Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Hair brained

with 17 comments

When Pudding was first handed to me in the delivery room, her tiny hand reached out and grasped onto a lock of my hair, and didn’t let go.  This was the beginning of her love affair with my hair.  Any time she nursed, her hand would reach up, and grab hold.  I’d joke that she was making sure her food supply didn’t wander off.  If I carried her, her fingers would lock on.  There was something primeval about it, clinging on gave my newborn a feeling of security in this confusing world.  I didn’t mind.

That changed.  As the months passed, it became clear that she was very dependent on my hair.  She needed to hold onto some to go to sleep, or while nursing.  She was strong, and I got tired of having my hair pulled all the time.  I knew nothing of sensory processing disorder at the time.  All I knew is that she had a thing for my hair, and I didn’t like it.  I’d put my hair up in a pony tail to keep out of her way, but then she started moving on to other people.

Any woman with long hair was her target.  Time after time I’d pull my toddler off unsuspecting strangers, hoping that one day her sense of boundaries would kick in.  As she got bigger, other kids became her preferred victim of choice, as she could tower over them and touch their hair easily.  Of course, if they tried the same, she would hate it.  Only she was allowed to do the touching.  I didn’t think that was particularly unusual at the time, but I tried to intervene, and give her dolls with hair to pull and twirl.

Finally her own hair started to grow in.  Just before she turned two, she finally had enough of her own hair to play with, and she would stretch the same piece out, and smooth it over with her other fingers in a bid to get to sleep.  She touched my own hair much less often, and began to leave her friends alone too.  Occasionally she would meet a stranger with long or interesting hair, and her old compulsion to touch it returned.  Once she had done so, she was sated, but she needed to get her fix first.

After we moved and her hair continued to grow in, she developed a habit of twirling a section around her fingers.  She continues to do that to this day, and when she is particularly overwhelmed, she moves back to my hair, the original source of comfort.

Cubby has developed a similar habit.  Mercifully he never had the same interest in touching other people’s hair, but he adores mine, Daddy’s works in a pinch too.  His sister will occasionally let him play with hers, but she has to be in the right mood for that.  Several times a day his hands wind up around my tresses, and his tiny nails scratch my scalp.  I feel like an ape being groomed.  Just like Pudding, his hair has taken a long time to grow in.  Only now does he have enough hair to be content to play with to go to sleep, though he still prefers mine.  I’ve tried to cut his hair so he still has enough left to pull.  Admittedly, it looks a little strange.

This hair-pulling or twirling is one example of a “stim”, or self-stimulatory behaviour.  Hair-twirling is a very common habit, especially for young girls, but like hand-flapping, humming, running around in circles, or bouncing up and down, its purpose is to provide appropriate sensory input to calm and regulate, and ultimately cope in a disordered world.  One of Pudding’s therapists mentioned to me that she didn’t like Pudding’s hair stim, to which I responded that she didn’t have to.  She has the ability to twirl her hair and do other things at the same time, so I see no reason to stop her at this point.  This particular stim is about as typical as Pudding can be.  Removing it would likely cause a replacement stim to begin that might be much more socially unacceptable, and potentially harmful.  Instead I advised the therapist to instead reward the use of two hands for an activity if necessary.

I can think of no better way to encourage her to pull out her hair until the point of baldness, than to make her stop touching it.  Though well-intentioned, preventing a stim can be harmful.  My girl needs all the coping methods she can find, and a replacement may be  more stigmatizing, or even harmful.  Hair twirling we can live with, though I may need to order a wig just in case she ever wants to move on to other people again.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

February 22, 2011 at 8:14 am

17 Responses

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  1. you are the smartest momma ever. It gets down to the debate of the purpose of a stim. If it calms her down (and harms no one) what’s the big deal? If it’s interfering with her daily activity/life, then time to make a change (like my friend whose son’s new stim is fiddling with his glasses to the point where he breaks them. He doesn’t even know he’s doing it until they are in pieces in his hand. After the third pair, it’s time to find something else to occupy those hands).


    February 22, 2011 at 9:06 am

  2. I think you’re right — lots of people twirl their own hair when nervous, or just as a habit. While the driver behind Pudding doing it might be an aspie tendency, it is as far as appearnces go a typical, socially acceptable habit that certainly could be replaced by others less so. makes sense to me. Twirl away, Pudding!


    February 22, 2011 at 9:08 am

    • Yeah, we all stim, just some are more socially acceptable than others, probably because more people do them.

      Spectrummy Mummy

      February 22, 2011 at 10:02 am

  3. Julia did something similar to this when I first tried to take her pacifier away at the age of 6 months. She would stroke and lightly tug her eyebrows and eyelashes till finally they were all gone! Ack! I gave her that thing back so fast your head would spin, and didn’t try again till she was three. LOL 🙂

    I’m glad she’s just twirling. Beautiful little Pudding.


    February 22, 2011 at 9:20 am

    • Oh no! That was one stressed-out baby. Pudding hasn’t gone for her eyelashes, thank goodness!

      I regret taking Pudding’s pacifier too, though she was about 18 months when we did. Cubby still has his, and he can keep it, as far as I’m concerned!

      She does several other stims, but none as pervasive and enduring as the hair-twirl. It is just part of her now.

      Spectrummy Mummy

      February 22, 2011 at 10:04 am

  4. Thanks, that was a really useful post. Geeky Daughter used to eat hair and I had never really thought about it that much. Of course it could have also been nothing, but you have made me think that I should keep an eye out for coping strategies that might end up problematic. Fortunately atm everything is ok but I keep being warned that she is likely to dip.

    Geeky Mummy

    February 22, 2011 at 11:39 am

    • One of my best friends was a hair sucker until she was about 8. I think lots of us have a stim, we just call it a different name.

      Love your name- that could be my alias!

      Spectrummy Mummy

      February 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm

  5. this was a great post… I had a “typical” friend growing up, she ALWAYS twirled her hair, smoothing it, pulling it, touching it….. noone stopped her and she grew up to be, well, typical….. Just because the diagnosis of autism is in play some feel the need to micro manage EVERY behavior…. maybe it’s just a childhood habit and it feels good to her… why then, do we need to even think of torturing her into stopping….. sometimes, even the doctors who “know it all”, no NADA!!


    February 22, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    • I was a nail-biter growing up, and you can always tell now when I’m stressed out because I go right back to it. I don’t even realize I’m doing it, but apparently I need to so it once in a while. 🙂

      Spectrummy Mummy

      February 22, 2011 at 3:15 pm

  6. I have an older sister who has always done the hair twirl. She’s now 62 years old. I often wonder how she coped when her hair fell out during chemo. Maybe that’s when the humming started. 🙂


    February 22, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    • Sorry to hear about your sister, that must have been particularly difficult. Pudding hums too, she started a few weeks ago. 🙂

      Spectrummy Mummy

      February 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm

  7. MANY NT people use hair-twirling as a stim. Providing she’s not pulling it out… don’t stress it.
    I agree with telling the therapist to just deal.
    My son uses hair touching as a stim.. but ONLY other people’s hair. His own hair does NOT interest him.
    (This however, also included not liking his hair being cut…) 😦

    Trish Reeve

    February 22, 2011 at 4:03 pm

  8. You really are a very wise mummy 🙂
    Tony Attwood says removing a socially acceptable stim is a very dangerous choice – that need will be sought elsewhere. And it will nearly always be a move to a socially unacceptable stim.


    February 22, 2011 at 6:09 pm

  9. Good for you not letting the therapist turn this into a problem. There are so many worse things than hair twirling – my mom has been doing it for the better part of 75 years with no harm done. People need ways to comfort themselves, and spectrum kids need them even more.


    February 23, 2011 at 3:22 pm

  10. […] I was surprised by what he did next.  He crawled up on the couch next to me, and grabbed a lock of my hair.  He just sat there, his head resting on mine, stroking my hair.  Trying to comfort me in the way […]

  11. […] strokes her hair when she is nervous.  She goes barefoot the entire time.  She yearns to be with other people, but […]

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