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Understanding Autism and Self-Harm: Strategies to Support Individuals

Autism and self-harm necessitate careful comprehension and support. Caregivers and parents often prioritise stopping the behaviour immediately, but it’s important to recognise that understanding the triggers and reasons behind the behaviour takes time.

Sensory-Seeking Behaviours and Autism: Unravelling the Connection

Sensory-seeking behaviours, including self-harm, can be observed in Autistic individuals. Some Autistic individuals engage in self-injurious behaviours such as head banging, scratching, or biting. These behaviours serve various purposes, often associated with sensory processing challenges.

Autistic individuals may resort to self-harm as a way to cope with sensory overload. Sensory overload occurs when an individual feels overwhelmed by environmental stimuli, leading to distress or discomfort. Hence, self-harm may provide temporary relief by redirecting attention and inducing a calming effect.

Sensory Stimulation and Self-Harm

Atypical sensory processing is common in Autism, leading to hypo- or hypersensitivity to certain stimuli. In some cases, self-harm may be a way to seek specific sensory input. By engaging in self-injurious behaviours, Autistic individuals can experience desired sensations such as pressure, pain, or tactile stimulation.

Evidence-Based Insights on Autism and Self-Harm

Multiple studies have explored the link between sensory-seeking behaviours and self-harm in Autistic individuals. These studies provide valuable insights into understanding the underlying reasons for these behaviours.

One study found a positive correlation between sensory-seeking behaviours and self-harm in Autistic children. Their study emphasised the connection between sensory modulation difficulties and self-injurious behaviours, suggesting that sensory seeking may be a coping mechanism for regulating sensory experiences.

Following on, another reported that self-harm in Autism could be associated with reduced pain perception. researchers hypothesised that engaging in self-injurious behaviours might increase pain sensitivity, providing a desired sensory experience for Autistic individuals.

Autism self harm prevention. ATSA Expo.
Spotlight on Autism, with 4 speakers.
ASTA Independent Living Expo May 24th – May 25th

Strategies to Support Individuals with Autism and Self-Harm

Understanding and addressing sensory-seeking behaviours and self-harm in Autism requires a comprehensive approach that prioritises sensory needs. Because of this we have listed some effective strategies to consider:

  • Modify the Sensory Environment: Creating a sensory-friendly environment can help reduce sensory overload. Adjust lighting, noise levels, and introduce sensory tools like weighted blankets, fidget toys, adaptable clothing or sensory bins to provide alternative, appropriate sensory input.
  • Offer Alternative Sensory Outlets: Provide safe and alternative outlets for sensory-seeking behaviors. Encourage physical activities, utilise sensory swings, or offer sensory breaks to redirect the need for sensory input away from self-harm.
  • Promote Communication and Emotional Regulation: Support Autistic individuals in developing communication skills and emotional regulation strategies. Use visual supports, social stories, or relaxation techniques to provide alternative ways of expressing sensory needs or emotions.
  • Collaborate with Professionals: Engage professionals such as occupational therapists or behavioral specialists. Their expertise can aid in developing individualised strategies that address sensory-seeking behaviors and self-harm effectively.

Understanding takes time

Understanding sensory-seeking behaviours, including self-harm, in Autism is crucial for providing appropriate support. By implementing evidence-based strategies like modifying the sensory environment, offering alternative outlets, and promoting communication and emotional regulation, we can empower Autistic individual to navigate their sensory needs in healthier ways.

Remember, every Autistic individual is unique, and tailored approaches are essential. With the right support and understanding, we can help Autistic individuals thrive.

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