I’m sending out a distress signal.

I know you’re out there somewhere and I need your help.

My son Andrew is hurting himself, and I cannot get him to stop.

Neither can my husband.

Or anyone else for that matter.

We’ve tried mittens and gloves and squeezes and shiny things.

We’ve tried massages and songs and bins filled with rice and beans.

And so far, nothing has worked.

His body is covered in scars and fresh scratches and wounds and we are at a loss.

I don’t want to Google any more theories or read any more research or stare at any more faces that go blank when I ask for assistance and offer only a kind hug and a “Hang in there mom, you’re doing the best you can!”

Because I’m not.

I’m not doing the best I can.

Which is why I want to hear from YOU.

Because only YOU can tell me why he’s doing it, and only YOU can tell me how to help him stop.

From everything we’ve seen (and read, and heard), it appears that Andrew is picking and scratching for sensory input.

He does it when he’s alone, when he’s around others; he does it when he’s happy, sad, mad, bored.

It first started with his fingers, then knuckles, then hands.

In the summer, when he wore shorts, he went after his legs and we contemplated putting him in jeans even when the temperatures began to rise into the three digits but we couldn’t bear to see him uncomfortable.

Now he’s going after his face.

His forehead, his cheeks, the backs of his ears are all riddled with scars and angry red lines and scabs that have very little chances of healing.

I have no idea what to do, I have no idea how to help him, and I’m feeling pretty damn useless right now.

And I’m pretty tired of people saying crap like, “It’s just his autism.”

Um, okay, thanks. Now what?

So if you’re on the spectrum, have experience with this type of behavior and/or stim, and you’re willing to talk to me about it, I would be so grateful for your help.

We often speak of community and advocacy and working together; well, this is me, reaching out, trying to get some  insight from those who hopefully know what I do not: How to help my son.


A mom who may not have all the answers, but who will move the earth and the moon to get them.


For those who have asked, I wanted to provide additional information on our son Andrew, who will be 11 this coming March. Andrew is non-verbal (though we are working hard to give him a voice via Proloquo2go and his iPad) and considered to be on the severe end of the autism spectrum. Developmentally, Andrew often falls in the 18-36 month range, though he continues to make amazing progress cognitively thanks to a variety of programs and therapies, both in and outside of the home, facilitated by a group of fabulous people who believe in our son.

As parents, we absolutely respect Andrew’s right to stim as well as his sensory needs, and try to provide him with the means and the environment to carry out those stims and meet those sensory needs whenever possible. Our favorite is his hand flapping; he never looks more free and focused and euphoric than when his hands and arms are going a million miles a minute. I swear, one day he will take flight! But if a stim can lead to a potentially dangerous situation, as his parents our first priority is his safety and that is why we are searching for answers and suggestions. Again, I thank you all and really value ALL of the insight. It helps to paint a more complete picture of our little boy, who we love fiercely and want to see thrive in whatever way makes sense for him.

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90 Replies to “Help! (From a Mom on Behalf of Her Autistic Son)”

  1. I’m so sorry Andrew is hurting his body. I don’t have any magic answers, but I will share this widely with anyone I can think of who might be able to help with insights or what ight work. It’s hard to watch your child doing something harmful but knowing that it gives some kind of input or feedback that he needs. Big hugs.

  2. Hi Jo, I posted these questions on the FB post as well, but thought I better copy it here in case this is where you are following up on your request.
    I am a sensory integration OT. I am going to ask quite a few questions…as it is the only way to see if we can find a solution. 1. Does he take any meds? 2. Does he eat gluten? 3. Does he eat foods with dyes and/or preservatives? 4. How much vestibular and proprioceptive input would you say he gets in a day on average? 5. Does he have skin problems at all outside of the SIBs? 6. What is his very favorite thing to do sensory wise? (besides this)

  3. Call the Great Lakes center for autism treatment and research. They have outpatient services that uses cameras. You don’t necessarily have to be close to MI. I too am dealing with problem behaviors. Good luck mama! 269-250-8200

  4. Our Katie does this, but we are lucky in that she sticks to fingers and lips. We’ve found that using Neosporin lip balm keeps the lips from getting chapped in the first place and a weekly nail trimming along with making sure we clip any hangnails as close to the skin as possible help. If we miss doing these things, we wind up with the lips or fingers looking like raw hamburger.

    Would he like any kind of lotion applied to his skin, something to make his fingers slide a little and not find any purchase as well as remind him he should seek sensory input elsewhere?

  5. I have no solid proof only an understanding of working with the the lymphatic system for almost 20 years, that might shed some light why Andrew is ripping at his skin. The superficial lymphatic system is right under the skin. The lymphatic system is a tiny network of lymph vessels and nodes that helps to clean every system of the body, especially the skin. When it becomes backed up it can create inflammation that leads to toxicity under the skin.

    One telling sign that he slowly backed up, is that his problem started at his fingers, the furthest point down the arm. Then as he became more acidic and toxic his hands and then wrist became toxic and irritated. Then his legs and face. Acidic waste can travel through the body, become trapped and create havoc. It is a circulation problem where Andrew may be very dehydrated and lacking minerals. Many children with autism suffer with eczema or skin irritations, in my opinion you need to reduce the acidity in his body.

    The most important step is to manually open his lymphatic system to promote circulation of oxygen, nutrition (if it is available) and detox acid waste from the tissues.
    Dr. Oz says the lymphatic system is ignored. He is right!

    If you would like more info contact me at http://www.LymphMan.com and I will gladly help you understand how to help Andrew. I would be willing to give you access to my site to learn how to activate Andrews lymphatic system for feedback.

  6. I couldn’t read all of this blog to my hubby cause I was crying 🙁 I cannot even imagine what you are all going through with this and poor Andrew I just wanna give him a huge tight squeeze xoxo
    We are very lucky whereby distraction is the answer to our sons self harming or sometimes just a huge tight squeeze and cuddle. I wish I had some magic solution for you, you have already tried so much that I am at a loss … So I have tweeted this blog and my husband has re-tweeted it too, we have many autistic people and parents of autism following us so I am praying someone there may have some experience here. I will get back to you straight away if I get any feedback, I’m keeping everything crossed for something!

  7. Do you think it could be OCD? Lots of spectrum people have a skin picking OCD behavior. If that’s the case a psychologist may be able to help, as well as some anti-anxiety meds. I hope you find something to help!

  8. So tough. My son doesn’t do this to the same extent, but he does occasionally pick at his lips and face and does have some scars. The best we’ve been able to do is keep his nails short (fortunately, he’s ok with having them trimmed) and clean — and to keep his skin clean and moisturized (again, fortunately, he’s ok with lotions and in his case it’s worse if his skin is dry and itchy).

  9. Hi we had a problem with our son he was 14 and he started banging his head off the wall, like you everybody doc, pedotrition, norosurgen, kept telling us it was just autism, six months it took us to find it with no help from medical professionals, his wisdom teeth was comeing through and hitting a nerve. So my question to you could your son be in pain some were ie toothache, stomach, he could be harming himself to take the pain away from the real pain, that was what our son was doing, as well as banging his head he was tearing at his face biting his hands arm it was a nightmare. Hope this help you.

  10. You may already have tried it, but have you looked into the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol? It’s a lot of work to do it hourly, but can provide the intensely high amount of sensory input that some children need.

    Just a thought. I do hope you find something to help!

  11. I don’t have an answer but curious to know how long your son has been doing this. My little boy is almost 4, dx’d with Autism. He scratches at himself until he bleeds and we cannot get him to stop and I’m worried that he will get worse about it as he gets older. I’m anxious to see what responses you get in hopes that it may help us as well.

  12. Do you have any resource help from your community?? Is he in school? We were in a wonderful program funded by the government here in California that offered occupational therapy to help with my sons sensory needs. we figured out what positive stimulants fulfilled his sensory needs and which ones triggered the negative. For my son it was more than just seeking sensory input Pain was calming to him. A therapist explained it to me one time like this, imagine if you were to stand in the middle of the room and close your eyes, in order to walk around safely and comfortably with your eyes closed you would be putting your hands out, bumping into things and touching things so that you could understand where you were in the room and where other objects were… that’s basically what my kiddo has to do every day*with his eyes open*. Without that physical touch (gentle/pain/otherwise) he is filled with panic and anxiety because his body can not sense “where” it is and if everything is ok. If he hits his hands on the floor or kicks repeatedly the side of the coffee table, its calming to him bc that connection tells him, “this is where you are its okay.” We were able to give him a lot of ‘heavy work’ little activities and jobs that made him feel important and independent but also happened to work his muscles like carrying in the groceries or moving furniture around for the heck of it or scrubbing the dinging table or carrying beach rocks from one side of the yard to the other and being timed like it was a race. simple silly stuff, but just the idea that he was using his muscles and getting that positive physical connection made a HUGE difference. He began hitting and pinching himself less and overall being more calm. It certainly didnt “fix” everything but it helped us and we were able to get these ideas and suggestions through a local program and resource therapists.

  13. I’m very sorry to hear that this is happening. I’m no expert, but perhaps i can offer a bit of perspective?

    I am not on the autism spectrum, but i have multiple anxiety disorders, including moderate OCD, that cause me to do the exact same things you’ve described here. Ive been picking at my fingers since i was two years old. like you said, i do it when I’m sad, mad, bored, stressed from homework, watching tv, pretty much any time my mind either isn’t totally occupied or is being bombarded by negative thoughts. I’ve picked my fingers, my forehead, my cheeks, my legs, my arms, and I’ve scratched up and down my arms and legs when I’ve gotten scared or felt nauseous. there have been times I’ve even clawed at my stomach when I’ve become overwhelmingly stressed out or scared, like if I’m taking a test and i realize its harder than i expected. The picking is most noticeable with my fingers, which have been covered in scabs and scars for as long as i can remember. i know my parents and friends become alarmed when they see me do this, but I’m not always aware I’m even doing it.

    as an adult, I’ve never been able to stop the behavior fully, but there are some thing i can tell you. it is NOT just your child’s autism, this is a trait of a very nervous and active mind that constantly needs input, which isn’t just autism. anyone’s mind can be like that. in fact, I’ve seen this behavior associated more often with anxiety and OCD. i can also tell you that, while the behavior may not go away completely, it will get better. it was terrible when i was a child, i would pick at my fingers all the time and make them bleed, and nothing would stop me. now, as an adult, I’m able to catch myself doing it and try to distract my brain in another way.

    i wish i could help you and your child now, i know what its like to have the unrelenting urge to pick, and i always feel terrible at how much it upsets the people around me. but there is hope, your child WILL learn to control this in time. it takes so much discipline and restraint to stop this behavior, and had i gotten help for it earlier i might have had control over it earlier in my life. but you shouldn’t give up hope. perhaps that is what you should do, get your child to talk to someone about being able to control the behavior and convert the urge to pick and scratch into another behavior that is not as destructive, thats what I’ve learned to do. i wish you all the luck in the world, and i hope for the very best for you and your family!

  14. Hi

    This following message isn’t going to be particularly helpful, but I’ll try. If you have any questions you’d like to ask me, then please do so.

    Would you mind me sharing this webpage on my Facebook/Tumblr so I can spread awareness of your question?

    I know you must be sick of answering these questions, but I just want to try and understand the situation myself as best as I can before I say anything else for now.

    How old is Andrew? When did the injuring start?
    Did anything in particular happen before he started injuring?
    How does he communicate (Is he verbal/does he use sign language/pictures/similar)?
    How does he behave around animals (Yet another quack idea I had is getting a pet for him so he can hopefully have something else to focus on)?

    I have Asperger’s myself and still struggle with self-harm sometimes at the age of 25.

    I heard about a couple of parents in Cornwall (England) whose son struggles with self-harm to a similar – so I believe – extent to Andrew.
    If you get the chance, you might want to have a look at this Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoshWillsWorld.
    Just to warn you that the video is quite harrowing to watch, but you don’t have to do anything.
    I just decided to share this in a very clumsy attempt at letting you know that you’re not alone, I think you’re extremely brave and I wish I had some answers for you.

    My heart aches for you and Andrew reminds me a little of my older brother when he was a kid.

    Anyway, I’m sorry I couldn’t help and I hope that you find something somewhere.

  15. Hi mom, Does Andrew receive Occupational Therapy? If Andrew is in school, please inquire as they do a brushing technique that could help relieve some of the scratching that Andrew is doing to himself. I am so sorry for all you are going through. I hope this helps! Big Hugs!

  16. My daughter Sarah bites her arms and punches herself in the head. First she needs to rule out that there is no medical reason for this reaction. Does he have allergies etc that makes him itch that would cause him to scratch and pinch? Allergy testing is pretty simple and painless now. My daughter started hitting herself in the face and head due to developing TMJ after a dental cleaning. I would ask this Mom if she has ABA in place as they can work on alternative ways for him to express his discomfort. For months I had to keep my child within arms reach so that she no longer would bruise her face. If this is sensory and he needs proprioceptive input, is he currently in OT and I’d also get him on a sensory diet for at home.

  17. Oh Emma, but you HAVE helped, just simply by contacting me and sharing your own thoughts, so thank you for that! Andrew will be 11 (I can hardly believe it!) this March. His skin issues began almost a year ago if not a little more. We first ruled out any skin problems via doctors/dermatologist and removed all potentially harmful lotions, soaps, shampoos, detergent, etc. Nothing helped. He started by picking at his hangnails and then began to dig at his hands and scratch. Then his knuckles. Then his legs. Bloody legs all summer long, no matter what we did. Behind his ears, his forehead and now he has started in on his cheeks. There was no one issue that we could point to when he first began, though he fixated on skin/hangnails around his fingers. So that was more of an OCD behavior. But now it’s more like a sensory input issue/stim. He is non-verbal and developmentally delayed (in the 18-36 month range in a variety of areas, though he’s making incredible progress through the use of his iPad!). He uses Proloquo2go on his ipad to communicate, as well as verbal approximations, and some sign language. He is pretty unattached to animals that we’ve noticed. We have two cats but have discussed getting a family dog, though his overall behavior around pets is “Meh.” I hope I’ve answered all of your questions and of course you may share this post. Thank you so very much!

  18. I just thought of something…Autistics often describe the sensation of bugs running up their arms, pins & needles feeling etc. I wonder if the Brushing protocol would be good for this (see an OT for proper procedures for this as it requires brushing of the skin in one direction coupled with joint compressions).

  19. Jo, I just realized this was in regards to your own son…sorry for the 3rd person answer. I live in south OC too, if you ever want to talk I’m willing to exchange numbers. My daughter is 13.

  20. my brother bit his fingers and palms – they got really thick and bumpy because of it and this helped him to do it more and more. one thing I have heard of with self-harming behaviours is a diversionary activity like pinging an elastic hairband kept around your wrist – there is still a sensory imput of pain but minimal harm. I think you have a lot of other great avenues to explore from some of these other comments – and you are right – this is not just his autism – how much does that get said and real problems get sidelined because of it. there is something behind it, whether ocd, or some underlying skin problem that is causing him to react this way. I hope you can find your way through it, stay strong.

  21. Hiya Andrews Mom,

    I’m Jamie, I’m on the spectrum and was sent your post by Sunday Stilwell. Here are some bits and bobs, maybe they will help.

    Scratching and picking has a few nice sensations. The biggest for me is being able to feel touch from both sides. Eg, from the finger and the thing I’m picking at. if one of those responses is “pain” then it’s even better. Pain is a clear strong signal. When my body and skin are feeling a little numb, or “floaty” a sharp signal helps me to bring it back.

    Another sensation is the sensation of dragging something over something else again and again, there is a satisfaction cycle its easy to get into. I do it myself with pulling my hair (i end up pulling out dozens of individual strands, opps) or scratching the wax of wood.

    Ah, theres an idea! Scratching the wax of wood! I hope you know the stuff i mean, when wood has been waxed and it leaves a layer. The feeling of scraping it off (the mix of textures, the feeling under the fingernails, the smoothness!) is very nice.

    Idea 1: Try taking a piece of wood like a stair banister and waxing it, so there is a thin layer which can be scratched off over and over again. Shaped wood is smooth so low risk of splinters and dead easy to wax here is a link to what i mean: http://www.diy.com/nav/build/timber/stairparts/bracket-fix-systems/spindles/Hemlock-Provincial-Spindle-PS090-L-900mm-x-W-41mm-9976897

    Another possibility is to do with pressure on the skin. I get this, if i have been snuggled up with the lion (pluslion.com) i normally press my face into his mane. This pressure is deeply satisfying and calming. when removed i can push with my hands on my eyes and that sometimes helps. The pressure of fingers scraping over is very similar.

    Idea 3: better finger nails.

    I assume when he started scratching you cut his fingers nails really short? If so that could be part of it. short fingernails are really hard to scratch with, so you scratch harder and harder. Then feeling of tender fingernails can be quite nice in a number of ways. for example it can help with knowing where you fingers are (e.g., they hurt, i can feel where i stop) they can also help with getting better feedback when you touch things.

    When i walk, i have to stop myself from holding a finger out and dragging it along walls / fences / cars etc. There is something deeply pleasant about rubbing it along, i don’t feel like i am floating in a big space, I’m stuck to the edge via my finger.

    Anyway, my point, short fingernails actually help with this sort of finger dragging, they increase the sensitivity of my finger tips which makes the whole “stuck to the edge” sensation stronger.

    I could ramble on forever but hopefully there is something actionable there. Please let me know if any of that works. If you want any more input or have any questions feel free to email me on jamie@pluslion.com.

    Cheers and good luck!

    Jamie + Lion

  22. I have a similar problem with my eight year old daughter with autism , ocd and add. Dhe picked the skin off her toes and fingers. We had to make sure her “pick” areas were completely covered so she would leave them alone. Now she has moved to picking her noise causing bloody noses all the time. I feel your pain because I don’t know how to make her stop other than reminding her all the time not to do it and let her know the consequences. It helps her stop a little when I remind her she could get an infection from picking.

  23. I wish I could help.

    I too have a history of self harm, and it’s not something I would wish on anyone, especially an 11 year old child. Mine was caused by extreme anxiety, not my ASD – I was living in a situation that had me in a constant state of “high-alert” and the sad thing was that I didn’t even realise it the majority of the time, not until I relaxed momentarily. Is there anything happening that might be agitating and upsetting him? I used to pick my fingers as a child, but never progressed further on my body – my mother would simply put bandaids on my fingers and then my dad would add electrical tape over the top, to prevent me pulling the bandaids off. I did work at a nursing home until recently, and had a lady in there that would pick at her skin (hers was anxiety based as well, her son had died and I was given to understand that she felt guilty for living on) and I used to bandage up her arms and legs every night before dinner and we put cotton gloves on her hands and put tape around the wrist to keep them on. A bit extreme perhaps, to use on your son, but could be worth a go, if you didn’t put tape on them before. My sister cuts my brother’s nails in his sleep because he won’t let anyone touch them otherwise (he doesn’t harm himself, he just doesn’t want them touched) maybe that could help?
    Crossing my fingers for you that something works soon, for your sake and his, and wishing you all the best in the world.

  24. Hi Jo. Fellow autism mom here. Poor baby…my heart breaks for you all. Do you have a behavior therapist involved? I noticed you said above that your son is non-verbal. A behaviorist would suggest that all behavior is a form of communication. A behaviorist would be able to take data (or teach you how to do so) to try to determine if there is some common antecedent to the behavior i.e., the same things happening before he is exhibiting the behaviors. Having this type of data will help you understand what he may be trying to communicate, and most importantly, how to help modify the undesired behavior. I apologize if this is redundant information that you already know….and I love that there are folks who are on the spectrum themselves who have contributed to the discussion. As a mom, I so appreciate from these folks!

  25. my stim was way way milder (running my fingernails along seams under my nails, leaning into rough surfaces and some minor scratching) and my youngest outgrew his (electrical outlets. We couldn’t figure out why until we got a social worker who had accidentally electrocuted herself a couple times, turns out it’s a tingly feeling). Have you tried rough clothing or something like a bed of nails? Or drugs, perscribed or possibly marijuana (though it’s mostly used for pain sensitivity, different breeds can have different effects on the senses). Good luck.

  26. Hi, I’m not sure how much help this will be but I did see a little girl on a super nanny eppisode where they had a neuro typical girl who was soing the same thing. I don’t remember how exactly they sorted the problem but they did. Her face was covered in scabs and scars and by the end she was healing up nicely.
    I know with her being neuro typical it’s not going to be the same as a child on the spectrum. But the results gained still made me feel this was worth sharing. It was with Jo frost in the UK. I’m sure she has a website.

  27. My oldest daughter has Aspergers. When she was 5 to 13 she often hurt herself if we were not watching to get attention she needed or was stressed out. She did grow out of it by the time she was 14 out of realization of starting to except her sensory problems. I still remember her coming home and she literally cut her hair off and looked like a cancer patient, the poor thing. I just tried to put a positive spin on things and immediately took her to a salon to shave her head and put cheeta print on her head to feel better about herself and it worked. It all boiled down to self-esteeme issues and being stressed naturally from her condition. My only advise to you is be vigilant. Try everything because there is no one solution to this issue because we are human and individually programed by our individual lives. Maybe extra love is the answer, maybe introduce a hobby that keeps his hands busy and makes him proud, and maybe too much sensory may be the issue simply. The doctors years ago told me to bath my oldest daughter in rice to help her stop being ultra sensitive to touch. It was like torture for my daughter who could not even stand a hair out of place. But after a while I started just making sure she was not being over-stimulated by touch, sounds, or lights, as well as being careful what she ate, and she no longer hurts herself at 16 years old. She is pow-functioning Aspergers, she has been through a lot to find a way to feel comfortable in her own skin, but to this day I make sure she is is guitar lessons and I let her do what she needs to do to be comfortable in all situations. I have Aspergers too, and so does my youngest daughter. So I do understand how this condition can push you to the brink of insanity just because a persons senses are being overloaded and stress in life. Please give your son a hug for me and I wish you the best of luck. xo

  28. Just grasping at strawls here because I have no clue how to help you. I will share your story in hopes to find someone who does. Have you tried giving him a brush, textured pad, or other slightly safer thing maybe he could use to rub and scratch without actually leaving marks. They also sell things that vibrate maybe he could reach his sensory needs with that. Sending prayers your way.

  29. Oh, honey, I live there too.

    This helped for a while —


    Other things that have worked for us at various times –

    -Buying stretchy fidgets and letting her pick them apart.
    -Painting her palms with glue (she prefers glitter glue) and letting her pick it off
    -Giving her torn pieces of fabric (linen works best) and letting her pull them apart thread by thread
    -Letting her pick the coating off of small rubber balls (the old pinky ball size)
    -Sticking pieces of duct tape on top of one another and letting her pick at them to get them off

    Good luck. I know how hard it is to watch your baby hurt himself. I know.

  30. The first thing you have to do is figure out the why your son is doing it. There’s always a reason. If it’s medical, then you find a drug. If it’s a learned behavior he might just have to unlearn it.
    This might help.
    I understand that this is ABA for parents to learn so they can apply it to everyday situations. It has been used for any type of person. I just heard a story today about a woman using tag teach to help her non verbal autistic son learn how to function day to day living. Contact them, I’m sure they could connect you with help.

  31. Hello, hugs to you. My 9-yr old non-verbal kid has exhibited similar behaviors as well as punching himself in the head and slapping his chest. At one point in the fall, I took him to the ER because I could not get him to stop injuring himself, & I was afraid. The ER could do nothing except sedate him repeatedly and refer him for an in-treatment evaluation out of town for a week, during which time I would not have been able to be present. Naturally, I declined.

    The hospital did give us a list of psychiatrists, one of which was listed as specializing in nonverbal autism. In the past year, my kid has learned to type but will only do so for me and 1 or 2 others, so we went into the psychiatrist’s office, and he communicated with me, & I with her. She put him on medicine for seizures (Lamictal), even though he has always had normal EEGs. She also prescribed Amitriptyline to improve his sleep architecture, as he was sleeping very little, which could also be an underlying cause of this behavior. These 2 meds have helped a lot. Risperdone for the aggressive tendencies did not help at all. Xanax helped some, but the doctor prescribed very little, so that it could be used in true emergencies only & not on a daily basis. This has not cured the problem, but has lessened it to the degree that we can live with it for now. So, from my experience, a psychiatrist willing to prescribe anti-seizure meds, sleep meds, & anti-anxiety meds was the best help we could get. You might try that avenue. Hope that helps you!

  32. Hi Jo, I’m an autistic 23 year old, and I compulsively pick at my skin, especially scabs and scratches – once they’re there, I can’t even begin to let them sit because the skin feels wrong and needs to be picked off. This, as you can guess, is a very unfortunate circle. I can definitely relate to this sort of thing. Let me tell you what triggers me and why I compulsively pick. I’m also a pimple popper – same reason, the skin feels wrong. There’s something under there that needs to be let out. It gives me some semblance of control.

    I pick more when I am more anxious in other areas of my life. When I am overwhelmed or unhappy or confused, this is something I do because I *can* do it, and I *can* control it. As an example, I was recently attacked in an online safe space by another autistic adult, and this is actually my first time back out of the hole that I buried myself into after that to comment online. I have spent the past 5 weeks compulsively picking and poking at my skin, face, and scabs. I can’t get myself to stop, and it increases when there’s other stress. But it’s not just me saying “Oh I’m stressed, I’m going to pick at my skin”. It’s not that simple. It’s just that when I’m stressed, my other coping mechanisms become less effective. So then when I’m bored or tired, or not doing anything in particular, I need more something to calm down.

    So my question to you, is, has anything changed in Andrew’s life recently? For example, Is he having interactions with someone at school who is stressing him out? Related, is there a subject or lesson that he’s trying to understand in school that is particularly difficult that he shows major resistance to, but that he is working on daily? Did you change a shampoo or soap in the house and now there’s a new-ish smell? Did he recently outgrow some clothes and have to get new ones that are scratchy and don’t quite feel the same as his old clothes? There are thousands of reasons that Andrew’s sensory system might be out of whack and he is moderating this with picking at his skin. But I wouldn’t go immediately into trying to stop the behavior at the behavior level. Chances are, he knows that it’s not good for him. But see if you can play detective and figure out if there’s an external stressor that you hadn’t thought of. This is hard, because it could be coming from anywhere. Since the picking is persistent and hasn’t gotten better, this suggests that the stressor is relatively constant, though it could be that the behavior was triggered by something and increased by something else.

    My other thought is this: is he starting to hit puberty? It could be that hormones are causing his skin to produce different chemicals, which feel strange to him. (Remember, we process sensory input very differently – I’m so sensitive to air on my skin that in order to function, I have to be completely covered, from my neck to my feet, with only my hands at the wrists exposed). This could be his response to a change in his body chemistry that might be mediated by a change in bathing routine or something else. When my body does strange things, it is very frustrating and confusing, and I have to re-explore it to learn how it has changed.

    Good luck!!

  33. I have to say I think Courtney is spot on. I also am very similar to her and your son’s situation. My daughter who is on the spectrum also has been doing this. It definitely is associated with anxiety and OCD.
    The only things that seem to help is covering the spots being picked with bandaids as reminders not to pick, and keeping fingernails very short. I’m 45 and I still wake up to find myself having scratched spots during the night, if I don’t keep my nails very short. It’s very sub-conconscious.
    There is actually a skin condition called Lichen planus – I found that the scarred itchy bumps on my scalp were this sort of condition when I had them biopsied. My daughter has them on her arms and legs.
    I can tell you one thing – they itch like the very devil, are very hard to get to heal, and are often associated with stress or OCD. It might be worth while to have a dermatologist give him a look over.

  34. Hi Jo,

    I did this myself for years, starting at about Andrew’s age. I picked and scratched skin on my face and arms, mostly…my arms and shoulders were a bloody mess of half-healed wounds for a long time. I wasn’t even totally conscious that I was doing it for a long time, but I think it most had to do with both craving for pressure input, as well as boredom, lacking something better to do with my hands, loneliness, emotional distress, and ironically–insecurity about my appearance.

    And I wish I had better answers for you, but it just took me a long time and several separate attempts–like 7 years total–to get it under control. To see that what I was doing was counterproductive, recognize the impulse, and then resist it or find something better to do.

    Things that have helped me include playing a stringed instrument…which both replaces the action with a similar one and gives pressure input to my fingertips. And also, using tea tree oil on the self-inflicted wounds. It’s a natural mild antiseptic, so it should help healing, and it stings slightly…in a way that sort of replaces the pain input of the picking itself. Which I know sounds a little masochistic, but…it works for me. (Of course I would not recommend using this on someone unconsenting, as it IS pain. But it’s sort of “good” pain.) And also just a lot of reminding myself to be kind and patient with myself.

    This is a HARD habit to break, and ultimately only he’s going to be able to do it…it may take a lot of time. Hang in there.

  35. My son does this to a lesser extent, usually when he is feeling a lot of anxiety. I didn’t see if your son is verbal or no, or what his level of functioning is, but in my experience, talking about it with our son and finding out what’s bugging him does seem to help. At times he has walked around with a huge gash right on his forehead. I feel awful that he resorts to this scratching (digging really). One of the things that does seem to help is chewy tubes (with supervision) or mints. I know how frustrating it is to get to the root of the matter, and wish you all the luck in the world to find the help he needs to get this under control.

  36. We did sensory brushes, not expensive official therapy ones. We just got the hospital cleansing sponges that have a plastic bristle pad on one side. He would keep them in his pocket and instead brush those over his skin. We also made big mittens ( like pot holder shape) where each palm had a different fabric and he could pick the sensation he wanted to rub on his skin. We made some wide banded brackets that had different fabrics as well, or a velcro pad, that he could wear and use to rub on his arms and such.

  37. As a lifetime autistic picker/scratcher, I have tips!

    * Sensory toys work differently for different people, and it helps to try different things. I started a blog to review different sensory toys I like, at sensorysquids.tumblr.com. Not everything on the blog is suitable for kids, but many are.

    * Meds are ok. I am on mild anti-anxiety meds that definitely help, make me feel better, and don’t interfere much with other aspects of functioning. Trying out different meds helps.

    * Allow him to stim in other ways. Even if they’re visible. Some of us NEED to stim most of the time, and begin picking when we can’t do other things, or when we have gotten into the habit of suppressing other stims. Visibly stimming is better for you than self-injury.

    * Pay attention to sensory triggers. I tend to pick in situations where I’m subjected to unpleasant background noise, am in an uncomfortable position, have to sit for long periods of time, etc. I don’t always know why I’m picking until I am reminded (or remind myself) to check and see if anything’s bothering me.

    * Support groups can help him manage the self-esteem problems that come with picking. I really like the groups associated with http://www.trich.org. These groups sometimes focus mostly on hair-pulling, but skin-picking is considered the same sort of problem and groups usually include both “pickers” and “pullers.”

    Please keep in mind that I STILL pick despite years of therapy, and that at some point it is okay to simply decide that other parts of life are sometimes more important than stopping picking. If my #1 goal in life was to not pick, I probably wouldn’t, or at least I would pick less. But it’s not my #1 goal and that’s ok.

  38. Oh how frustrating for everyone! I can imagine how you feel because my son has similar issues. The only thing that seemed to help was making our son aware of the behavior (non-judgementally, non-critically, just matter-of-factly) and than redirecting him. So, for instance, if he cracked his knuckles, we’d point it out to him then click our tongues, then he’d stop and click his tongue. Eventually that turned to just clicking our tongues when he cracked his knuckles (or neck or other body part), which would make him stop and click his tongue.

    We also talked about “habits” and how a habit can be so regular for us to do that we don’t realize we doing it. We explained that some habits were good and some harmful and some others may find annoying and some we enjoy. We discussed why we would want to work to change a habit that is bad for us. Then we discussed his habit and how with our support we could help him stop. It was a very positive, family activity. He’s developed other “habits”, but with the same approach we’ve squashed them. The really interesting part is that tongue clicking never became a habit that stuck, but we all click our tongues whenever we hear knuckle cracking. 🙂

    Good luck!

  39. I work with autistic kids and you have gotten some good info, distraction, squeezes (they so most likely the self harming is due to stimulation issues and squeezing gives them an over all stimulation– who doesn’t like a hug?) lotions work well, it helps with the stimulation, and the Wilbarger Brushing, by my warning on this…. you are suppose to do this in very specific areas and we have a child who will literally lay down anywhere (very inappropriate times) lift up his shirt and “brush” his stomach….. as well as other areas. So make sure that if he likes the brushing you are doing it where in a public place he can do it and not be inappropriate.
    Have you tried ABA? I know the teacher I work with is against it, but I think it works wonders.
    Keep working on solutions. You’ll get there!!

  40. I’m sorry that you’re all going through this- I don’t have any magic answers, but we’ve been where your family is. My son used to bite himself to the point where we thought that he would lose the use of his right hand, because he’d done so much damage to the muscles in his wrist/forearm. He also used to peel skin off of his fingers with his teeth, and as a parent, that’s pretty hard to watch, especially when it’s so methodical. Of course it was always worse for him, but it’s still not easy to watch.

    Of course everyone will tell you to behaviour track, look for antecedents, etc., and that might be helpful for some people. It wasn’t for us, as it happened pretty much any time of day/night, whether he was engaged or not, angry/frustrated/happy/excited, or not. Obviously he was doing it for some reason, or getting something out of it that we couldn’t pinpoint, but we never actually did figure it out.

    Eventually he just ‘grew out of it’. He self-harmed from 6-17, and then just stopped one day. We have no idea why. Whether it was that his hormones mellowed out, or he just got bored with it, didn’t need to do it any more, or found something to replace it (although no one can figure out what that might be), he just stopped. He’s also non-verbal, and while we’d hoped that his facility with his communication device would help us understand, no luck there. I am thrilled that he’s stopped, but I wish that any of us who are involved with him had any idea at all why, as then we might have a clue as to why he started in the first place.

    Having been in your shoes for a number of years, you might well be doing everything that you can think of. Sometimes no matter how motivated or educated we are we can’t find the answers that will help. Absolutely be motivated to figure this out and do what you can, but this quite possibly has nothing to do with what you’re doing or not doing, and taking on guilt for it is useless, and very unfair to yourself. I don’t know you at all, but you seem to be a very involved, caring, educated mother. Sometimes we don’t get to learn all of the answers, and paralyzing yourself with guilt is not only unfair, but it’s going to be worse for everyone in the long run. Of course you should keep trying everything that you can (duct tape over mittens worked well for us on occasion), but after you’ve done everything that you can think of, keep trying, but without the guilt, as it’s likely not helpful to anyone, or warranted.

    I hope that your son grows out of it the way that mine did. I really wish that we’d ever figured out why he did it, because one of the great fears of my life is that he’ll start again.

  41. Hi Jo,

    Our kids sound similar and Annie’s been doing the same thing for years. I can tell you what we’ve had some success with and maybe that’ll help…

    Annie started picking when she was sick one Christmas 4 or 5 years ago, and she just never stopped 😉 Hands first, then arms and eventually she found her face. It seems now to be just a habit, but, as she can’t tell us, and there doesn’t seem to be any sort of trigger (she even does it when she’s happy), I think it’s just a sensory feeling that she likes.

    We first taped on winter mittens, then moved onto bands (tensor-like) around her arms. The tensors helped a bit but not too much. The start of this school year we got some cycling gloves and, to our surprise, they helped. Now she has 4 or 5 pairs (some thicker than others) that she wears all the time, unless she takes them off, then we let her, until she starts scratching again. It’s not perfect, she sometimes still scratches with them on, it just mitigates the damage 😉

    I hope you guys find something that works for you. Believe me, we know the frustration you feel.


  42. I’m on the higher functioning end of the spectrum, but have some of the same issues as your son. I’m 35 and still catch myself picking occasionally.
    However, there are a few things that have helped me. One of the biggest is simply chewing gum. I don’t know if Andrew will understand that it’s not to be swallowed, but with me it really helps when I’m in a high stim environment (grocery stores are the worst) and at risk of getting overwhelmed. I used to use a ‘worry-stone’ that I got in vacation. It was an oval slice of stone with a divot that you could rub between thumb and hand. Kept my picking at bay through most of high school.
    Another is to pay attention to my clothing choices. If Andrew is growing, something might have gotten tighter without your notice. Also staying hydrated, moisturizing, and taking an anti-histamine helps cut down on skin irritation which makes me want to pick more.

  43. My heart certainly goes out to you. I will recommend two things. First, become a Nurtured Heart Approach parent. You can sign up for a free 10 session series at http://www.childrenssuccessfoundation.com. There are many Advanced Trainers who specialize in children with autism. Then, I recommend you contact April Choulat, http://www.pathwaysdlc.com. She is highly skilled and persistent. She has studied several different approaches and she will partner with a family to figure out what their child needs. She comes from a developmental perspective and has lots of experience. It is pretty obvious your child is complicated and a one size fits all approach will not be adequate. I want to recognize you for your love, commitment and perseverance.

  44. My son started to grit his teeth so badly that they began to chip and break. Turns out he had an abscessed tooth and that took the pain away.

  45. I’ve written about self-injury on my blog. It is something many autistic (and some non-autistic) people do, myself among them.

    My question is, why not just apply disinfectant to the injuries and otherwise leave him be? Skin-scratching does not cause long-term health problems, so long as there are no infections.

    I promise you, if skin-scratching were a small fraction as physically dangerous as people believe it is, I would be dead by now. For that matter, so would most people who work in hedges.

    It may look scary and gross, but it’s really, really harmless behavior, I promise.

    By contrast, attempts to “treat” it or otherwise suppress it cause severe mental harm.

  46. My son has autism too. My son hits his head on things. What has worked for me if putting my hands in his way from hurting himself. While that only helps for a few seconds, then I can try other things. I bought my soon these sticks from stimstix.com and they help him relax. I

  47. I use the sticks to rub on his back, stomach, and legs to help him get some sensory input. that has helped a lot. You can also buy or make weighted blankets and jackets. They help kids get the sensory help too. I have not tried them, but know other people who use them. You could also ask your doctor for medicine to help. My son’s doctor wanted to try medicine, for my son hurting himself, but I have not tried it yet. You can also check in help from Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), they would have more suggestions, since they are trained to work with children with autism and to stop things like this.

  48. I didn’t read through all of the comments so I am not sure if this has been answered or brought up, but wondering if your son is on medication and if so what. My son takes risperdal and that has helped much with self injurious behaviors.

  49. It does sound sensory. We used a few things with my daughter – cranial sacral therapy, brushing, deep pressure and weighted vests and blankets. We brushed every morning and evening and used the weights as often as we could. An anti-anxiety med may be helpful too. It may have started as stim, but has become a habit, which meds may help. I hope you get some rest and he gets some relief.

  50. Brittany, I really like these strategies. We used the brushes on my daughter, the cheap white plastic ones from the hospital too. She used to lay on the floor and let us brush her! Did you ever try cranial sacral?

  51. We have an excellent psychiatrist and strong behavior meds because our son especially had dangerous behaviors that nothing else could stop. That won’t work for everyone, and it’s not the be-all-end-all of parenting, but it was what we needed to do in our situation.

    Other than medical intervention (which, again, isn’t right for everyone and won’t even WORK for everyone) we have friends who have had a lot of success with weighted blankets and brushing. One Mom taught her son to brush himself so that he would grab the innocent little medical brush instead of self harming, and that pressure was enough for him.

    I will say this. I know you are in wretched distress yourself trying everything you know to help your son and watching with heartbreak as it doesn’t work. I know that feeling. Oh GOD I know it. But. You are doing your level best. The fact that nothing has worked yet doesn’t mean you are a failure as a Mom, and it doesn’t mean you are somehow giving less than your absolute utmost. I won’t tell you it’s easy to think this way, but this is not your fault. It’s absolutely your problem. You’re the one who has to find a solution, and just “hanging in there” isn’t going t o do a thing to make your child stop hurting himself. Hopefully, one of the ideas in this list will make a difference, and you’re doing the right thing by reaching out to other parents in your situation. Here is a virtual hug from a stranger that comes with some less than pithy advice. Don’t just hang on, but don’t give up on yourself either. You’re doing the right things, and I hope sincerely that you find one that works.

  52. There are so many great ideas here and I know it can be overwhelming. I know that you are doing everything you can for your child and seeing self injuring behavior will cause tons of concern. The most informative information I have seen posted has been from those who ARE on the Autism spectrum. A few things I wanted to ask were, have you considered using the ABC model? A=antecedent, what is happening immediately before the scratching and picking. This may be hard to pinpoint, but a pattern may pop up. B=Behavior, the injuring behavior. C=Consequence, the results of the behavior. Is he calmer, more interactive, etc.? I found the comment that the behavior is something that he can “control”, meaning he may not be able to control the situation, but he can control what may be a coping/calming strategy, very insightful. Another set of suggestions involved sensory issues. I have had great success with using manipulatives that mimic the physical behavior. Brushing along the arms with the soft brush is one that was successful for me. Also, light pressure stroking along the arms. You have many supportive and informative people answering you. I hope you are able to find strategies that will be most helpful.

  53. Rule number one from an ABA professional here:
    Always rule out medical first. Food allergies, nerve disorders, etc. Self-injury looks incredibly painful to the outside observer but without other options, a person may resort to inflicting pain to get the endorphins to alleviate another pain that is persistent. It’s like poking a tooth with your tongue when you have a toothache. It may hurt but it seems to alleviate the pain at least momentarily.
    Rule number 2:
    With something this severe, do no go it alone. Many ABA clinics do have grants that permit them to offer services at free or reduced cost, and many insurance companies fund ABA if the service is to assist with serious maladaptive behaviors. Unfortunately, some folks with limited verbal skills inadvertently learn that they can have some control over their environment through self-injury. They may initially self-injure for some other reason, but the effect is that someone else comes, gives them attention (see above in the comments) and then somehow they get access to something else they may want as the caregiver attempts to redirect them away from the self injury. This isn’t my opinion, it is based on research from ABA peer-reviewed research literature showing that a large number of SIBs are actually maintained by attention and may function as maladaptive communication.
    However, simply ignoring SIB is not the answer. Obviously. The individual is causing significant physical trauma even if they are not aware of the danger. And in some cases, it truly appears to be a form of self-stimulation for some folks.
    You really need access to a BCBA with training in both Autism and significant SIB. Just because someone is a BCBA, it does not mean that they are an autism expert. Some are, some aren’t. ABA “therapy” is not a package. A good BCBA provides individualized treatment tailored for your specific situation. If you visit http://www.bacb.com, you will find a directory of BCBA’s in your area. Many may employ cost saving structures such as initial assessment and ongoing consultation while providing trained behavior techs for the day to day services.

  54. Yep sounds like he’s seeking. I’d get him on meds for the OCD like excoriation goings on, cognitive behavioral therapy, and begin Wilbarger brushing protocol. It works. All these things together did stop my son who occasionally picks now but at his height looked like a meth addict and did have sores on his face as well.

  55. I recommend lotion and short nails. I am a picker as is my son. The lotion changes the way I feel things (with my fingers) and I take Zoloft to help with the compulsion. I have to be aware of my hands so I don’t pick my scalp to bleeding, but usually there is no physical trigger other than stress or boredom. I constantly search my skin for anything different of that can find purchase under my nail. Frequent bathes, soothing shampoos, and lots of lotion are my best suggestion. I am hoping for the best for you and your son. I know how hard it is to watch the self injury with no way of soothing your baby (no matter the age, only a mom’s heart can feel this pain).

  56. I am autistic, and I have a scratching problem, and in my case it’s eczema from soap allergies. I cannot use any kind of liquid soap without my skin becoming inflamed. I have needed to switched to a bar shampoo (from a health store) because my scalp was so itchy and I kept picking at the back of my neck. The scalp problem is still present but reduced.

    I have a lesser problem with picking at pimples and the skin of my lips because I do not like irregular textures. Once peeling or scabbed skin is there, I keep trying to “fix” it unconsciously like fixing an imperfection in clay. All of these problems are reduced with very gentle soap and ointments for me. Steroid cream and calamine lotion help as well.

  57. Thank you so much Kiley! Last summer we switched all of our soaps, detergents, shampoos, etc to a product line recommended by Andrew’s dermatologist. While we continue to use these natural products (Vanicream for the lotion and soap and Free and Clear for the shampoo and conditioner) we have not seen a reduction in Andrew’s scratching and picking. Thank you so much for your suggestions and your willingness to offer your own experiences with this issue!

  58. Thank you Jen! Yes, we keep his nail as short as we can without causing him discomfort, and use a fragrance free lotion to keep his skin soft. Lots of baths here too, since he loves water. =)

  59. We actually have a wonderful in-home program and have already ruled out underlying causes such as pain, skin issues, etc. At this point, we know this is a sensory seeking behavior and are working hard to find a replacement behavior that can provide Andrew with the same input from a less dangerous behavior/activity. Thanks for your comment!!

  60. Yes Jessica, I feel so blessed to have so many wonderful comments regarding this issue coming from people who have firsthand experience with it themselves! We have done the ABC model for a variety of behaviors, including this one. I agree that he needs the input and just stopping him/blocking him is def. not the answer and at this point we are working hard to find some replacements that may provide him with the sensations he craves. Thanks so much for commenting!

  61. Hi Twitchy Woman! Thank you so much! We love sensory toys over here too, and I’ll make sure to check out your reviews! Meds aren’t out of the question, though Andrew is already on meds for seizures and we’ve had some close calls with side effects before, so we are a bit shy about trying too much at once. He def. stims in other ways and we love that about him! I agree that paying attention to sensory triggers and his environment is super important as well. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to make the world more comfortable for him, we may be missing something and he’s at the mercy of his surroundings. I love your insights and really appreciate you stopping by to share them with me!

  62. Oh Jo, I know this must be so hard to watch, as a mother. I hope you are getting some good info from the others that have commented, and hope you find a way to help your kiddo soon. Hugs to you!

  63. Hi Jo

    So sorry you are struggling with this issue. A good friend of mine has a son with PDD-nos. He is adopted. Both he and his bio-mom had this issue. One cause is OCD. My friend’s son stopped after she dealt with clostridia (via Rx and mHBOT). He is now almost 5 and stopped about two years ago.


  64. I read on the thinking persons guide to autism I think, or maybe another website, the idea of putting glue on the body, and letting it dry, and hen your son cn peel off the glue, and maybe tht would satisfy his need safely?

  65. My daughter is 4.5 and was diagnosed 6 months. This is what I’ve done for her (every child/situation is different).
    No more artificial anything, most especially food coloring; pretty much everything is organic
    Switched to raw milk
    Taken her to a naturopath who has given her homeopathic therapies – WORKED wonders!
    Crystal therapy (http://rickrideshorses.hubpages.com/hub/Healing-autism-and-Aspergers-syndrome-with-crystals)
    Sound therapy (http://www.2-b-well.org/)
    Bentotite (sp?) clay in her bath to remove toxins

    Please email me if you want to talk about it further. In the past six months since I started the homeopathic therapy I’ve seen increased eye contact (nearly normal now), increased verbal skills, playing WITH her sister and other kids, more affectionate, less “in her world” and more in our world. Good luck!

  66. My son is 7 and has Autism. I know what you are talking about, my son has picked craters in his arms and legs and I too considered jeans in the heat of the summer. Ethan, my son, was on Abilify, Tenex, Concerta, Ritalin(just a small after school dose), Trazadone (sleep) and Melatonin (sleep) and the picking became crazy! So, the docs added Luvox for the OCD picking! It did get better but his aggression frustration and anxiety went thru the roof! We had to get a new doc and long story short, we went off Luvox and have now switched from Abilify to Risperidone. Everything is better (no where near perfect) and there’s no picking going on!!!! I have no idea if any of this helps, but you can contact me if you want, you have my email! Just remember you are not alone!

  67. I’m a widowed mother of four ( one of whom was a skin picker to the point of scars and infection ) and a special Ed teacher. I’ve got some pretty good experience and would be happy to start a conversation. I’ve been told sensory integration is my true calling 🙂

    One sorry for your pain and anguish. I also believe kids should be able to self stim when necessary and appropriate. That becomes tougher as they get older.

  68. My daughter is 11, she is not Autistic but she has recently been diagnosed with OCD. Since she was 3, she has suffered from “habits” that would hurt her body. Nail biting, lip licking, wrist bending, picking ext. now we know these are compulsions and she was not able to stop
    Doing them even though she wanted to. It got so bad this last year that she was causing nerve damage in her hands by bending her wrists back too far!
    We put her on Zoloft and it was like a miracle! She has stopped her compulsions almost completely!
    I know how terrible it is to watch your child hurt their body. I hope you find a solution.

  69. Hi Jo,

    My “typical” 9 yo son does this too…. so far just his arms and legs. He is a sensory kid (loves rubbing velvet, making “hairballs” from taking hair out of brushes and rubbing it against himself, etc.) He tells me it just feels good to pick… he rubs his skin and when he feels a bump (a regular teeny weeny skin bump like most people have on their arms and legs) he just has to pick at it. And then of course it scabs and becomes itchy and more pick-worthy.

    I have no good ideas on how to stop it and I can see how it could get worse but Madeline’s comment above stuck out to me because my sons LOVES peeling glue off his (or anybody’s skin) as well as peeling a sunburn…. so maybe the glue thing would be a safe replacement for this pick-pick need.

  70. I think you need to find an activity that he will prefer to do that either completely takes up all the attention of his hands, or an activity where he can’t do it unless he uses his hands in another way. Your parent or therapy group may have suggestions if you all meet with Andrew nearby so they can see exactly what you’re up against. Since I don’t have any idea what he may prefer, I can only suggest trampolining as something where he would HAVE TO use his hands & arms for balance and could not scratch at the same time. Adolescents and adults self harm either because they want a different pain to the one they feel inside or they do it as a distraction from doing something worse, like running in front of a train or jumping off the balcony. Some also do visible self harm as a signal to others that they are hurting and it is a genuine cry for help. However, it is hard to infer a purpose for Andrew- you may find one.

  71. I haven’t read all the 74 comments; the only thing I can suggest is medication which will calm his ‘aggression’ and agitation. A competent child psych would hopefully be able to help.

  72. WOW, you have received a lot of great advice and things to try, and it sounds like you have done so much already. My daughter was diagnosed at 2yrs, she was picking by the time she was 3 and it lasted til she was almost 7. We just consistently put band aids on and constantly reassured her and encouraged her not to do. We also reinforced her not picking them, alot. Every child is different and you will find a way to help him. I agree with the trying a stringed instrument, we did the brushing in OT and it helped a little.

    Stay strong and be positive. I love all the feedback and support you are getting in response to you reaching out. Our community is always here.
    From one Warrior mom to another,

  73. Hello Jo,
    How is Andrew doing now with his skin scratching now ?

    I am not on the spectrum, but I can scratch myself sometimes.
    The cause was dust allergy coupled with a very dry skin. A syndet to wash myself, oily cream or even oil table/olive oil after washing myself + an antiallergic medication (Aerius) is enough to relieve the problem for me. It may not work for Andrew, but it’s a path of thinking.
    Loratadine worked great, but now, it works so so and I cannot sleep at night if I take it.
    Zyrtec has the same effect on me as drinking fresh water…

    When my skin is itchy, I cannot prevent myself from scratching to ease the pain. Exactly like children who have chicken pox and scratch themselves.
    I remember that I have scratched myself until bleeding when I was Andrew’s age.

    I may not help you with my questions, but I promise you to try to help. I am sorry not to be very helpful.

    With an allergy, the skin scratching can extent within time. And an allergy can present with only skin scratching, without any other symptom.
    Gluten, dyes and preservative can be a culprit, but other culprits can be likely.

    Did you notice if Andrew’s skin scratch started at the same time he was on medication for epilepsy or was it before he was on medication ?
    Which medication(s) does Andrew take ? (I always check this culprit, because some antiseizure medications can and do make someone scratch)
    And even if the scratching started many years after the medications, Andrew can be allergic to a medication whereas he was not allergic before.

    Did you notice if his skin scratching is better at certain seasons than at others ? For example, does he scratch more in spring and summer than in winter ?
    Does he scratch more during colder months than on warmer months ?

    Did you notice scratching when he ate certain foods ? Not only gluten, dyes or preservatives, but also any other kind of food.

    Which kind of lotions did you try, and what was the effect ?
    Did you try fragrance free cosmetics ? Fragrance is the n°1 cause for allergy with cosmetics, so the skin scratching.

    Did you try to wash him with syndet, so lotions without soap ? Soap is a common trigger for skin scratching because it dries skin a lot.
    By my small anecdotal personal experience, many people I know with ADHD or ASD don’t tolerate washing themselves with a soap because it makes their skin itchy.
    You can find syndet at the drugstore or at Walmart (even at Canadian Tire).

    Did you try to change your cloth soap for olive oil soap to wash clothes ? Again, cloth soap can trigger skin itching.
    Or you can try different brands to find what works for Andrew. In a few words, the cloth soap can trigger the scratching you are describing in this post.

    What you can also try for laundry is putting vinegar instead of fabric softener : they can and do trigger skin itching to the point you cannot stop because of the fragrance.
    Also, at least in France, white vinegar costs 0.30€/liter instead of 4€/liter for the fabric softener : not only you reduce the risks of allergies, but you also save a lot of money.

    Hard water can and do trigger itchy skin. What helps is adding a tiny bit of lemon or vinegar in the water for shower or bath.
    If it’s realistic for you, wash your son with mineral water.

    Essential oil can trigger skin itching : be really really careful when you choose a lotion for Andrew.

    Another idea, it worth what it worth, but I noticed that washing myself only with bare hands instead of a wash cloth keeps my skin scratching at bay.

    I am again very sorry to be not of much help for you. I hope that Andrew’s self injury will get better with all my heart.

  74. Hi Jo,
    I was directed here from Kate Leong’s blog just today, as she posted a past article today on Facebook. I see that this plea for help was posted in February, however, you never know about divine timing. Please understand that this information comes from a mom who does not have or work with autistic children, but I feel empathetic nonetheless. I have personally been on a strong wellness journey for the past couple of years and I came across a wellness in eating book called G.A.P.S. – gut and psychology syndrome written by Dr. Natasha Campbell. You may have already done a ton of research regarding Andrew’s food intake, but maybe it can help. Besides the book, there is a lot of info online if you google it. There is a strong connection between the and talks mostly about disorders such as autism. Also, I read in a past posted comment about the lymphatic food that we eat to our brain system. I am currently using a castor oil pack for myself, but feel it might help as well. Here’s a link giving info about it. It’s an easy remedy. http://rootnaturalhealth.wordpress.com/2011/01/01/castor-oil-packs-are-good-for-liver-detoxification-and-lymphatic-circulation/

    Best wishes and good health to your Andrew. I hope this finds Andrew and your family in a more peaceful space. With love, Ellen

  75. Hi Jo,

    The first is a little unclear, as I copy and pasted the link incorrectly. This will make more sense!

    I was directed here from Kate Leong’s blog just today, as she posted a past article today on Facebook. I see that this plea for help was posted in February, however, you never know about divine timing. Please understand that this information comes from a mom who does not have or work with autistic children, but I feel empathetic nonetheless. I have personally been on a strong wellness journey for the past couple of years and I came across a wellness in eating book called G.A.P.S. – gut and psychology syndrome written by Dr. Natasha Campbell. You may have already done a ton of research regarding Andrew’s food intake, but maybe it can help. Besides the book, there is a lot of info online if you google it. There is a strong connection between the brain and the food we eat and talks mostly about disorders such as autism. Also, I read in a past posted comment about the lymphatic system. I am currently using a castor oil pack for myself, but feel it might help as well. Here’s a link giving info about it. It’s an easy remedy. http://rootnaturalhealth.wordpress.com/2011/01/01/castor-oil-packs-are-good-for-liver-detoxification-and-lymphatic-circulation/

    Best wishes and good health to your Andrew. I hope this finds Andrew and your family in a more peaceful space. With love, Ellen

  76. Its alot i wanna say but i really wanna say that its really important to give him some extra love in that situation.when he does these thing tell him to stop kiss him alot to let him no u dont like for him to hurt his self force him to look not literally force but tell him to see what he is doing.an let him no that that hurts.i wanna say that i have an autistic son an he started to do the same thing an sometimes still does but its rare because i would always kinda no when its coming on usually when he’s upset.so try to get a six sense when u feel it coming on reminding him that it hurts if he has a favorite song sing it to distract him from that behavior.good luck mom just dont give up i believe in u so

  77. I know what you are going thru my son used to do the same thing. It is apart of austism. Eventually he will stop and out grow it my son did! Both of my children are austic .

  78. I am not any kind of expert myself, I also have a son in this spectrum not nearly as severe but all the same, i read your story and pictured this in several people I have had the privledge of being a part of their lives. Maybe his nerve endings or receptors are overly hyper sensitive ? I’ve learned most always there is first a medical reason ( which most dr are unwilling to look into ) or boredom . Like I said I am not an encyclopedia or anything but maybe this may give a different perspective………maybe. prayers for you all

  79. My son is exactly the same but at the moment it only seems to be when he is mad or frustrated.he is profoundly death and also has severe hemophilia so any help on on how we could try and stop this would be appreciated as it really is heartbreaking to see him like this

  80. It could be systemic yeast or bacterial infection. Try diflucan prescription or Google natural anti fungal and/or bacterial remedies. I’m so sorry for your pain.

  81. Hello,
    Honey you are a great mom, you are not doing anything wrong. I am also dealing with my son who is 4 1/2 but developmental is 1 but seeks that deep sensory issue by biting the tops of his finger tips of. To the point it looks like a blood bath a,ll over my walls. It is horrible i am devasted by it. He also trys to take plastic forks an scratch his face an hands. He does not cry he likes it. His OC said he is seeking that deep pressure sensory that normal people can feel that he can’t. I will pray for you I know it is a long an rough road but God is with us.
    God bless

  82. Try the Gaps Diet or SCD diet. Children in the autism spectrum lack vitamins they don’t seem to absorb nutrients. Most lack in zinc and have to much copper. Those two need to be the right amounts they work together. Don’t give him sugar, wheat, dairy and if you are you should give him digestive enzymes as they cannot digest food properly and that’s why they do not obsorb nutrients. Give him lots of nourishing soups that should be in his diet always, it heals the digestive system. He should have a probiotic too. Don’t heat the food in the microwave always heat it on the stove making sure not to let it boil. I can go on forever but the Gaps Diet explains it all. Hope I have helped.

  83. So I read somewhere that putting a little coating of Elmer’s glue and then letting it dry and then he can peel it off can satisfy this sensory urge in a safer way. We all remember probably peeling it off our finger tips as kids after projects. I hope this is helpful I’m sorry you are struggling with this. My daughter has ocd she is so much better now and in college but I know it’s hard.

  84. Have Andrew tested for allergies & possibility mrsa. Could be allergic to pollen or cats, dogs, etc. this might help reduce the itching scratching

  85. All except for the age your son sounds just like mine. My son is 14 also non verbal, also on the low end and pinches himself and pushes on things. I have dond the pants in summer to. My son has been on medication since he was 2 due to seizures so i am not apposed to medication. A few year back we went though this so his Doctor put him on Naltrexone and in a few days it slowed within 1 month he stoped so we stopped the medication. The bresak lasted about 3 years now he is doing it again and the medication is nit working. I would like to thank you for writing this I do not often see kids that function on the level of our sons so as i write this and he freaks out I am not feeling so alone.
    Thank You

  86. My 8 year old mildly autistic son is always pricking his skin and also pulling out his eyebrows and eyelashes. Picking his skin until it bleeds has just started, and he only picks until it bleeds behind his ears so maybe it’s itching him? I keep waiting for it to heal, but it just keeps getting worse and I’m afraid he’ll infect it. It’s nice to know that I am not alone in this odd journey.

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