Around three months ago I wrote about Amy’s compulsive habits and how she had started pulling her hair out again, causing significant thinning. Since then we’ve tried everything we can think of – I’ve spoken to her teacher who has given her a small teddy to hold on the carpet to keep her hands busy, we’ve started taping a sock onto her left hand at night so that she can’t get to her hair in her sleep (if we don’t tape it on, she takes it off in bed), we talked to her about it – explaining that if she keeps pulling her hair out it will think she doesn’t want it there and will stop growing back, we’ve talked about how she wants to have long princess hair or that she can have a really grown-up bob when she leaves it alone.
And yet it’s getting worse.
We keep her hair tied up as much as possible and I rarely see her with her hand in her hair. If I do I just gently remind her to stop touching her hair – she’s conscious of it and I can see her trying to keep her hand away from her head. For the most part I’m convinced that this is something which is happening at night, in her sleep, when she’s completely unaware of what’s happening. Driving to York in January, she fell asleep in the car – so fast asleep that her thumb dropped from her mouth but then that left hand made its way up into her hair and started frantically twirling. She was fast asleep. I gently took her hand and held it in her lap, she didn’t resist or stir.
But if she’s asleep, if this is so subconscious – how do I help her?
We finally took the problem to the GP last week. I’ve been putting it off, assuming that there was little they could do for her, that I would be brushed off with “She’ll grow out of it” but I decided to bite the bullet and take her, if nothing else so that there was record of the issue if things didn’t improve. The GP was really lovely – he listened carefully to my concerns and said we needed to take some action. He explained that Amy has a hair pulling disorder calledTrichotillomania (commonly known as Trich) . . which I’ve heard about and researched to a point but hadn’t really believed that was going to be the case for her. It’s more common in older children and as this has been going on since Amy was 2, I felt perhaps the label didn’t match. However, I think perhaps she accidentally started pulling her hair when she was twirling it and sucking her thumb but that over the years it has grown to be more than that.
The Dr referred us to a psych from Mind who was on site that day and we were lucky enough to get an appointment just over an hour later. Unfortunately she really wasn’t able to help us. She explained that she was much more used to seeing adults in the drop in and that the questionnaires she had didn’t seem relevant to a young child pulling hair out. She asked if Amy had spoken about self-harm (she hasn’t), if anything had changed recently for Amy (it hasn’t), if anything could be unsettling her at home (nope, nothing’s changed) and reiterated that she didn’t really know what to do for us. She asked me what help I was looking for – “I want you to help her stop pulling her hair out” . . . She explained she couldn’t direct me to the children’s department as they didn’t see children till they were 8 years old (not sure how that works) but gave me a phone number for “Healthy Young Minds” telling me I had to ask for my child’s consent before I self-referred . . . I told her that as Amy was 5 and was happy to see the Dr for help to “sort her bald head out”, we were probably fine . . .
I rang the number, and predictably was told that indeed they couldn’t help me and that I would have to go back to my GP.
I decided the best thing to do was to call the Practice and leave a message with Reception explaining what had happened. The GP called me back less than an hour later to say he’d caught up with the Pysch and understood that she hadn’t been able to offer any support. In the meantime he’d spoken to a senior colleague who had advised him the best route was a referral to Peads and so that’s where we are. He’s made the referral and I have to ring up in a week or so to make an appointment and take it from there.
If you have any experience of Trich in young children I’d love to hear from you!