Q and A: Head Banging Solution

Why Do Children Engaging Head Banging? - https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/a-head-banging-solution/

Question: Why Do Children Engage in Head Banging?


Headbanging and autism can be a disturbing combination. While it’s terrifying to witness as a parent, it’s important to note it’s a surprisingly common behavior in many children with autism. Up to 20 percent of babies and toddlers bang their heads purposefully. Among them, boys are three times more likely to engage in this behavior than girls. Headbanging often starts at around six months, peaking anywhere between 18-24 months of age. This habit can stretch out for months (even years), but most children outgrow this behavior by the age of three to four. This behavior may extend later for children diagnosed with autism, developmental delays, or who have suffered from neglect.

Causes of headbanging in children with autism

1. Sensory Processing

Headbanging, like body rocking, is a rhythmic physical movement. When a child is in utero, he/she feels the sensation of being rocked as his/her mother moves about. He/She later feel it again when rocked in his/her caregiver’s arms as an infant.

As children mature, this rocking sensation is further developed through play that activates both the vestibular system in the brain (the part of the sensory system responsible for motion sense and balance) and the proprioceptive system (the part of the sensory system feeding information about the body’s position in space). It is often used in activities like sliding, swinging, and riding bikes.

A child may headbang when his/her nervous system is under-stimulated. For instance, he/she might receive limited to no sensory input from any of the sensory systems for a variety of natural or environmental causes. On the other hand, a child whose nervous system is hyper-sensitive and thus over-stimulated may headbang as a way to seek comfort.

In this instance, head banging decreases the stimulation around him/her while moderating his/her over-loaded sensory system.

2. Pain

It is important to rule out any organic physical and medical reasons for the child who is head banging (i.e., ear infection or toothache). A child may headbang as a way to reduce pain. It distracts him/her from the pain and gives a sense of control.

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3. A way to seek your attention

Some children who engage in continuous head banging will make the connection that this will elicit a strong reaction and immediate attention. This will begin a cycle of using this behavior to get attention. When this happens, you can seek help from an expert to correct the problem.

Why Do Children Engaging Head Banging? - https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/a-head-banging-solution/

4. Frustration

When a child has difficulty expressing himself/herself, he/she may engage in this behavior out of heightened emotions and frustration.

It is important to note there are many underlying components of headbanging behaviors. Multiple factors often contribute to the manifestation of this habit. Ensure regular contact with your pediatrician, therapists, and other professionals to help you identify underlying triggers of headbanging, which may be unique to your child. With a clear plan, you can learn how to stop headbanging.

Sensory strategies for headbanging

As head banging is a sign of a child’s need for release, it can be altered with other physical activities that are not harmful to the child. Some tips for giving replacement behavior for headbanging are:

1. Consider padding areas you find your child frequently bangs his/her head against.

Why Do Children Engaging Head Banging? - https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/a-head-banging-solution/2. Use a headbanging helmet with an MD prescription.

3. Utilize vibration. This will activate the vestibular system, and your child will thus receive input in a safer and more functional way. Examples include vibrating stuffed animals, vibrating toothbrushes, vibrating pillows, vibrating small massagers, etc.

4. Have your child sit in a rocking chair at home and school.

5. Have a yoga ball chair at home and at school to help provide vestibular input (make sure it is stable with a proper back).

6. Have your child do movement exercises that go against resistance and activate the proprioceptive system.

Why Do Children Engaging Head Banging? - https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/a-head-banging-solution/

7. Have your child do movement breaks that incorporate rotation and place the head below the heart (to integrate vestibular input). An example of this would be the yoga pose of “Sunrise, Sunset.” Have your child stand with feet planted and back straight. Your child should reach up with straight arms while taking a deep breath in.

This should be followed by your child reaching down towards the floor and touching his/her feet while breathing out (it’s okay if your child bends his/her knees here).

8. Have your child help with chores around the house that require lifting heavy objects. This can be the laundry basket or a water bucket. Also, encourage your child to push and pull chairs before and after meals. Teach him/her to pick up items from the floor to clean up, etc.

9. Use a weighted hat/weighted halo to provide proprioceptive input to the head. A regular baseball cap is also fine, as this will still provide input to the head.

10. Have your child use a tactile brush around the hair area at transitions (you can buy a bathing brush with bristles at your local drug store). While many children with ASD do not like having their hair combed or brushed, having them use a tactile brush themselves will allow them control over a noxious feeling while providing necessary input at the same time.

By providing children who engage in consistent head-banging behavior with doses of routine sensory input throughout the day, we can help moderate feelings of distress by establishing a calmer sensory system, a happier child, and (I’m sure) a thrilled family.

Autism and head banging can be a stressful situation to face, but it can get better with professional help and corrective measures.

Autism Parenting Magazine tries to deliver honest, unbiased reviews, resources, and advice, but please note that due to the variety of capabilities of people on the spectrum, information cannot be guaranteed by the magazine or its writers. Medical content, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained within is never intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read within.

Katherine G. Hobbs

Katherine G. Hobbs

Katherine G. Hobbs is a researcher and journalist for Autism Parenting Magazine dedicated to bringing awareness of resources to families affected by autism spectrum disorder. She lives in Florida where she teaches preschool and elementary-aged children of all abilities. Her passion for autism awareness began as a child in grade school with a dear friend. You can find her online at katherineghobbs.com and Instagram.

  • Avatar NISAR REHMAN says:

    need help to understanding screaming, going out and banging head all the time

    • Avatar Laura says:

      My daughter is exactly the same constant head banging and biting hand till it bleeds !! The usual answer from people is wear a rugby helmet to protect her head but she’s severely autistic and deaf she hates having anything on her head !!! Arghhhh what to do ??

      • Avatar kim says:

        Try a DAN doctor which will help greatly recovering your daughter from autism as well as looking into occupational therapy.

  • Avatar Maurice says:

    Hi, There’s a new company on the market with a revolutionary product, fashionable and NON stigmatising head protection for people with special needs. Have a look at Ribcap: https://ribcap-healthcare.com/

  • Avatar Maurice says:

    Headbanging is an issue and people suffering from this can protect their heads now in a fashionable way. Have a look at Ribcap: https://ribcap-healthcare.com/

  • Avatar Karen says:

    Ho! My son is 10 yrs old and over the summer started hitting his head with his fist saying his head is all fuzzy.
    He started school last week and his aid told me that he started banging his head on the wall.

    This is all new behaviour. I assume it is frustration, too much input.
    I am at a loss on how to help him.
    Any ideas???


    • Avatar Michael Finn says:

      Having Autism, I can tell you the head banging for me was about excessive input such as too little space and too many people. The banging led to a delicious moment of no sound, no vision, no smell, and no thinking. I wanted a moment of peace and got it. Giving me padded helmets just made angrier against the parents and I fought them. They wanted to stop my moments of peace? I almost hated them for that. I turned to beating myself with my video game controllers and other tools.

      Obviously it was horrible but one thing my parents did was get a tree stump and some nails.

      Hammering nails into the stump led to most of the above without head injuries, metal on metal ringing did the trick for me. When I left the stump then I sought out other ways to do it without hitting my head.

      Montessori schools are priceless in this regard in the experimentation that they helped me recognize this in myself.

  • Avatar Jason says:

    When going in the car with my 5yr old daughter ….every time her mom leaves the car to run into a store if I don’t have a cartoon to distract my daughter she will bang the back of her head on the back of the car seat it’s fast and often and I have to get out of the front seat get into the back and hold the back of her head to protect her…. She is laughing and smiling as she is banging her had and I’m asking her to stop. She gets very upset when I prevent her from doing so. Taking spit from her mouth to her fingers throwing it at me and screaming in a some what possessed manner.
    My daughter has an extra protein on 17th chromosome and only 10% of her cerrabellum. She has shown signs of autism from early age….learning regression not playing with toys how they are intended….hiding things lining things in rows …. sensitivity to light sounds textures only eats 10-12 things spinning….running around house in circles….rocking back and forth when to much sounds….bowel from diarrhea to constapation .not toilet trained ….taking finger touching tongue then tapping both eye lids….zoning out and so on…she gives me hugs and smiles and talks but all those other things are ASD but can’t get diagnosis based on what I believe to be 17 chromosome and cerebellum missing. Everything we have taught her so far has been as if she has ASD….
    Need help

  • Avatar Amit says:

    My son is 3 year old and he is suspecting with asd ..he speak one world till now and banging his head sometime when he fell down or get hurt. He has great problem of fixation with lift..he is on occupational therapy since 1 year…

  • Avatar James says:

    Does this mean that head banging is always autism? Or could head banging be something else?

    • Avatar jlucero says:

      Head banging is most commonly seen in children with sensory dysfunction – a primary feature of autism, but also found in other very young typical children with central nervous systems that haven’t yet matured and children with other developmental disabilities . This dysfunction can make them under-responsive to some sensations (e.g. pain, people talking to them) and over-responsive to other sensations (a baby crying, touch). This prompts a drive to try and manage their sensory input – to bring in more of what they need or find ways to escape what they need to avoid (i.e. what is aversive to them). This means repetitive behaviors that appear unusual to others.

    • Avatar Joanna Smarowsky says:

      head bannging has a lot to do with sensory issues my child has sensory processing disorder on top of adhd and autism and speech delays. a child can have sensory processing disorder with out autism.

  • Avatar sandra says:

    I want why my 18month doesnt talk just screams and if you say no he bangs is head on ceramic tiles what should i do

    I have a18 month old that just screams bangs is head on ceramic tile should I be concern

  • Avatar Sheshangi says:

    I tried tying bandana/kerchief on my 5yr old son’s forehead, but he doesn’t allow it, he won’t even let wear any cap on head. In such case, what other alternative can be used?
    He likes vibration on his body…can vibration be given on his head to reduce headbanging?
    He generally headbangs while putting himself to sleep. Pls suggest any other ritual that could replace headbang and bring sleep in.

    • Avatar Edna says:

      I am so sorry that your son is struggling with this behavior. Is there anything that can be removed from his room or any hard surfaces that could be padded as a first step to keep him safe? I wonder if a vibrating back massager might be comforting for him to hold as he falls asleep. If your son has an occupational therapist he sees regularly, he/she might have more recommendations. All my best, Katherine

  • Avatar Johnathon Stolecki says:

    At the very center of your soul you have the understanding; you understand your power and you comprehend what you must do.

  • Avatar Janet says:

    How about hitting his own head

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