Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Band-aid Fetish


In keeping with this week's inadvertent themes of aches, mourning, and sources of nurturance, Sweet M resumed her band-aid fixation.

Most of Sweet M's obsessions have receded in the past three years. We no longer have to stop at every payphone to dial pretend phone calls, or be sure she gets to swipe the credit card at the supermarket checkout counter, or make sure that no one else in an elevator pushes any of the number buttons. But, to my surprise, her band-aid fetish remains.

For a while I was using my reverse psychology approach—going all out on band-aids, making sure we had nearly every cartoon character: Barbie and Care Bears, Scoopy-Doo and Dora, Strawberry Shortcake and Sponge Bob.

Eventually, I figured, she'd just get tired of band-aids.


Retrospectively I can see the madness of this: why would she ever tire of them when they were so much fun? But, at the time, indulgence was my strategy.

On any given day we'd have at least 4 or 5 choices of band-aids around, and she'd have several on her fingers. They were sort of a disposable jewelry or body art. She seemed to like to fidget with them in class. At one point, I'd say we were spending about 20 dollars a month on band-aids. Sometimes, if we weren't careful, she'd leave one on for too long and the skin on her finger would get irritated, rubbed raw from the adhesive or the water that collected under the bandage.

Since my reverse psychology wasn't working, we slowly weaned her from the many colored and many charactered collection of band-aids. We kept the band-aid boxes out of sight, and only allowed them for actual bonafide injuries.

Last week M had a little paper cut. Her father had gotten a giant economy size box of regular beige-y camoflage "sheer" band-aids, and so we pulled it out and dressed the tiny cut. And left the band-aid box on the kitchen shelf.


Last night after M's bath she was changing her own band-aid, and F noticed that she'd wrapped a band-aid around her finger so tightly that she was cutting off the circulation. Then I noticed that she was actually changing the band-aids on not one, but four fingers. I don't know how long she'd been wrapping these fingers—probably for at least a week. I hadn't noticed the flesh-toned bandaids, designed as they are, to blend in, and her skin was irritated and peeling under the supposedly comforting and inconspicuous wraps.

We carefully pulled off the band-aids and dressed the distressed skin with an ointment, then wrapped up her little fingers in a gauzy wrap that would let the air get to her skin. Sort of an uber-bandage.

What strikes me about Sweet M is how what she does isn't all that different than what any of us do: the way she'd chosen to comfort herself, to care for herself, had become an unexpected self-injurious behavior.


kristina said...

Your last sentence is going to stay in my mind for a while, Vox Matris. Our ABA consultant has, I think rightly, suggested that sometimes Charlie's head-banging is spurred by a desire, a need, to comfort himself, through deep pressure. And one strategy for teaching him out of this behavior is to keep very close track of when Charlie is tense and nervous and to keep him going with whatever activity he is doing and then give him deep pressure. Always painful (aching) to us is his still-seeming need to self-comfort in a way most dangerous to his health and himself.

As a side note, Charlie will not keep a band-aid on for more than a minute. Takes a long time for scabs to heal on him!

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Wow, great post! Very interesting and touching. I just blogged about band-aids myself a few days ago or so and hadn't realized there is an autism connection. Henry will not actually wear a band-aid, though, he just likes rolling and sniffing them (they do have a distictive odor.) Anyway, nice to "meet you" and thanks for blog-rolling me! NB (of Genre Cookshop)

Diamond said...

I really like the way you draw a line between how comforting behaviors can turn into self injurious behaviors. That's true for damn near everyone at one time or another, isn't it?

kristina said...

This is the post I had made the "healing" link too on what I guess I'll refer to as the "pee to Persephone" post. The link should be working now.

Awd said...

I know this is an old, oooold post, but when I read it I immediately thought of another 'different' person known for his fascination with bandaids (and other medical paraphernalia):