Friday, September 25, 2009

Head Banging

When a young child bangs his head repeatedly, it can be scary to us parents. My 15 month old son recently went through a stage in which he wanted to bang his head on the stroller and high-chair. I don't think he was doing it for any particular reason; he did it once and seemed to like it, so he kept doing it. I nipped this behavior in the bud by completely reclining the back of the stroller and the high-chair. This meant if he was to throw himself back, nothing was immediately there to bang his head on. He tried it once, and realized it made him lay down. So, he quit trying it.

It is not considered abnormal to head bang, however, many children with special needs bang their head and do so excessively. Some kids do it to the point that you are left wondering how they aren't in excruciating pain. More than one book on raising infants and toddlers reports that up to 10% of typically developing young children head bang in order to fall asleep. This statistic sounds a bit high to me, but maybe it included children in the statistics who were similar to my son where they just tried it for a month or so. Yet, many of the kids I work with are chronic head bangers. I try to put my thinking cap on and help the parents come up with solutions to diminish the head banging. Often, we are successful, but sometimes not. Many of those kids eventually outgrow the behavior when they were ready. Listed below are some tips that have worked for some kids that I have worked with over the years. Consider why the child is head banging:

  • Is the child frustrated with a toy or person? If so, help him come up with other ways to appropriately release anger. One idea includes a place to retreat to when he is upset such as a tent. Within this tent provide toys or music that are typically calming and/or fun for him. For some kids, don't place anything in the tent other than a pillow or bean bag because they may need only minimal input.
  • Is he upset that you don't understand his wants and needs? If he is completely non-verbal, then PECS, sign-language, augmentative communication devices, or other strategies taught by a speech-language pathologist, ABA therapist, or other special educ. staff may need to be implemented. If he is verbal, but just can't express himself when upset, then give a couple of choices. This makes him feel validated as well as helping him express his wants and needs. The choices can be with words, sign language, gestures, or pictures.
  • Is the child just bored? Many kids, especially those with sensory processing disorder (SPD) or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), need lots of movement opportunities or they get bored. Indoor activities may include: trampoline, tunnel, rocking horse, help clean and do chores, and obstacle course. Outdoor activities include: playground equipment with swings, slides, and climbing structures; swimming, walking/running, bikeriding, wagon rides, and yard work. Even a toddler can "help" dig weeds or water the flowers. Maybe the child is bored because he doesn't know how to play with toys or by himself. Get suggestions from your special education staff (OT, PT, SLP, ABA, developmental teacher, EIS, etc.) on toys and activities that may be easier for the child to learn to play.
  • Is the child a sensory seeker and needs that deep input head banging provides? Try lots of "rough housing" (supervised), jumping, and the other activities listed in the previous question-answer. Head massage or vibration may be helpful too.
  • Does he have seizures or migraines on a regular basis? Even if he is on medications that doesn't mean these problems are under control. I have had numerous kids over the years head bang, eye poke, & nose poke during, before, or after a seizure. Some kids have mixed types and although they may usually stare off, that may not always be the case.
  • Does the child have a visual impairment or functional visual deficit? For children with some vision (low vision) or who see double (diplopia), they may get eye aches and think it feels good to bang their head. In this case, darken the room and minimize the work the eyes must do. If the child is head banging as you are having them work on puzzles or other fine-motor activities, then give frequent breaks or cut the session short. If the child should be wearing glasses, then insist they do. Build up to all day starting with 30 minute increments; but don't skip a whole day or play with toys up close without the child wearing the prescription glasses.
  • Is he dependent upon head banging to rock himself to sleep because he has no other strategies? If so, help teach self-reglation and self-calming activities. Some kids suck their thumbs until they fall asleep whereas others hum, sing, or hold a soft toy. For this child, provide lots of motion activities throughout the day which may shorten the length of time the child head bangs in the evening. Some kids do well with compression such as tightly tucked in sheets, large heavy pillows placed around their bed, and tight pajamas.
  • If the head banging is so severe that the walls or furniture are getting damaged, then this is excessive force. Consider having the child wear a soft helmet to protect his own head as well as the surfaces he hits. Try using lots of pillows too.
  • Is the child head banging for attention or avoidance? If so, behavioral strategies may be needed to stop this behavior. If it is for attention, then quit being the audience and try your best to ignore it. Now, everyone in the family and at school (preschool) must be on board, or the child thinks he just has to head bang harder or longer in order to gain your attention. Try to give attention to him when he is not head the computer, TV, and phone talking that you do for another time, and give the child lots of positive attention during his waking hours.
  • Does the child have a reason to have an itchy head? Lice, eczema, dandruff, scabbs, etc. should be considered. If you do not know what lice or their eggs look like, then search the Web and I'm sure you can find loads of information. Discuss treatment for lice with your child's physician. If eczema is a possibility, then discuss this with your child's physician; the child may need prescription shampoo and lotion for his head.

1 comment:

  1. LICE, please do not treat your children if you only find lice eggs or nits. said the American Academy of pediatrics . i found out when i used a company called head lice hero. if you are found in that predicament, i highly recommend , their product of choice is lice safe and the head lice heros. good luck! julie