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Children's Health

Strange Behavior in Little Girl

12/26/2011

Question:

There is a little girl who, since she was 3 or 4 months old, when she was in a car seat or in a shopping cart seat would grab her private parts and stretch her legs out like she was doing exercises. She would also get like a far off look on her face. The doctor has been asked if it could be like a slight case of some kind of Autism or something because I have heard children with Autism do repetitive things. Now she is 5 and does this sometimes when she`s sitting anywhere. I started wondering if it could be sexual. I worry eventually it could get embarising for her and have tried to tell her not to do it without drawing to much attention about it. Do you have any ideas? I don`t think she has been sexually molested or anything. Like I said she has been doing this since she was 3 or 4 months old.

Answer:

Hello! I believe that what you are describing is sexual pleasure in this little girl, be it a full orgasm or simply pleasurable sensations associated with touch or pressure on her genitalia.

Many adults take it for granted that babies and young children do not have sexual feelings until puberty. All of the body parts, muscles and nerves needed for experiencing sexual pleasure are present at birth. Parents of little boys regularly see erections in their sons from infancy. There is no reason to think that little girls cannot also experience pleasure from clitoral touch for cleaning purposes or just the way diapers or clothing move over the genitalia. Because the clitoris is not as evident as a penis and it just doesn't seem right somehow to think of sexual feelings in babies and very young children, adults can become worried over what are normal experiences and feelings for all humans.

Thankfully you understand that these are normal feelings and do not wish to make the little girl feel badly about herself or her body and what feels good to her. Now at five years of age, you can talk with her about how she is feeling at those times and share with her that those good feelings are private feelings to enjoy in a private place such as her room. You can compliment her when she goes to her room and not make an issue of it if she forgets, but politely remind her that her room is where she should be.

There is a very interesting articcle from the journal Pediatrics from 2005 describing 12 children treated for seizures, a variety of GI problems, and movement disorders who ultimately were found simply to be self-stimulating themselves. They had received biopsies, electroencephalograms, MRI scans and other tests.  

The self-stimulation that is more characterisitc of autism is whirling, rocking on the feet or while sitting, and head banging. If this little girl:

it is very unlikely she has very mild autism or anything seriously wrong with her at all. 

If you observe any problems in these areas, a good developmental evaluation should be sought from a child neurologist or a developmental and behavioral pediatric specialist. Both are most easily located at major children's medical centers.


Dixon and Stein identify the following signs as suggesting that there is a problem with masturbation:

1) It is compulsive and interferes with normal play and school activities.
2) It is done in public even though the child has been directed not to do so in public.
3) It is done in groups.
4) It is done with objects.

You have not mentioned anything like these issues, which is certainly positive.

I hope this information is helpful and very happy holidays!

Dixon, S., & Stein, M. (Eds.) (2006). Encounters with children: Pediatric behavior and development (4th ed.). Philadelphia: Elsevier Mosby.

Yang, M. L., Fullwood, E., Goldstein, J., & Mink, J. W. (2005). Masturbation in infancy and early childhood presenting as a movement disorder: 12 cases and a review of the literature. Pediatrics, 116(6), 1427-1432.



 

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Response by:

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University