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Q&A Help: My Child Bites and Hits Himself

October 11, 2021

My son is seven years old and has special needs with the inability to communicate through speech. He is not diagnosed as autistic but he has sensory issues and is unable to walk and carry out his frustrations. He bites and hits himself and we have tried many things for intervention. What are your thoughts on how we can keep him from biting, pinching, or hitting himself? Thank you.Valerie

Q&A Help: My Child Bites and Hits Himself

Hi Valerie,

As an occupational therapist, I would like to address your concern from the sensory processing perspective. I am not sure what interventions you have tried for your son already, so please know there are many approaches, and your child’s physicians and therapists who are most familiar with his case are the true experts of his care.

Children with sensory processing difficulties often have a hard time maintaining a “just right” state of being. A child may be easily overwhelmed by the input around him/her, or on the flip side, need a larger amount of input than others in order to be at his/her optimal arousal level. Children can often tell us with their actions what their sensory needs are, and it is important to look at your son’s behaviors as a detective would to figure out what sensory “need” he may be trying to meet for himself when hitting, biting, and pinching.

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Proprioception is the sense responsible for perceiving body position and movement, and also has a huge role in regulation of the sensory system. Proprioceptive input can be very calming, which is why we swaddle, bounce, and pat our infants to help them calm from crying or fall asleep. When children are upset, sometimes they instinctively know what input helps them feel better, but they might seek this input out in inappropriate ways such as by hitting, pinching, or biting. 

Is it possible your son is trying to give himself calming input when frustrated or upset? Or, due to his limited mobility, he may not be getting as much proprioceptive input as his sensory system needs? For my patients who engage in self injury, I often problem solve with parents in order to find other ways to provide their child with proprioceptive input throughout the day. Do they like deep pressure massage? Clapping their hands/stomping their feet along to songs? Banging on a bongo drum? Getting a bear hug? Towel squeezes after a bath? Think of any enjoyable activity that would provide input to his muscles and joints. There are many ways to provide children with proprioceptive input, but it is important to be that detective and see if providing this input more regularly throughout his routine is helpful in decreasing his self injury. I highly recommend finding a pediatric occupational therapist familiar with sensory integration to guide you through this process.

Sending love and hugs, and I hope this response was helpful!

This article was featured in Issue 118 – Reframing Education in the New Normal

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