Hair Pulling - called Trichotillomania may be seen in SPD children and adults. It is not as uncommon as we may think!
In seeking sensory
stimulation, people tend to go to the sites where there are many nerve
endings. Hands, feet, mouth and the scalp are common places. Many different
behaviors could be used to perform this balancing function externally.
Hair pulling, skin picking, nail biting, cheek biting, nose picking,
*grin* are only a few of many that I have seen. While any or all humans
may engage in these behaviors sometimes, the difference with SPD kids and
adults, (whose behaviors have become extreme versus those who are doing
them on occasion) are that they have considerable difficulty regulating their internal levels
of stimulation, and are utilizing these methods for self-stimulation or
This behavior provides an SPD person with tactile Stimulation, by touching, stroking, tugging and pulling hair. Visual stimulation occurs when watching or observing hair during or after pulling, and oral stimulation by chewing or sliding through teeth.
Why this could be helpful to an internal state of regulation to satisfy both, or either, under- and over- stimulation comes with the understanding that each type of stimulation is the polar opposite of the other on a continuum of sensory stimulation levels. It can be either soothing... or stimulating, and bring about changes and more balance to internal regulation.
What to do? Is it becoming too much, destructive even? If this person has already been diagnosed as an SPD child or adult, I would recommend speaking to their therapist. Ask him/her about better ways to learn to self-regulate. Find other, less destructive sources of stimulation.
There are medications that have been used to help in severe cases. Consult with a physician concerning that. There are also emotional, and even environmental reasons a person may be hair pulling. If this person is not already under the care of an Occupational Therapist, I would suggest beginning with Michele Mitchell's comprehensive SPD Checklist for Children, or Adult and Adolescent Checklist to determine if an evaluation is needed.
One of the methods I like to see, is when we teach our SPD kids and adults to discover and identify how they are feeling. To recognize when they are over or under stimulated. Then work together to find activities, with each of the senses, to "feel better". The program How Does Your Engine Run? Leader's Guide to the Alert Program for Self Regulation may help anyone learn alternative healthy ways to seek input, that may be used so the person doesn't feel the NEED to pull hair.
Providing preventive methods, such as decreasing sensory overload, as needed, to balance internal regulation when feeling the need for less stimulation, or as when overwhelmed and stressed, by providing calming activities to soothe. Conversely, adding more sensory stimulation when seeking, or craving more. The hair pulling habit itself can be difficult to overcome, but I have seen great improvements, by offering different choices of stimulation. This is the most common method I have seen utilized - substituting other forms of stimulation to replace unhealthy, destructive or unsafe activities.
Copyright © Michelle Morris. Reprinted with permission.
Michelle Morris is the mother of six, and parent of a child with a Sensory Processing Disorder. She is whole heartedly dedicated to promoting awareness and advocacy for families with SPD children. She has published over 30 articles supporting and educating parents about SPD.