Greetings Earthlings! 🙂
This week I’d like to discuss an issue that impacts roughly half of all autists at some point in their life- self injurious behaviours or SIBs.
So what are SIBs?
Self-injurious behaviours are simply behaviours where a person physically harms themselves. This can manifest as self biting, hair pulling, skin picking, hitting, head banging (not the good kind 🎸), cutting etc.
So what triggers this sort of behaviour in autists?
Research suggests that there are a number of potential physiological and psychological reasons for self injury:
Biochemical factors- Some studies have indicated that neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin may be associated with self injury. This may be particularly relevant given that these neurotransmitters are often dysregulated in autism which may predispose us to such behaviours.
Stimulation– Like stimming, some research suggests that SIB’s may be a repetitive behaviour in response to a lack of or an increase in sensory stimulation. Some autists may self harm to increase their alertness in times of low stimulation; other’s my harm in response to stress or anxiety to dampen their emotions.
Pain- Ironically, SIBs can be a response to pain as a means of reducing it. Beta endorphins (opiate like substances in the brain) may be released following self injury which can dampen the pain response. Moreover, self injury may act as a diversion from the pain that an autist may be experiencing in another region of the body, or in response to a sensory stimulus that causes pain (e.g the noise of a fire alarm may register as painful to an autist).
Communication and Frustration– Some autists may be unable to communicate an emotion that they are experiencing and may resort to SIB’s out of frustration or in a non-verbal attempt to communicate that something is wrong, boredom, excitement etc.
Control- As in the case of eating disorders, self harming may provide an autist with a sense of control when life spins out of it.
SIB’s can be deeply distressing for a friend or parent to witness, but when mild, they are often not cause for concern. If these behaviours are escalating however, there are a number of interventions such as medications, CBT, autism support dogs (I’ve seen amazing videos of dogs calming down autists/using their paws to intervene and stop self hitting) and encouraging replacement behaviours such as wearing rubber bracelets and necklaces to divert self biting and skin picking impulses.
Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 😀
Enjoy the weekend!