Self-harm or self-injurious behaviour can be defined as any behaviour that is initiated by the
individual and results in physical harm to that individual. Such behaviour in autism is
sometimes a way to self-soothe and communicate their needs and demands. Several
examples of self-injurious behaviour are head banging, scratching, pinching, hair pulling,
skin pulling, arm or hand biting.
What triggers self-injurious behaviour in autism?
• Difficulties in processing sensory information
• Medical problems such as headache, fever, infection or pain in
other body parts
• Mental health problems such as depression or anxiety
• Attempts at communicating
• Attempts at seeking attention
• The child is being abused or bullied
• Lack of control within their living environment
• Exposure to inappropriate interventions
How to stop self-injurious behaviour in autism?
There are several interventions, forms of support and strategies that can help overcome and
reduce self-injurious behaviour in children with autism.
• Providing an effective way to communicate. Using picture cards or sign language can
• A structured and routine schedule in order to avoid boredom and thereby
minimizing opportunities for self-harm.
• Providing breaks in between tasks
• Giving simple and short instructions for any task
• Providing alternative sensory experiences
• Using noise-dampening headphones to block out excessive noise
• Providing treatment for medical problems such as infection, fever or headache
• Giving the individual what they want (e.g snack or toy) if they agree to behave in a
desirable way and not injure themselves
• Encouraging the individual to take up vigorous physical activities such as swimming
• Prescription of anti-psychotics if the self-injurious behaviour is pervasive, long
standing and/or severe.
What do you need to remember:
Understanding your child’s needs and demands are core to avoiding and minimizing self-
injurious behaviour in autism. The interventions and strategies mentioned above also
significantly help in reducing and avoiding self-injurious behaviour in children with autism. In
the case of severe and pervasive self-injurious behaviour medicinal intervention (anti-
psychotics) along with psychosocial intervention has proven to provide maximum benefit.
Essential Guide to Self Injurious Behaviour and Autism[Pdf]. (2016, March). London:
Hobbs, K. G. (n.d.). Why do Autistic children hit themselves? [Web log post]. Retrieved