

Bullying is a sick cancer that is spreading in our competitive culture. It's not isolated to school playgrounds. It takes place everywhere: home, workplace, daycare, in school, out of school. Even churches and supposedly safe places aren't bully-free. Why? Because bullies bring their bullying behavior with them wherever they go. There are two kinds of bullying: physical and emotional. Physical poses an immediate, obvious threat. Emotional is more subtle, but equally dangerous because its harder to detect. And bullies hide in all shapes, sizes, genders, colors and behind all creeds and ideologies. Many don't look like bullies. So no one believe the bullied child. "Little Suzie wouldn't never do that! She's too sweet!" Unfortunately that subterfuge is how bullying continues. Are you bullied? Here are coping strategies. Do them in order.

Start by knowing your bully. Why is she picking on you? Does she single you out or is she mean to everyone? Usually, it has nothing to do with you. It's her problem. She's weak, scared, bullied at home, or hurting in some way. It's not your fault. You didn't cause it and you can't cure it. But you can...

1- Stay out of the bully's path. Don't hide. Just don't engage or attract attention purposely.

2-Ignore the bully. Look right through him as though he's not there. If he's intentionally bullying, it will fail to hit the mark.

3-If she tries to engage, continue to ignore. Walk right past her. Quietly get up and move. Ignore catcalls or whispered remarks. Refuse to let her start something.

4-If he talks to you, don't answer. He'll look like an idiot talking to himself and probably shut up.

5-If the bully questions don't answer. Just because someone asks you something doesn't mean you have to answer. Especially if you know he's just trying to goad you. Professional bullies bait with innocuous questions. If you answer, he's established contact and suddenly it goes from innocent to harassing. He's throwing a gauntlet. If you pick it up, the games begin.

6-If you cannot avoid her and she starts in, stare at her. Don't lower your eyes, show fear or say anything. With dogs this is a sign of dominance. It says, "I see you and I can take you." Walk (don't run) away ASAP.

7-If he gets physical defend yourself however you can. If he throws a weak punch that's just cowardly show of power. Call his bluff. Ignore and walk away. He might back down.

8-If you're a child, get help from an adult: caregiver, playground supervisor, teacher, principal, adult friend, police officer (if it's after school). School professionals are trained to deal with bullying. Tell your parents. You aren't being "chicken", you're being smart.

9-Or shout loudly and firmly "Stop." Don't cringe or scream.

10-If there's no help available, and the bully is hurting you, you've got two choices: fight or flight. If this is an ongoing situation flight will only feed it. Fighting back, although frowned upon, can sometimes stop it. Or you might take a beating. It's depends upon the bully. If he's on drugs, run away. Drugs, especially uppers, can make a person stronger.

11-NOTE: Thinking maybe you should just turn the other cheek, like the Bible says? If you followed the above steps, then you already tried that and it didn't work. Don't let yourself to be someone's punching bag.

12-If--AND ONLY IF-- you've done all of the above and a fight is unavoidable, fight back. If you're weaker or outnumbered, protect yourself however you can. Bite. Pull hair. Pinch under the arm in the soft flesh. Kick in the groin. This is no time for Queensbury Rules.  This isn't a fair fight so there are no rules. Surviving is what matters. But do get the heck out of there ASAP.

I know some of this advice sound contradictory. Bullying is complicated. Bullies are different. There's no one-size-fits-all solution. You have to deal with each situation individually. Trust yourself to know what to do when you need to.

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