Self Injury Red Flags


New Member
Before I hopped on this merry go round of doctors and diagnoses, I had the feeling that when something goes wrong, there's a doctor ready and able to fix the problem. Now I see that there are no fixes and at best what I can learn to do is understand my son's temperament and help him to lead the best life he can (and not go crazy myself in the process).

From time to time little red flags wave at me and I wonder what, if anything, I can do.

Today Seb and I were at the movies. We were a few minutes early, aimlessly munching on popcorn and reading the little celebrity trivia slides they play to occupy the time before the movie starts.

A slide came up with a quote from Pamela Anderson: 'Sometimes a little pain is good". Seb tuned to me: "That's absolutely right" he said. "How so?", I asked.

Seb looked straight ahead at the screen and said, matter of factly: "Sometimes I hit myself or I bite my tongue, just to relax, and it feels good".

My heart sank into my stomach. One of my embarassing secrets is that I have cut the skin on my feet on and off since I was a teenager. I always dread seeing the worst of me and my gene pool reflected in my innocent little children.

"You feel relaxed when you hurt yourself?" I asked for clarity trying not to sound judgemental. "Yes", he said as if it were the most normal thing to say, "I like it. I like to feel a little pain, it relaxes me".

I thought for a brief moment and said: "If you find that you need to relax you can tell me and I would love to tickle your back or give you a massage; I know you find that relaxing. You don't need to hurt yourself".

Seb grabbed my arm: "Mom, don't worry, it's not a big deal".

A few weeks ago I happened upon Seb in the living room. He had hog tied himself with a jump rope. "Would you put some masking tape over my mouuth?" he asked in the same way that one would ask for a glass of lemonade.

I want to fix this way of thinking, but maybe I can't? I am terrified of this red flag.

What's a mother to do?

Hound dog

Nana's are Beautiful
First of all, I'd set up a new evaluation for difficult child. Good place to start is a neuropsychologist if he hasn't seen one already. Looking at your sig and this behavior seems a bit over the top for ADHD to me. Second, I'd make sure psychiatrist knows about this. You're right it's very worrisome in any child.

I think you've handled it well, though.

With N my gut told me that if I made too big of a deal about it (getting emotional at all) would probably make it worse. I always played it pretty cool. Although it was always told to psychiatrist immediately. Still I kept a close eye on it.

Most people's first response is to lock up all sharps. Might be a good idea. But both N's psychiatrist and therapist at the time said it likely wouldn't do any good. N didn't use typical sharps to do her cutting and I couldn't lock up everything she might potentially use. She often used paper clips, saftey pins, pencil or pen tips, bits of plastic broken of to a sharp point ect.

I'd be worried too.



It's definately something you want to bring to difficult child's therapist's attention.

At the height of one of difficult child's episodes a couple of years back, he was cutting. I have several links on the subject. If you want them, let me know and I'll post them.



New Member
My son used to cut his arms when he was around 16 or so, but seems to have grown out of it. He will admit now it was when he felt depressed from his adhd medications. I think you handled it well not freaking out and making a big deal in front of him. I know when I started freaking out when my son was doing it, he seemed to do it more, probably because I was stressing him out.

I would defintley have him evaluated. The flags are definitly flying!!


New Member
I think you handled it very well too. I am sure you will discuss this behavior with his dr. It is a frightening red flag.


Active Member
Don't look on this as genetic. I don't see cutting as a genetic thing, apart from a very tenuous association via other conditions which have some component of heredity.

So leave blame out of it.

I also don't see this as cutting. I DO see it as Sensory Integration Disorder (SID) and his way of trying to deal with it - he has trouble connecting physical sensation with certain stimuli, and is experimenting. Plus, he's admitted anxiety to you, and this is very nasty sometimes, the kids often have to get very creative in finding ways to overcome it.

Example: I used to get VERY anxious at the dentist. This is because I had a butcher of a dentist who should have been struck off. I still burst into tears if a dentist these days suggests drilling without anaesthetic, even if it's really not going to hurt. So when I was a kid, when the dentist was hurting me, I used to dig my nails into my other hand and really concentrate on the pain I was causing, so I could try to ignore the pain the dentist was causing. Because the pain from my nails was under my control, I could vary it and in doing so, continue to distract myself hopefully for long enough. And part of me, as a kid, was hoping the dentist would notice and maybe realise how badly I was hurting, to have to do this.

I also would do this at times of extreme stress, such as being harangued by a teacher in a very nasty way. I would focus on the self-inflicted pain to distract me from the emotional pain the teacher was causing, because I was determined to not let her see me upset.

I still do this at the dentist or if I'm having to endure pain, such as getting a drip put in (or when they were putting local anaesthetic in my toe, prior to surgery).

I don't consider this to be classic self-mutilation, because my aim was to use my control of pain to distract me from pain I could not control, and it was only with extreme, short-term pain. I've also never drawn blood.

Back to Seb - this has a different 'feel' to me, than the cutting my two middle kids were doing. Yes there are similarities, but I think that's coincidental.

Certainly tell a therapist or specialist, but also tell them in conjunction with a full description of everything else that is happening for him. How does he score on the Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) test? He doesn't have to take it, you do the test on the computer, answering from the point of view of parent. It's not official, but it can be useful informally.

What this reminds me of - the cattle press that Temple Grandin had made for herself. She found that controlled pressure, what SHE can control, relaxes her. Her personal cattle press appplies pressure under her control, so she feels safe. But the pressure helps too.

I wonder how Seb would go with a weighted vest? We have one for difficult child 3 but he doesn't wear it much. Mostly I think he's forgotten we have it. It was made for us by a local seamstress who makes them for other autistic/Aspie kids but looking at it, it's fairly easy. It's double-stitched with french seams and long, narrow pockets all around it on the inside - two on each side at the front, four across the back, running from the armpit to the hem. She also made the weights - 200g each, sandbags double-stitched like a feather doona (duvet, quilt, whatever you call it). We add or subtract sandbags as needed, to 5% of the child's body weight (the official weight) or, frankly, to the level the child chooses.

If not handled well this COULD turn into self-mutilation more directly, but it could also be possible at this stage to help him find something as effective but less potentially injurious. He's talking freely to you, there is no sense of shame about this, he's not trying to hide it.

I really do think he's trying to connect to his physical sensations (as distinct to his feelings) and needs help in this - but practical help, such as spreading out a range of physical sensation options and taking notes with him as he tries out each one. A soft towel. A furry blanket. A cold pack. A hot pack. A tight belt. Tight jeans. A heavy coat.

easy child 2/difficult child 2 has tight corsets (think "Pirates of the Carribbean") which she says are "like wearing a hug", only SHE is in control of how tight the corset is. She even wore them to school, under her uniform. She doesn't wear them often these days, but I did notice she does wear them more when she is feeling stressed.

Good luck with this one.



Active Member

Although I would be worried as well, I would not jump to the conclusion that these statements would manifest themselves later into self mutilating behaviors. My son did a lot of that at that age, and although they were signs of mental instability, at age 16 he still has not become a cutter. I agree with Marquette - I would guess this is your son's way of releasing his angst and inner turmoil and it would be helpful to give him some more positive venues for that. Have you read Temple Grandin's book? Amazing book, and well worth the read to have insight into the mind of those who suffer from not only AS, but any other mental affliction.

Try not to worry! What our kids say at 7 is not necessarily indicative of the future to come!


New Member

I'm glad you posted about this! It really got me to thinking. My difficult child is 9 and while he hasn't expressed that he finds hurting himself relaxing (he has expressive speech issues so this isn't all that surprising) he does love for me to PUSH on him. We do this massage fashion but instead of manipulating the muscles like a regular massage, he just wants me to push on him from head to toe with pretty much all my weight behind it. He loves for me to do this just before bed.

So I'm thinking - what my son asks for most people would think of as a bit odd, but not necessarily "bad". Perhaps your difficult child is getting the same thing out of what he's doing but because it just looks a bit more closely to self-mutilation, our reactions to it are much stronger.

Has anyone ever said anything about Sensory Integration Disorder? Maybe he's hypo-sensitive and needs that extra stimulation? Have you ever tried deep tissue massage techniques with him to see if he liked it and found it relaxing? Keep in mind that some people "need" or like a much deeper tissue massage than others. I'm one of those - a mamby pamby sissy massage is just annoying and most people who know me would find that surprising since I'm pretty small and appear to be rather mild!

Good luck!


Sheena-Warrior Momma
My son and I had a similar conversation on the way to the doctors on day. He picks at his arms and legs until they bleed and the lets them scab over and picks off the scabs the next day or later that day. He will also rub his fingernails across his fingertips until he has blisters and then he waits till they are good and ready and picks the blisters.

He said when he is sad or upset he picks or breaks the blisters. When I asked, nonchalantly, doesn't that hurt? He said "yup, but then I'm not sad or mad anymore when I'm done." I replied, so it makes you feel better, still nonchalant. "Yup" was the reply.

Scary? YES, but at least you recognize it as a red flag and are not sticking your head in the sand about it. Like the others, I do think that it is a sign of more than ADHD and I don't think that it is genetic as much as it is a part of a condition that has yet to be diagnosed. Sounds like you are on the right track though. Hang in there!

Many hugs and prayers for you and Seb :warrior: