Autism Treatment – Self-Injury Behavior and Autism

Self-injury behavior in autism is troubling and dangerous. Head-banging and self-biting can lead to physical harm. Why is this so common in autism, and what can be done?

Self-injury behavior is quite common in autism. I have seen some serious cases where individuals on the autism spectrum have damaged fingers and hands (from biting) and created deep bruises (from headbanging and facial slapping) from self-abusive behavior. There are several theories as to why this occurs, and some resources that can help.

The lack of effective communication skills is likely one of the major reasons for self-injury behavior. The significant language deficits in autism often lead to frustration in a person not being able to communicate their wants or being able to get their point across. Self-abusive behavior such as self-biting can be a way of releasing their frustration. Self-injury can also be a way for an individual on the autism spectrum to get attention. For example, head-banging or scratching until bleeding occurs will usually draw a parent, therapist, or caregiver’s immediate attention. Learning to recognize the different patterns of self-abusive behavior, i.e. the difference between frustration over the inability to communicate versus attention-seeking can help in alleviating some of the stress that autistic individuals feel.

Anxiety can be another cause of self-injury behavior. Anxiety, in general, is high in autism, and if accompanied by self-biting, hitting, slapping, and scratching recognizing the pattern that leads to anxiety, i.e. social gatherings, crowds – then steps can be taken to reduce stressful situations or various treatment intervention, i.e. medication, supplements (GABA, theanine) can be implemented to help ease anxiety.

Recently, studies have uncovered that biochemical changes can occur that contribute to our understanding as to why certain individuals on the autism spectrum will self-injure themselves. Various chemicals called endorphins are released which influence brain chemistry leading to relief of pain and frustration. In some people, these chemicals have a natural calming effect. The improved feelings of calmness may be short-lived, but it does occur. Unfortunately, repeated need to self-abuse is prevalent to induce the endorphin release again. In essence, self-abusive behavior becomes addictive in attempts to get a fix on natural endorphin release for an improved sense of temporary well-being.

Some authorities feel that ignoring self-injurious behavior is preferred, but this can be a difficult thing to do for any parent or caregiver. Other reports that learning communication and behavior therapy, possibly along with medication and/or biomedical intervention (dietFree Reprint Articles, supplements) is a better way to proceed.  For all family members who are involved in the care of a person with autism learning techniques through communication, training is very important. Working with a trained behavior therapist who can help decipher what is causing the self-abusive tendencies can go a long way in eliminating or reducing this troubling behavior.

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