4 mins read

Autism and Impulses

My son has always had impulsive behaviors. Many times they came from a place of impatience, he had trouble waiting for a conversation to end or for his turn to come while standing on a line.

The impulse would be to interrupt or complain that he’d have to wait on a line. The line waiting time would entirely be spent complaining about waiting.

Or, my son’s impulses would be quick responses when things were going badly.

For example, if get got in trouble for something, he’d say something he’d almost immediately regret (usually what he said would get him into more trouble).

Another example is yelling when he’s get in trouble. “I know, okay,” he would yell at me (in public).

But, these I’m used to.

Are there new impulses?

Yes, and these latest ones took my husband and I by surprise.

Our son (recently) has told us that he’s having impulses to lick things.

He gave examples…the rug, a baby wipe, a fence.

What did I do?

Well, the first thing I did was tell him I was pleased that he was sharing this information with me.

Second, I asked him why he would want to lick those things.

He said that he didn’t really, but he did it because he had an impulse that he didn’t stop.

He explained that he has always had impulses, but he can usually avoid them, and has always avoided ones he knew could injure him.

He said that lately he was acting on the licking ones.

What can I do with this information?

My husband and I talked about it and agreed that we were pleased he was telling us about his impulses. We considered that good news. And, we told our son that he did the right thing by telling us.

We talked to our son some more. We told him that we have impulses. I had an impulsive-like idea one day to paint his room. I had been thinking about doing it at some point, but I impulsively just picked a day and did it.

I also said that I will impulsively decide to buy a sugary item at the grocery store. (This happens way too often.).

We wanted him to know that impulses are typical, not just a symptom of his autism.

Then, we asked some questions…

Did he enjoy any of those experiences? No. Would he do it again? No. Would he try hard to not come up with new ones? Yes. Did anyone see you do these things? No.

We told him that this might just be a phase and it’ll go away, but to please keep telling us when he did something. Or, better yet, when he feels like he’s about to do something.

We talked to one of his therapists about it. This therapist thought he was simply being curious. But, he also urged our son to keep talking to us about the impulses.

I suppose the impulsive behavior is one of those that can be inherent in a person with autism.

In the back of my mind, however, I do have new worries.

What are they?

Is this an escalation? An impulse escalation? Putting things in your mouth, which means ingesting things into your body, can’t be a good thing, no matter how you look at it.

Can it lead to other things? Worse impulses? (Cutting, self-injury)

Are we doing the right thing? Talking to him too much, or not enough?

Or, simply waiting for him to bring up the topic?

He’s fifteen, getting close to that adult age of eighteen—a legal adult. He can move out, vote, and make decisions for himself. Plus, he’ll someday be driving a car.

What does impulsive behavior mean when our son becomes an adult and/or can drive a car?

And, finally, am I just being a mom and overthinking all of it?


Still, autism and impulses. I’m not crazy about them.


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