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Autism Pinching Behavior: Causes and Management

Autism Pinching Behavior: Causes and Management

Have you ever said to a child, “Don’t pinch!” It’s something that many children pick up over time. However, when a child with autism begins pinching, it can be a bit tougher to get them to stop. Autism pinching behavior can become a stim that children with autism use as a coping mechanism.

Still, pinching behavior can hurt the child or others and create stressful situations for parents and the child. Let’s take a closer look at autism-pinching behavior and ways to manage it.

What is autism pinching behavior?

Autism pinching behavior refers to when a child with autism spectrum disorder starts pinching others or themselves. The child may be seeking attention or sensory input or trying to release tension. Often, there’s no ill intent behind the pinching behavior, but that doesn’t stop it from hurting.

Pinching behavior is often an attempt at sensory regulation. Children on the autism spectrum often struggle to convey emotions effectively, leading to behaviors like pinching, hitting, and biting. Pinching usually hurts less on a smaller area than hitting and biting, but all three can be connected to stimming.

Autism pinching risks

The most obvious risk of autism pinching behavior is the risk of injury and physical harm. The unfortunate victim could experience bleeding or infection if the pinch breaks the skin. If the pinching evolves into other self-injurious behaviors like head banging or biting, the child could end up with a head injury or bite injury.

On top of the obvious physical consequences, children who engage in pinching behavior may struggle to form social relationships. Family members and friends who are often on the receiving end of the pinching may have strained relationships with the child with autism who is pinching them.

Causes of pinching behavior

While there’s no definitive cause for autism pinching behavior, researchers have found some common underlying triggers that often present themselves when studying pinching behavior. These triggers include:

Overstimulation triggers tend to come from noisy and crowded environments. These can trigger repetitive behaviors like pinching.

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Changes in routine mean a change to what the child is used to doing, and for some children with autism, this can be upsetting. Research has found a change in routine can also increase stimming behaviors, like pinching, for children on the autism spectrum.

Meanwhile, sensory overload triggers include textures, sounds, and lights. On the other hand, emotional overload triggers can include frustration, anger, anxiety, and stress.

If your child is engaging in pinching behavior, it is important to identify the triggers and take steps to avoid them if possible.

Managing autism-pinching behavior

After identifying triggers that are causing the pinching behavior, it’s up to the parents to help the child manage and stop the behavior. Some of the most effective strategies for managing autism-pinching behavior include:

  • Sensory input
  • Alternative behaviors
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Seeking professional help

Providing sensory input

One of the best ways to manage pinching behavior is to give the child something else to pinch. If the child finds a texture they prefer to pinch rather than skin, they will redirect their pinching behavior to that item and not hurt anyone.

Also, if you work in an atmosphere rich in sensory stimuli, the child will likely be absorbed in the sensory input and not focused on pinching.

A young child playing with modeling clay.

Teaching alternative behaviors

If a child is overwhelmed, pinching behavior may still occur. Parents should teach alternative coping strategies to help the child self-soothe. This can include deep breathing exercises, squeezing a stress ball, or redirecting the pinching behavior into a nicer playtime.

Positive reinforcement

Praising or rewarding a child when they choose something other than pinching can be an effective strategy for managing pinching behavior. This will reinforce the positive behaviors and can reduce the need for pinching behaviors as coping mechanisms.

Seeking professional help

If pinching behavior continues despite best efforts to develop effective strategies to manage it, parents may have to turn to a professional for help. Doctors and therapists can assist parents in finding the best methods to help stop the pinching and encourage appropriate behaviors.

From pinching to progress

Pinching behavior can be difficult to manage because of the physical consequences that can come to the individual and anyone they may be pinching. However, there are ways to encourage your children to seek an alternative method to communicate their frustrations or anxiety that may lead to pinching behavior.

This can include alternative coping strategies to help avoid self-injurious behaviors. And if it ever becomes too much, there is professional guidance that will help you help your child and others.


Q: Why does my autistic child pinch me?

A: Sometimes, children with autism express themselves through pinching behavior. They may be seeking sensory stimulation, emotional regulation, or social interactions.

Q: Is pinching a sign of autism?

A: Pinching behavior is one of the most common behaviors of autism. However, neurotypical children can also engage in pinching behavior, so it’s not a definitive sign of autism.

Q: Why does my child pinch himself?

A: There’s no definitive reason why some children pinch themselves, but experts say some may crave physical, sensory experience or may have a slightly dulled sense of pain. Others may use self-harm as a coping mechanism.

Q: How do you teach an autistic child not to pinch?

A: The best ways to stop pinching behavior include identifying common triggers and addressing them with alternative behaviors and positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviors.

Q: How do you manage anger in autistic children?

A: Parents can help children manage anger by using communication skills, coping strategies, emotional regulation strategies, and sensory breaks.


Gary Shkedy, Dalia Shkedy & Aileen H. Sandoval-Norton | Luca Cerniglia (Reviewing editor) (2019) Treating self-injurious behaviors in autism spectrum disorder, Cogent Psychology, 6:1,

Noha F Minshawi, Sarah Hurwitz, Jill C Fodstad, Sara Biebl, Danielle H Morriss & Christopher J McDougle (2014) The association between self-injurious behaviors and autism spectrum disorders, Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 7:, 125-136, DOI: 10.2147/PRBM.S44635

Steenfeldt-Kristensen, C., Jones, C.A. & Richards, C. The Prevalence of Self-injurious Behaviour in Autism: A Meta-analytic Study. J Autism Dev Disord 50, 3857–3873 (2020).

Tiffany L. Hutchins, Patricia A. Prelock, Using Communication to Reduce Challenging Behaviors in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Intellectual Disability, Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, Volume 23, Issue 1, 2014,

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