Blow blow, ear ear, hair.
Everyday, many times an hour, my son will blow on his left forearm, his right forearm, wipe the top of his left ear, his right ear, then run his hand across his hair. Again, again. “Why are you doing that?” It’s a question I’ve asked of him so many times, it’s a question his teacher has asked of me too; why does he keep repeating this odd sequence of actions, what function – if any – does it serve? Should we be trying to stop it? Can we stop it?
He did once tell me why he started doing it, and I tried to address the reasons back then. But now the behaviour has seemingly become a non-functional habit and he says he doesn’t know why he does it anymore, and isn’t even aware that he does it when it happens. He’d told me he started touching his ears to make them flat on top, similarly he wants his hair to be flat. I think he blows on his hands to help dry them off after washing his hands, since he’s quite obsessive about his skin being completely dry. But he dries his arms and hands fine with the towel now, and he understands his ears don’t need to be flatter and won’t go flatter by endless touching, and we changed his hair cut to make it even shorter in length than it already was.
Still. Blow blow, ear ear, hair.
So what am I meant to do, if the behaviour has simply become routine, and doesn’t harm him or anyone else, but makes people stare at him and wonder why he’s doing it? If the behaviour appears to be completely non-functional at this point, but merely ingrained. It’s not as if he even knows he does it now, it doesn’t make him happy or calm, it’s just… done. Over and over.
You already have an answer in mind, most likely. Maybe you’re of the mind-set that it’s harmless, just leave it be, he’s just doing his own thing. Maybe you think it’s setting him apart and harming him in his social relations, and since it serves no obvious ongoing function we should work hard to stamp it out. Maybe you’re undecided, maybe you think it’s nothing even deserving of thought or worry or bother.
As a parent of an autistic child, you are expected and required to analyse the child’s behaviours, constantly. Figure out if the unusual behaviours are harmless or harmful, and whether the harm if it exists breaches some magical threshold of “worthy of intervening.” You have to figure out the function of the behaviour, and then decide whether the behaviour that currently occurs is an appropriate way to meet that functional need, or whether you can or should replace it with another behaviour, or address the underlying cause to extinguish the need that the behaviour meets (if possible). You have to find a way to ask your child what need it meets, and observe regardless to figure out when it’s happening and perhaps the why to go along with it. And even when you’ve done all that – observed, communicated, considered, consulted, experimented with responses and fixes – you’re still going to make a decision that other people are always going to criticise.
Well I decided it’s time he tries to break this blow blow ear ear hair habit, a habit which only started a few months ago but already seems so deeply ingrained in his daily rituals. But for all my careful consideration and communication leading up to this decision, he just won’t stop anyway. He only notices he’s done the behaviour after I tell him he has. So now I’m left wondering whether to escalate my efforts to make him stop, what else to do to make him stop, wondering whether this is a habit that will pass by itself in time or will become part of permanent behavioural repertoire. I just don’t know, and the amount of energy I’ve put into trying to figure this out is almost funny: What a lot of fuss over a blow, a couple of ears and a few imaginary stray hairs.
So I open it up to you: If your child was doing this, many times an hour, everyday, what would you do, and why? Or perhaps you can tell me what unusual habits your child has and what – if anything – you’ve done about it. In the meantime I’ll return to this endless analysis I’ve been trained to do over the past many years: Observe, analyse, problem-solve, observe, (over-)analyse, problem-solve. Maybe that’s my own pointless habitual behaviour now; maybe I should try a little blow blow, ear, ear, hair, for a change.