This isn’t a topic that I particularly wanted to write about and trust me it’s really not a nice one to experience either! 

However having trawled the Internet trying to find some useful strategies (and not having much luck!) I decided to document some of the thing we’ve tried to help Toby when he starts hurting himself.

We are seeing him harming himself much more frequently, usually when he’s having a meltdown. Self harm can also be refered to as ‘self-injurious behaviour’ (SIB) I’m no expert and this isn’t, ‘ten ways to stop your autistic child self   harming…’ or ‘how to deal with sensory meltdowns…?’ All children (and especially autistic children) are very different and what works for one child often doesn’t work for another (or for the same child next time either!!)

So what happens?

Children with autism and other additional needs  often have sensory meltdowns. Meltdowns are not the same as tantrums (I’ve got a 2 year old…I know what a tantrum is..!) Anyway a meltdown isn’t for attention, it isn’t to get their own way or to argue or manipulate a situation; a meltdown is what happens when all the stimulation around a person just gets too much and they just can’t cope any longer.


Taken from – http://www.brainbalancecenters.com/blog/2014/11/sensory-meltdown-vs-temper-tantrum/


Taken from – https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/identifying-tantrums-and-meltdowns-6328104
So basically what happens is Toby gets completely overwhlemed, starts crying, screaming, attacking himself and lashing out at those around him too. Sometimes we understand some of the triggers and other times we’re completely clueless. Being non-verbal doesn’t help and children with sensory difficulties experience things completely differently from you and I…some things really hurt them that wouldn’t bother us and some noises and sounds can cause these children extreme pain.


Due to his complex sensory needs and feeling pain in different ways to you or I, self harming gives him some sense of control of the pain when he feels that he has no control of anything else.

Toby will hit his head with both hands,  hit/nip/scratch himself, bite his hands, try make himself sick, throw his body weight around, hit/kick out at others around him.

Tonight he was asleep when I took him off the taxi, I gentely woke him up and gave him his drink and hula hoops (that he has every night after school). We then have iPad time before tea and then it is taken off him for the rest of the evening. I gave him his iPad and he was ok for a minute of two and then he started crying and then become quite aggressive and ending up hurting himself and lashing out at Ted and myself.

It took over 30 minutes for him to calm down and Joel came in to me restraining him on the floor and Teddy crying in the corner.

My prioritises when it looks like we are building towards a meltdown are –

  • Safety –  for Toby, myself and everyone else around – those names  are in no particular order as it depends on the situation. Tonight I moved Ted out of the way first so that he didn’t get hurt, then I stepped in to stop Toby hurting himself.
  • Prayer – I always pray that God will bring peace to Toby and give me wisdom in how to help him in this situation
  • Preparation – I need to know that I have things that I may need to hand – ear defenders, blanket, drink and that the space around us is relatively clear and safe (moving toys out of the way etc) especially for times like tonight when I am on my own.

Strategies that we’ve tried when Toby is having a meltdown and self harming (sometimes some of these work…other times they don’t!) Distraction doesn’t generally work when a child is having a melt down but familiarity can bring some form of comfort. Usually he needs a long time and a safe place to calm down and a combination of these things help to relax him –

  • Lights off and blinds closed – this is not so people can’t see…ha! Toby likes the dark and bright lights can over simulate him.
  • Alternative object to bite (rather than himself) blanket, soft toy, sensory chew, a sock etc
  • Bath – he loves the water…this is more of a preventative strategy when he’s starting to get worked up…I wouldn’t put him in when he’s having a full blown meltdown!
  • Minimise other noise – tonight I gave Ted his dummy (that’s usually only for bedtime!) and turned the tv off.
  • Stripping him off – again sensory…he prefers to be naked anyway!
  • Outdoor time – again preventivite!
  • Technology and no technology – sometimes his iPad calms him down sometimes it winds him up more.
  •  Restraining  (for his own safety) this usually makes him more worked up but something when he’s being so aggressive it’s necessary to stop him hurting himself and others.
  • Protecting body parts – my hands on his head, holding his forarms so that he can hit himself but softer.
  • Sleep…sometimes he gets so worked up he falls asleep…
  • Safe place to be physical and ‘outwork’ his meltdown – tonight we sat on the floor and I held him whilst he screamed and kicking his legs about.
  • Complete change of scenery or some where safe to ‘outwork his meltdown’ – tonight when Joel got home we got in the car and went for a drive and he eventually calmed down (both boys were half naked but it didn’t matter). Being restrained in his car seat also helps. We’ve also left places before or gone to another familiar place such as a friend’s house.

He did eventually calm down and going for a McDonald’s drive through and getting his happy meal helped too!

After a meltdown like tonight I think that it’s important that everyone involved has the time and space that they need to recharge again…for Toby, he enjoyed sitting in the (empty) bath and playing on his iPad. Ted needed to snuggle up and watch Toy Story – it must be distressing for him to experience too. And Joel and I need the complete opposites….he needs ten minutes alone time and I need someone to talk everything through with…ha! Tonight he had his alone time upstairs and then came down and chatted to me…teamwork!

For more info check out – https://www.selfharm.co.uk/get/facts/autism_and_self-harm

http://www.autism.org.uk/about/behaviour/challenging-behaviour/self-injury.aspx

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