One of the most difficult things that a parent may face with a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder or another disorder is self-injurious behaviors. These may include head banging, hitting oneself, biting oneself, or picking at skin.
These behaviors can be tricky to deal with and emotionally and physically draining. There are many potential causes for such behaviors, so every situation is a little bit different, but there are a few common ones that can be helped through behavioral therapy and intervention.
Some of these causes may include a deficit in communication, attention seeking, and avoidance or escape from a non-preferred activity or task. While these behaviors can be tricky to treat, here are some tips for each of these causes.
First, your behavior analyst will create treatment programs that help your child communicate more easily. Be aware of these programs and try to implement them at home. Ask questions, try things out, and don’t be afraid to mess up every once in a while. As you try to do these things at home it will help your child communicate more easily and readily and decrease self-injurious behaviors at home.
Second, when your child has a self-injurious behavior, their safety is the number one priority. If you need to block the behavior from occurring do so safely or, if necessary, seek training to help you safely hold or restrain your child. Sometimes these behaviors are increased by attention, but it is often not possible to ignore such behaviors. Instead, try and give positive attention and praise when your child does not participate in these behaviors. The more attention you can give to safe coping mechanisms, the more likely they are to use those instead of self-injurious behaviors for attention.
And finally, sometimes self-injurious behaviors are used to get out of completing a task or an activity. When this occurs, make sure that you keep your child safe and allow them to calm down. Offer breaks from tasks or activities and time for them to move away from the task. After they are calm it is important that you do your best to help them complete the original task given to them. This helps them to learn that self-injurious behaviors will not help them escape from tasks and non-preferred activities.
With these behaviors, as with all others, feel free to discuss them with your BCBA and RBTs in order to help you know what to do best. We are all a team working for the best interest of your child and will do our best to help them to be safe and happy.
Written by: Charlie Flint, Registered Behavior Technician