Saturday, August 7, 2010

All in the Family


My name is Barbara.

And I am the mother of a child who has an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder called Dermatophagia, better known as compulsive skin biting. It pretty much operates in the same way as Dermatillomania, except that there is biting instead of picking. I think I first noticed this condition in Emma when she entered grade school. During a bath time inspection, I noticed that her fingers were not only wrinkled from her time in the water, but they were... well... they had a lot of white skin. Her fingertips were so bitten up that I feared she didn't even have finger prints anymore! I was concerned. Not even considering my own picking habits, I thought maybe she'd started biting because she had recently lost a friend to a car accident. I took her in to see her doctor, who didn't make a huge deal out of it. Upon examination, she found Emma to be very well adjusted and happy. Not even needing to talk with a counselor. She suggested that I give Emma her own personal hand lotion or Vaseline to keep her hands well moisturized to discourage the urge to remove any dry skin.

I supplied her with a small container of Vasaline, asked her teacher to keep a lookout, and I would try to redirect her when I noticed her biting. These days her thumbs have the most visible damage. Her hands no longer have to be wet to tell that she bites them. I am still redirecting her when I catch her with her fingers to her mouth. I ask her why she does it and she doesn't know, nor does she feel that she can stop doing it. After researching both skin picking and skin biting, I can't really figure out why her doctor wouldn't use the term Dermatophagia, or give me the heads up that this biting behavior actually isn't as out of the ordinary as I first thought. What she did say is that I shouldn't pursue any kind of therapy for her biting, that moisturization would stop it. I call bullshit. She is still biting.

I do not see any harm in finding a therapist for Emma to talk to. It does not have to be viewed as "therapy" and it does not have to be consistant, but could be introduced as just another set of ears to hear her stories and experiences and an extra set of hands for her to play with. This school year I will try to get her on the list to meet with the school counselor, I was unsuccessful when I first attempted. If that is not an option I will further research and find someone myself. I hate feeling like I was not given all the facts. This is my baby we are talking about. She clearly has an impulse control issue, and I clearly need help helping her regain control. I wont overlook the fact that her doctor may not have experience with skin biters, but I don't think she should have overlooked the possibility that there could have been an underlying cause for her biting.

Although I don't find comfort in being labeled, labeling and researching treatments, I do find comfort in knowing that we are not alone.

Have any of you had to deal with any family illnesses? Do you and your children share them? You and your parents?


  1. Many times doctors don't listen to parents. Seek a second opinion. As I've always said, you can't treat something properly if you don't know what the problem is. Keep me posted.

    P.S. I'm loving the new blog name!