Self Injurious Behavior and Autism
I lost your last letter while trying to respond to it. I am returning to the school where I had taught for several years. Last week I saw a student that was there when I was a teacher. His new teacher did not know his history but had seen his behavior. When this student came to the school he had calluses on his hands. The calluses were from biting his hands. We decided to ignore his hand biting and work on his communication problems. Ignoring his hand biting was hard on us. We wanted to interfere and stop the hand biting. Doing this encouraged the hand biting to continue.
My feelings about hand biting is that the student realizes that it is improper for him to hurt other people. The student hurts the only person he feels he can hurt, himself. For this procedure to work he has to do it in front of an audience that cares. This student reverted to perform once for his new teacher. He started to bite his hand and to make sure he had her attention head butted the teacher. Ignoring the hand biting and self hitting is hard on his audience and on the student. If you pretend not to care about his biting and hitting himself, the student will stop doing this self injurious behavior.
There are two problems that have to be addressed when the student is biting his hand. What was happening immediately before he started biting and why did the student object to this occurrence. You then have to give the student a way to express his displeasure that does not involve self injurious behavior. Hand signals, sign language, grunts or whatever you can get the student to do that gets your attention. You have to pay attention when he makes these gestures. You may have to explain to the student that he will have to participate even though he does not want to. You have acknowledged his position, and given hi the opportunity to express his feelings.
This student no longer had calluses on his hands. His hands were absolutely smooth. He still has trouble communicating but his communication is working well enough that he no longer has to bite himself to express his displeasure.