October 26, 2020

My previous post, about skin picking and hair pulling, was the first time I’ve tackled that subject in my three years of writing about autism. I’ve spent those years looking for connections, experimenting with solutions, and wondering what I could say about those habits that might possibly be useful – so, I’m deeply grateful to everyone who expressed appreciation.

The comments and shares were not only encouraging, but also enlightening. Here are some additional things I realized through your questions and stories.

First, protective barriers (such as bandaids, gloves, or hats) are helpful, in a limited way: They can help you notice what you’re doing. They won’t prevent it, because it’s too easy to remove them or find something else to pick. But if you find yourself picking accidentally or unconsciously, barriers may slow you down enough to choose another action – to meet the needs that created the urge.

Second, punishments and rewards are unhelpful, because they force you to depend on willpower. I’m grateful that my family understood this, and trusted me when I said I couldn’t help myself, even though none of us knew about my autism at the time. I was often harder on myself, inventing my own incentives, not realizing how that only increased my stress.

Third, success or failure in this area has nothing to do with virtue. Self-control, like joy or peace, is the fruit of other actions, not something you can generate out of thin air. If this habit causes you any shame, remind yourself that it’s rooted in needs, as natural as hunger or tiredness, and you’re on a journey to find healthier ways to meet those needs.

Fourth, you’re not alone. You’re sharing this journey with one another, and with me.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.