This behavior may be the one that terrifies parents the most. They are often worried about the child giving him or herself a concussion or brain damage. Repeated raps to the side of the head and face can also detach retinas, making the self-abuser blind. When it occurs in public, people shrink away because they don’t understand what is happening.
What is happening is that the child can’t verbalize that he or she doesn’t like what is going on around them and that he/she can’t control the situation so they self-abuse. They can control the blows to their heads because it’s their own head and their own hand. It’s their way of letting us know they are doing something they can control.
When it comes to banging their heads against walls or the back of the couch, they aren’t receiving the amount of physical stimulation they want. That brings us to the second reason; they are using hands, walls, and furniture to self stimulate, but because they don’t feel it as much as an observer thinks they should, they continue until they get the right sensation that soothes them. When the body feels pain, it pumps out endorphins to treat the pain, which are like a narcotic. It feels good after awhile and it comforts them at the same time.
The terrible impact of their repeating self-abuse is that they will continue it as long as it gives them the sensations they seek. For parents and caregivers, it’s not only terrifying, it’s unnerving to know the damage their child with autism may be causing him/herself. Usually, a pediatrician will prescribe a crash helmet to be worn at all times to deter the sensations of self-abuse. Medication that creates the same happy feeling as the body’s endorphins may also be prescribed.