Self-injury Awareness Month: Autistic children hospitalized with self-injurious behavior have low IQs, finds study
Children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have an elevated risk of engaging in self-injurious behavior (SIB). However, limited knowledge exists regarding the risk factors associated with the prevalence of self-injury among children with ASD who need to be hospitalized for intensive behavioral treatment.
A team of researchers recently investigated the risk factors for SIB among 302 youth aged 4-20 years with severe ASD, hospitalized in six specialized psychiatric inpatient facilities. After being admitted, the participants were administered non-verbal intelligence quotient (IQ) tests. Information on the youngsters’ severity of autism, repetitive behaviors and SIB at home was collected through questionnaires completed by parents/caregivers.
The study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders in January 2018, showed that individuals with ASD who were hospitalized for self-injury had low IQs and exhibited acute repetitive behaviors. The participants with SIB at home and in hospital had an average score of 58 on the non-verbal IQ tests. In comparison, the average IQ of individuals with SIB only at home was 18 points higher, while the average IQ of individuals with infrequent or no SIB was 30 points higher.
Self-injury among autistic or other children is a serious issue which may be passed off as attention-seeking, whereas it may be a means of coping with negative emotions. To end the stigma associated with self-harm, March is observed as Self-injury Awareness Month in the United States. It offers the chance to encourage people to discuss the problem openly and make them aware about healthier ways of coping with their emotional distress.
Significant change in problematic behavior in specialized psychiatric facilities
While previous research on autism and SIB investigated a larger population of people with ASD, the current study narrowed its focus to individuals who were hospitalized since they were likely to have more severe autistic symptoms. According to behavioral experts, the attributes of, as well as the features connected with, self-injury among people with severe ASD could be very different than individuals with a lower severity of autism.
Although parents/caregivers reported SIB in 74 percent participants, only 25 percent self-harmed themselves daily during hospitalization. Almost 50 percent self-harmed at home but not in hospital, while a single participant exhibited SIB only in hospital. The remaining participants did not self-harm, or did not do so daily. The study also found that repetitive behaviors were equally prevalent in boys and girls.
The prevalence of SIB is higher among individuals with autism who are hospitalized, possibly since self-injury often results in hospitalization. Due to a higher level of care provided by specialized psychiatric facilities, a significant change in problematic behaviors is observed almost right away. The findings are likely to help doctors in being better equipped to manage cases of self-injury and limit the extent of harm suffered by an individual.
Findings helpful for doctors and parents
Matthew Siegel, an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston and the study’s senior researcher, said, “Self-injurious behavior is really hard to treat, and it’s hard to watch.” According to him, being aware of the risk factors can allow hospital staff to be better prepared to manage their patients.
The results can help parents identify warning signs of self-injury before the onset of the behavior. If parents observe low non-verbal IQ and frequent occurrences of repetitive behaviors early in childhood, they can consult clinicians for help in taking pre-emptive action. According to Siegel, the earlier parents can intervene, the better it will be for their children.
Managing teen self-injury
Although estimates vary, past research suggested alarmingly high self-injury rates of 13-23 percent among community adolescents. Youngsters with SIB were 30-times more likely to complete suicide compared to those without SIB. Effective treatments for self-injury are available to help people cope with their emotions. Different forms of psychotherapy may be recommended based on the diagnosis, including psychodynamic therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).
Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego understands the plight of teens with self-harming behaviors. If your teen is showing signs of injury, call our 24/7 helpline or chat online to know more about our teen self-injury treatment. Our experts will give you more information about our evidence-based treatments for self-injury disorder.