How to stop my autistic child from pinching me

Team Kindship
March 27, 2022
5 minutes

Parenting. It’s not for the faint hearted that’s for sure and when it comes to aggressive behaviour in children most of us are at a complete loss as to what to do.

Parenting a child with a disability takes you on a whole different rollercoaster with bends and turns that just keep popping up, over and over again.

A common concern that many parents of autistic children have is when their child starts experiencing autism rage and autism anger. I know firsthand how upsetting it can be to deal with. It makes you question your parenting abilities and leaves you feeling overwhelmed that sometimes you literally have no clue as to what the hell you are doing.

Rest assured. You are not alone and autistic child behaviour problems and harmful actions such as biting, pinching or scratching can be a common behaviour for children on the spectrum. While this may bring some form of comfort it doesn’t take away the fact that you now have another ‘faze’ to try to navigate through, oh the joys!

So, you have found your way to this blog for a reason. Perhaps to gain some insight into autism anger management, to find some coping strategies or simply to seek some comfort that you’re not alone. While I’m no pinching behaviour expert! I have learnt a few tips and tricks along the way.

I think it’s important to firstly consider and rule out any underlying medical conditions which may be contributing to their behaviour. Are they in any pain or physical distress and is the action seeking to deliver some sort of comfort?

From here it’s helpful to try to understand the reasons they are pinching.

When behaviours don’t make sense, we need to perform a bit of detective work and figure out why? Understanding their ‘why’ will often lead you to recognize appropriate ways to try to rectify the problem.

The easiest way to do this is to start a diary. Record the day and time of the pinching episode along with any information about the behaviours before, this can help to determine possible triggers. It is also useful to jot down the environment as this will show if there is a theme occurring at specific places.

I totally get that this can seem a little overwhelming, I remember oh too well when a therapist first suggested a behaviour diary for my daughter (insert stressed out overwhelmed emoji face here!). My initial thought was how the hell am I going to manage to keep a diary of behaviours when I struggle enough to write down appointments in my current diary, not to mention ‘mum life’ day to day shenanigans! But it doesn’t have to be complex and perhaps after a week or so you will begin to see a pattern forming.

Sometimes finding the autism trigger for pinching can be quite simple (phew, done and dusted) but the reality is there may be many reasons that can generate an autistic child to pinch. It may be a combination of things; possible reasons could be;

-To get attention

-As a means of communicating

-To escape an unwelcoming situation

-Decrease a sensory input

-Tired or frustrated

-As a stimming behaviour

-As a reaction to something

-Energy that they are unsure how to release appropriately

-Sensory seeking

-They feel anxious

-Unexpected change in routine

-Poor self-regulation skills

-To cope with transitions

-Escape or avoidance to do something

So, you have an idea of possible triggers. Where to from here? How should you react when your child engages in pinching or other forms of harmful behaviours? Firstly, it’s important to seek professional advice, especially if the pinching is quite aggressive and/or constant.

For me I think the most helpful thing to remember was that the behaviour was coming from a place of distress or frustration, my daughter wasn’t being ‘naughty’ and patience was key. Making a point of constantly reminding myself of this allowed me to handle the situation in a calm and organised manner.

Immediately overreacting to the behaviour just makes the situation more stressful and more often than not this can actually encourage the pinching, especially if it is occurring as a means of communicating or attention seeking.

Limiting eye contact, a simple ‘no pinching’ while removing from the situation is often the most effective way to manage the pinching episode. Long explanations about why pinching is not allowed will not be helpful. I learnt this the hard way and spent far too many occasions trying to talk to my daughter when she simply couldn’t take in or understand anything I was saying.

Further interventions (social stories/visuals) and discussions work best when your child is calm.

Remembering Patience, Persistence and Consistency is KEY!

Aggressive behaviour in children with autism usually means they are seeking sensory stimuli of some sort to assist in regulating emotions. Providing alternative solutions to fuel this fulfillment can be used to deter the pinching. For example, offering plenty of tools and activities to encourage squeezing and fidgeting with their hands may be useful.

·         Stress ball

·         Fidget tools

·         Sensory play

·         Playdough

Once you begin to see a pattern as to when and why the behaviours are forming you can try to prevent them from occurring. Here are some possible solutions for different scenarios.

-Perhaps it is happening a lot at preschool and they are simply trying to discover ways to communicate and play. Social stories, modelling of play and therapy techniques can be devised to help with social skills.

-Overstimulation from preschool. Perhaps when they come home a massage followed by quiet time and squeezing a stress ball could assist with their overly heightened behaviour.

-If the pinching seems to be happening due to seeking a form of sensory input, encourage other activities that can fulfil this sensory need.

-Creating visuals for times of frustration e.g. picture of a distressed face with a picture of two activities to choose from to calm down.

-Social stories that explain biting and how it hurts people and what can be done instead.

Don’t forget to praise the times that they are using positive actions to assist with emotions and behaviours. As soon as I catch my daughter coping with a situation positively, I literally can’t praise her quick enough. Give the rewards, tell them you're proud, shout it from the rooftops…praise and praise again. Positive reinforcements help to guide positive behaviours.

The hardest task is finding out the why? What are the autism triggers that are fuelling this behaviour? Perhaps you have written a diary and still aren’t any closer to finding the answer, this is ok. Yes, you have a child with autism, this however doesn’t make you an expert on all thing’s autism related. We learn as we go through trial and error, through other parents’ journeys and from the advice and guidance of therapists. So, rest assured, this too is another obstacle you will conquer together!