My sweet son licks everything. Well, everything except food. My little love, who only eats 3 different foods, licks absolutely every other surface. The furniture, the walls, the rug. Escalator steps are a big favorite, and we were once informed by confused mall security that going up and down the escalator over and over while carefully pausing to lick each step was, in fact, not permitted. My favorite is when he licks my face, which is his version of giving a kiss. His BCBA once commented “we can shape that,” meaning teach him to turn it into a regular kiss instead of licking, and I thought: Not gonna happen; I love my boy’s kisses. My standard response when strangers comment on the licking is to smile and say that he’s building an immune system. This certainly seems to be true, as R is rarely ever sick and hasn’t required antibiotics since he was a baby.
These days, R especially enjoys going outside to lick the driveway, the road, and a series of large, decorative boulders that line our street. I can see that this brings him joy and helps him meet a sensory need. I cannot help but smile when I see how his face lights up, how he runs to those special spots- knowing exactly where he wants to lick. I love his giggle when he finishes licking one spot and moves on to the next. I love how he dashes from boulder to boulder along our street, arms and legs bouncing with excitement, jumping on his toes and down again. But today, as I followed him through this ritual, I noticed that there was some blood on his face. Alarmed, I pulled him over to me to check. I saw that his tongue was bleeding. He was unbothered by this, eager to get out of my hold and continue to the next boulder. But it was like a little stab in my heart to see that this thing he loves so much was making him bleed. I don’t want to prevent him doing these things he is so compelled to do, these things that he takes such pleasure in, but I don’t want to let him lick his tongue raw and bleeding either. This is the hard part. Helping him find safe limits while honoring his genuine need to seek out these sensations and use them to self-regulate.