Self-harm is a common problem for autistic children, and parents are often at a loss as to how to handle this. Here are six suggestions that might help: 1) Address the self-injury behavior head on with your child; 2) Take care of yourself first; 3) Bring in outside professionals if you feel like you cannot handle it by yourself anymore; 4) Provide other outlets, such as art or music classes & 5), be patient and set small goals—the important thing is not necessarily stopping the behaviors themselves but increasing their frequency less frequently. 6). Speak to an autism specialist about what kinds of interventions could work best for your child.,
SIB, or self-injurious behavior, is a prevalent and dangerous problem in children with developmental disorders like autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Non-suicidal self-injury is a term used to describe these activities (NSSI). Head bashing, skin plucking, biting, and other acts of purposeful self-harm may have disastrous short- and long-term repercussions.
Self-harming behaviors in autistic children may start as early as infancy and peak throughout puberty. They may even be carried on into maturity.
Poor impulse control, difficulties managing emotions, an effort to “experience” something, or as a kind of self-punishment are all common causes of NSSI activities.
It’s critical to understand the probable fundamental causes of self-harming behaviors in autistic children in order to reduce them. Once possible triggers have been identified, therapy may be customized to reduce the likelihood of these behaviors occurring.
Self-Harm & Injury in Autistic Children
Children with autism may have self-harming behaviors that vary from those seen in children without autism.
Typical self-harming practices in neurotypical youngsters include cutting and burning. The most prevalent kinds of self-harm among children with autism are:
Additional types of self-harm that autistic children may participate in include hair pulling, vomiting, and pica (eating non-edible substances like dirt).
Self-harming activities are often classed as NSSI behaviors since they are not meant to be harmful. The majority of children who engage in these behaviors are not suicidal. Instead, they’re looking for a release via these actions, whether it’s as a method of communication or as a way to attempt to control their emotions.
When Does Self-Harm Typically Begin?
Self-destructive conduct may strike anybody at any age. When agitated, babies and toddlers may knock their heads on the wall or smack their heads. These habits are frequently outgrown when communication abilities develop. One of the reasons these behaviors may continue is because autistic children typically fail to communicate. Some self-harming activities, such as head pounding, have been linked to autistic symptoms. It is considered as a craving for release in autistic youngsters. It might also be a habitual behavior, which is an indication of autism.
The average age at which autistic individuals started self-harming was 15 years old, according to a major survey of autistic persons reporting NSSI activities. Another large research showed that over half of autistic children between the ages of 2 and 7 experienced SIB, with about 40% of teenagers in the study engaging in similar behaviors.
Self-harming behaviors are widespread in children with varying degrees of autism severity, according to these research.
Self-Harm in Autistic Children’s Incidence
Self-harming activities are practiced by 20% to 30% of persons with autism. Mild and sporadic habits to chronic and severe behaviors are all possible.
Self-harming behavior may begin at any age, although it is most frequent in childhood and adolescence. In fact, one out of every four autistic youngsters self-injures in some way.
SIB-Related Risk Factors
Self-harming actions in autistic children may be triggered by a variety of characteristics, including:
- Aggression and belligerence are two words that come to mind while thinking about aggression and belligerence
- Inability to sit still and hyperactivity.
- Problems with sleeping.
- Mood disorders or issues.
Certain environmental factors might make it more likely for a youngster to engage in self-harming activities. If a child is exposed to the following factors, he or she is at a greater risk:
- They are from a working-class household.
- Their mother does not have a college diploma.
- They are covered by government health insurance.
These circumstances may impair a child’s ability to get therapy. They are more prone to self-harm if they do not get focused treatment to deal with ASD.
A Resilience Mechanism
Autistic youngsters engage in self-harming activities for a number of reasons. They may put it to use in the following ways:
- An endeavor to keep emotions under check.
- An endeavor to break through numbness or a lack of sensation in order to experience anything.
- This is a kind of self-punishment.
- A means of expressing oneself or communicating with others.
Low self-esteem, an inability to communicate effectively, and poor coping abilities are all common causes of self-harming behaviors. They may also be used to influence outcomes, such as exercising control over a situation in which the youngster feels powerless.
Autistic children’s self-injurious conduct is also connected to a lack of impulse control.
All of these underlying reasons can trigger SIB as A Resilience Mechanism. If the root issues are addressed, the damaging behavior can be lessened and eventually stopped.
Addressing Injury & Self-Harm
Physical signs of self-harming behaviors might include bruises, bite marks, cuts and scratches, non-healing wounds, and hair loss.
Self-harming activities are regularly seen by parents of autistic children, which might be concerning. These actions go above and beyond the normal hand flapping and repetitive movements associated with autism. They are harmful and have the potential to have major long-term ramifications.
Parents won’t be able to successfully stop their children from self-harming until they first figure out what’s causing it. Self-harming behaviors in autistic children, for example, might be caused by a lack of excitement. SIB may be reduced if these youngsters are kept occupied.
Self-harming actions in other autistic children may be related to an inability to communicate effectively and the resulting frustration. The youngster may learn to express their needs more effectively via applied behavior analysis (ABA) treatment and speech therapy. They experience less irritation as their verbal and nonverbal communication skills improve. As a result, there will be fewer self-harming behavior.
Self-harm may be addressed in treatment if it is done to escape situations that make the kid uncomfortable or as a form of social communication. If a youngster does not want to do something, for example, they may self-harm in order to be removed from the circumstance. This erasure promotes the notion that the SIB is only a means to an end.
The good news is that all of these problems can be addressed. There is an underlying issue, which is often tied to an unmet need and a present constraint that the kid is experiencing. The youngster may learn to meet their needs in a healthy way through increasing abilities and teaching healthy coping techniques.
Treatment is assisting an autistic youngster in better understanding his or her feelings and actions. Therapy aims to boost a child’s self-esteem and confidence while also teaching them how to manage their emotions and impulses.
All of this work helps them enhance their self-esteem, communication skills, and independence. These advantages are frequently accompanied by a decrease in self-harming behaviors.
Effective Self-Harm Management & Treatments
When it comes to treating self-harming behaviors in autistic children, there are three primary interventions: pharmaceuticals, psychiatric treatments, and supplementary measures including food modifications and increased physical activity. To redirect these actions and teach coping skills to control emotions, more than one strategy is usually utilized at the same time.
Medications are used to alleviate particular symptoms or to address underlying medical or mental health issues. They are only used as a last option or in combination with other treatment procedures because to their possible negative effects.
When it comes to autism and SIB, therapies and behavioral interventions are the most effective. To stop self-harming, try these behavioral interventions:
- Change the surroundings, increase or decrease stimulus, and rearrange schedules and routines to prevent the behaviors.
- Reinforce good behaviors while teaching new “replacement” skills or hobbies to replace self-harming habits.
- Ignore self-harming actions to stop them from reinforcing themselves. If your youngster is attempting to get social attention by these acts, don’t give in to their requests.
- Learn new coping skills, communication tactics, and ways to manage the emotions that contribute to these outbursts via ABA and occupational therapy.
- Encourage your child’s independence and assist them in learning new abilities to boost their self-esteem.
Autistic children sometimes fail to comprehend the emotions and behaviors of others, in addition to controlling their own emotions. They may increase their capacity to comprehend and connect to others by learning to better process their own emotions. This boosts their chances of forming fulfilling relationships, which improves their overall quality of life.
Methods and processes for limiting self-harming behaviors may also be included into ABA treatment. Parents and the treatment team collaborate to discover underlying reasons and then develop strategies to reduce risky behaviors.
Self-Harm & Potential Comorbidities
Self-harming actions in children with autism might also indicate the presence of other difficulties.
Sleep difficulties or abnormalities have been connected to self-injury in autistic children. In these situations, changing sleep patterns and using measures to assist a kid achieve more restorative sleep might help.
Self-harm is often associated with mood and anxiety disorders, especially depression. These problems must be addressed in order to improve SIB.
Self-harm may be a symptom of depression, which is a prevalent mood condition that often co-occurs with autism. Self-harming behaviors are more common in people who have comorbid depression and ASD than in those who do not have both conditions at the same time.
Medications are occasionally used to normalize brain chemistry in children with ASD who have anxiety or depression. To increase communication, self-esteem, and coping techniques, therapeutic and behavioral therapies are advised as the main therapy strategy.
Janice is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Special Education. She also holds a Master of Science in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) from Queen’s University, Belfast. She has worked with and case managed children and youth with autism and other intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in home and residential setting since 2013.