Self-injury is probably one of the most distressing and difficult behaviors that any parent, carer, family member and autistic person can be faced with.
Mostly the causes of this behavior are quite complex and the level of risk to the autistic personâ€™s safety and well-being can at times be quite high.
Normal behavioral intervention is not always appropriate; butÂ it is generally felt that professional help should be sought to help deal with this problem.
What is self-injurious behavior?
Sometimes referred to as self-harming behavior, self-injury takes many different forms, such as:
- head banging (on floors, walls or other surfaces)
- hand or arm biting
- hair pulling
- eye gouging
- face or head slapping
- skin picking, scratching or pinching
- Forceful head shaking.
Autistic people who have complex needsÂ and who have concurrent learning disabilities are more likely to engage in severe self-injurious behaviors.
However, people across the spectrum and of all ages may engage in self-injurious behaviors at some point.
Individuals who engaged in self-injurious behaviors as children may return to these as adults during times of stress, illness or change.
Causes of self-injurious behavior
The reasons a person has for engaging in self-injurious behavior, is almost always found to be varied, and will involve numerous different factors.
For example an Autistic child may have begun head banging as a form of sensory stimulation (stimming, repetitive behavior) at first, and has now learnt that the head banging is a way to avoid certain situations.
Hitting the face or head may initially have been a response to earache or maybe toothache. Which may have led on to being a way to have wants or needs met.
Some possible causes that should be considered when thinking about self-injurious behavior:
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, you should consider when dealing with self-injurious behavior, is there a possible medical or dental problem that the Autistic individual may be having.
Autistic peopleÂ may have some difficulty in telling others that something is wrong physically and some self-injurious behaviors (such as ear slapping or head banging) may be their way of dealing with pain or communicating discomfort.
HereÂ are some examples of medical and dental problems which may be expressed through self-injurious behavior:
- Some illnesses such as: colds, flu, viruses or infections such as sinus, ear or urinary tract infections.
- Pain such as: earache, headache, toothache, pre-menstrual tension
- Seizures, some types of epilepsy
- General feelings of being un-well such as: rashes, constipation, indigestion, heartburn, flatulence.
- There is also research to suggest that there may be some connection between types of self-injury and tic disorders plus compulsive behaviors.
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