Autism, self-injury and “outside the box” thinking.

Most of you are aware by now that Gavin is REALLY struggling with self-injury. What set’s Gavin apart from some other kids on the spectrum is that his self-injury is a choice and not a compulsion. By choice, I mean he does it as a means of manipulating a situation. The is simply a fact and not really open to interpretation. Some people may not agree with that but it has been PROVEN time and time again.

If Gavin were an only child then it would be more easily dealt with but because he’s not a only child we are presented with a major problem. In many ways Gavin has more influence over Elliott and Emmett then we do. They WORSHIP him and model their behavior after him. This is where we have our problems. In some cases Gavin can be a positive influence but in many more cases he is a horrible example for the younger ones to follow. I have brought this up a few times before. Elliott and Emmett are now modeling the self-injurious behavior. Last night it came to a head and I had to implement some “outside the box” thinking.

Last night Elliott became upset over something (I honestly don’t remember what). However, when he did he started hitting himself in the face and I MEAN HITTING HIMSELF IN THE FACE. As he was hitting himself we was screaming “I’m such a stupid jerk”. That was it…..I was done. I was time to implement “Plan B”. “Plan B” was discussed a few weeks back at a meeting with Dr. Patti. We were discussing the impact Gavin’s behaviors were having on Elliott and Emmett both. Nothing seems to work with Gavin. He just keeps on doing what he’s doing and making bad choices…….and once again they ARE choices. Sometimes being a special needs parent requires you to think “outside the box”. This means you have to come up with “unconventional” ideas.  Ideas others would either not agree with or think crazy. That said, I suggested that we hold Gavin accountable for Elliott and or Emmett hitting themselves when they get upset. We would, of course, hold Elliott and Emmett accountable as well and work with them to discourage the behavior as well as learn better ways of dealing with frustration. At the same time we would hold Gavin accountable as well because as long as he continues to be a negative example there will be consequences. Dr. Patti really liked the idea and so we had it in reserve for when the time would come. 

That time arrived last night. When Elliott started punching himself in the face and calling himself “stupid jerk” I was done. I called Gavin over and told him that he would be having oatmeal for dinner. That’s right, we use oatmeal to “deter” Gavin’s inappropriate behavior. It’s the only thing that works and honestly, how big of a punishment is it really? It’s frickin oatmeal, it’s not like we’re grounding him or anything like that. What we do is substitute oatmeal for whatever he was going to have for dinner, lunch or breakfast. At the same time we also held Elliott accountable as well and took his DSi away for the rest of the evening. Elliott was upset but he got over it. Gavin on the other hand launched into a HUGE meltdown, where he ironically, continued to self-injure. I had to remove him from the first floor and escort him to his room where he proceeded to assault himself. It’s very difficult to watch your child do that but in our case we have to let him go (at least to a certain point). If we give him any attention then we reinforce it. If you have ever watched one of his meltdown videos you’ll hear me say things in a very “matter of fact” almost callus way. If we show ANY emotion or react, then he gets what he’s aiming for and that is control.

Last night Gavin was especially brutal to himself. I thought we was going to break his nose. He hit himself in the head so hard it looks like he was hit in the head with a baseball bat. I DO NOT feel comfortable playing this “let him go and don’t react” game. The experts tell us that “Gavin will stop before he seriously hurts himself”. To be completely honest, I don’t think he will. I think he will continue to escalate until he does serious damage. I have had to explain ALL dat today what happened to his forehead. Thank God everyone knows us pretty well. I even spoke with Gavin’s Sensei this morning and asked him to speak with him about respecting his body and making better choices. I think we are running out of options. We may have to take him back to Akron Children’s and have him admitted again. I don’t know what else to do. All I know is I CANNOT allow this to continue to affect the boys.


Rob Gorski

Full time, work from home single Dad to my 3 amazing boys. Oh...and creator fo this blog. :-)
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My son has just turned 3, and started engaging in SIB a couple of months ago and it’s escalating. If they had control over it, they wouldn’t injure themselves to the point they do. It’s a very difficult road.


Hello, I see this post is  a few years old now. I am a mom of a nearly 6 year old. He took a repetitive head nod and turned it into a self-inflicted whip lash, which turned into a fist-to-chin and now he currently punches and slaps his face. I guess it’s getting worse or I guess it’s the same idea wrapped in new packages. My husband and I are exhausted. We have 2 aba providers and I am not sure that is helping. Wondering if 2 years later you are in a better or harder place with the self injury. I hope better and that you can pass on some wisdom. I think I have narrowed down the solutions to positive reinforcement, aversive, meds, biomedical. Are there any other approaches?


I found your post through a link from one of your other posts. My son is 3.5 and he also makes the choice to hurt himself. I know he does it for attention and it drives me crazy. He hits his forehead (same spot as your pictured son) by doing it on the floor (or more recently, on the carpeted stairs) and he also lays on his back on the floor and hits the back of his head. I have no idea how to get him to stop, other than not paying attention to him as he does it or immediately after.


I totally feel your pain. It\’s like a nightmare situation and you are damned if you do and damned of you don\’t. We struggle with this quite often and have very little idea as to what we should be doing.
Thank you for sharing your story. While I\’m truly sorry your going through that it\’s nice to not be alone. We have been doing this a long time. If there is anything I can do to help please let me know.

Bonnie Stewart

Believe me, I know what you mean about unconventional methods of stopping self-injury. My youngest (8 yrs old) who is severely autistic and was non-verbal until recently has been quite a head-banger. He usually just banged on the carpeted floor and I ignored him. I took the experts advice that he would stop before he really hurt himself, but it just went on and on every time he was mad. He went on to banging on hard floors and I had to take action, not wanting to allow serious brain damage. He has long thick hair on the crown of his head and I found that if I just grabbed a handful and held it firmly, he ended up pulling his own hair which he did not like. He quit banging

From talking to my 18-yr-old Asperger's kid I have learned a surprising truth. He told me once, "Mom don't let me make my own choice even if you know it is bad for me. I don't feel loved."

Kid's feel safely encircled even by those seeming unreasonable limits. You know how a lot of autistic kids crave deep pressure. I think they crave it emotionally too. So if it's oatmeal, for you, a handful of hair for me, it's just another way of spelling LOVE.


Outside the box thinking is something that has become a necessity for us. It does work but it's not understood by "typical" parents and family members….sigh. You just have to do what you have to do. Thank you for sharing your story. Also I think I will add an "Outside the box" thinking forum to the support group. I think this is an important aspect to special needs parenting. The Autism Support Group can be found above.
My recent post Autism- self-injury and “outside the box” thinking

Bonnie Stewart

That is a great idea: an "Outside the Box" forum. I was quite comforted reading one of your older posts about trying to work the window glaze in the dead of winter. Conventional solutions don't work for even
something like that. I realized, "Hey somebody else lives with three autistic kids in an old home with ancient windows." There really is life on this planet. What a sanity saver!


Rockwood – Thank you (as a friend to the lost and tired family) for taking the time to come and apologize on behalf of your brother. Most would have been too ashamed to do so. I think it speaks highly of your family – that your brother was raised with manners and that this behavior is not acceptable. It is nice to see that while you personally are not responsible for his actions your family is working to ensure he gets the help that he needs. I hope that someone is able to help him – either through medication or whatever other options your family has. Your family will also be in my thoughts.


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I'm not sure where to put this, so I'm just going to place it here. I'm the sister of ThyGuyX and I'm again horrified to see what he has said here. We were informed that this was happening this morning by a friend who stumbled upon a alarming rant my brother left on a forum he frequents. I can't begin to apologize for the actions of my brother, just as I can't begin for the other sites we found in his web history. The only consolation I can give you is that he will never be allowed to get on a computer on his own anymore (If at all), and that this probably wasn't intentional (I'm just not sure after the things I've seen on other sites). He isn't himself anymore.

Three years ago he was committed and diagnosed with Schizophrenia, Psychosis, and paranoia. He went from someone who believed that one day we could have world peace, and wrote children stories, too a person that now is highly erratic even with medication and is highly delusional at times. When confronted about what he's been posting online; he began to rampage that he was spreading the "truth" to the world? He will be getting evaluated by mental health tomorrow to see if he needs to be admitted and his medicine changed or increased.

I'm not saying any of this to make excuses. I would be furious if anyone DARE say the things he said to me, but let alone about my children. My son has mild mental disability with ADHD, and we had to deal with his teacher calling him the R word. I find it sad and ironic that my brother is attacking those who are mentally handicapped, when he himself is mentally ill.



You have nothing to apologize for. I'm sorry to hear about what's going on in your life. My oldest Gavin is dealing with schizoaffective disorder so I have "some" idea what you are dealing with but I'm not in your shoes. I'll be really honest with you, the what you just shared with me would never have crossed my mind. I don't think anyone else thought about that as well. I truly appreciate your honesty and I will share your post so that people understand and maybe aren't so quick to judge next time. The includes me as well. I will also remove his post so that you have one less thing to worry about.

I know this blog tends to focus on Autism related issues but I created a forum for people involved with special needs kids and adults. Please feel free to join us as we have all been there at some point. Your insight could help others going through a similar thing. Please think about it.

Again, don't gives this a second thought. You and your family will be in my thoughts. NO WORRIES. 🙂


Lyndi Ticknor on Fac

hey I have a few questions for you when u have a minute!