Dealing with Headbanging Behavior in Autism: Top Tips

Top tips for dealing with headbanging behavior in young children with autism spectrum disorder

Headbanging behavior can be a very concerning behaviour for parents and educators alike and the behavior may have a variety of underlying causes.  Helping your child overcome these behaviors is important, and the earlier you start intervention, the better.

Here are our top 10 tips for helping your autistic child at home:

  1. Create a safe space for your child from a sensory perspective. This safe space can also be childproofed to prevent injury during headbanging episodes.
  2. Make sure you identify triggers. This can be done by keeping a behavior diary and tracking the instances in which the child is headbanging. Like with any behavior once you know what is causing the behavior it becomes easier to help the child.
  3. In severe cases we recommend that you buy a helmet for your child. This helmet can be a sport-based protective soft helmet or you can go as far as a biker helmet.
  4. Consulting with a medical professional, an autism specialist or an autism specialist school can also help from a behavior perspective.
  5. Once you have identified the triggers for headbanging it becomes easier to provide alternative outlets. Make sure that the alternative outlet is not going to cause new behavioural challenges for example we do not recommend replacing a headbanging behavior with punching a cushion because this can easily become a punching people behavior.
  6. When headbanging is random – then teaching coping skills becomes pertinent. This strategy is however more effective when the child is slightly older.
  7. Use the power of positive reinforcement to help your child. For example, during a headbanging episode show your child an affinity-based toy or something that you know they will love, and ask them to stop, once they have stopped the headbanging behavior positively reinforces good listening with a reward.  Be careful not to reward for bad behavior!
  8. In autism households establishing consistent routines is vital. Often headbanging behaviour is more frequent at home than it is in the autism classroom and the biggest reason for this is that autism schools run systematically.  Autism centers use visual schedules because they know that autistic children often feel more secure and less anxious when they have predictable routines.
  9. Using a variety of distraction techniques can be very effective. Redirecting your child’s attention to another activity when you notice he/she is getting frustrated or agitated can go a long way toward preventing headbanging episodes.
  10. Get in front of the behaviour, know when your child is about to headbang, understand what makes them anxious or upset, and avoid these types of situations at all costs.
Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.