QUESTION:

I have an autistic student seeking deep head pressure in a circular motion generally over the area covered by the temporalis musclulature. He requests a staff person to rub deeply. I would like to help his teacher come up with a way for him to get a similar calming effect from something that he can do for himself. I searched Q&A with Gwen on your website; however, no one else has asked this question yet.  Maybe a weighted baseball cap might be an option. Can think of anything else that would provide a deep pressure to the sides of his head, or an alternative sensory modality. Preferable age and gender appropriate. I have suggested to his teacher that choosing a different modality, such as vibration. He could hold a vibrator in his hands, which might be helpful. Do you have any other thoughts?

Things that have worked for whole body calming include heavy work activities and tight stretchy band wrap shoulder to toes while working. He has regular, scheduled opportunities for heavy work throughout this day. If you need more information, please let me know. I appreciate your help.

GWEN’S ANSWER:

These types of needs can indeed be tough to meet because these kids are often seeking the element of human touch in addition to whatever sensory input they are receiving. Therefore, it’s hard to find a substitution strategy that they enjoy as much!

Some Thoughts

  • It is probably a good idea to wean him off needing a staff member to provide this input for a number of reasons. So, start thinking about how often, on average, this intervention is currently provided to him each day. Next, make a plan for reducing the frequency weekly. For example, if he gets head rubs 5 times per day now, reduce to 4 times per day next week, and so on.
  • Explain to the student and his parents that your goal is to help him find other ways of meeting his sensory needs at school because the need for human touch is best met at home.
  • Make a choice board of alternate strategies he may select from when he feels the need for input to his head. I would include things like a weighted baseball cap or halo weight, a hand-held or neck massager that he could position as needed (e.g., the Naipo-Shiatsu-Massager sold on Amazon), giving himself a head rub, and maybe some whole-body calming options as well like the strategies you have already discovered that work well.
  • When he successfully meets his own needs with strategies such as those just mentioned, give him praise. We want to help him understand that learning to meet our own needs is part of becoming an adult. You may even use a reward system with tokens given for independence in meeting his own needs.
  • During the weaning process, you could give him tokens representing head rubs each day. Once head rubs by staff are no longer routine, this could become an incentive for him–something he could earn. But that decision would be up to your team and their feelings on giving head rubs at school.

On a totally different note, I wonder if he is seeking deep head pressure in that specific area because of discomfort. If you know any basic cranio-sacral therapy, it may be helpful to see if that helps him.

I hope this helps! Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Best Wishes,
Gwen