Comparing Individuals with ASD Who Experience Self-Injurious Behavior, Aggression, and Both Behaviors

November 08, 2021

Several Matching Characteristics and Comorbidities Are Associated with All Three Conditions

Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D., the executive director of the Autism Research Institute (ARI), has recently published an article that compares health conditions and behaviors of individuals with autism who engage in self-injurious behavior (SIB), aggression, and those who exhibit neither behavior. The aim of his study was to identify co-occurring symptoms, behaviors, and medical comorbidities which could provide clues to understanding and treating these troubling conditions. A total of 2327 individuals comprised of caregivers, therapists and people on the spectrum completed two questionnaires. The first questionnaire used in the study was the Diagnostic Checklist Form E-2.  The second was a recently developed questionnaire consisting of inquiries on medical comorbidities (e.g. allergies, anxiety, gastrointestinal disease, sensory sensitivities and sleep disturbances). Four categories of individuals with ASD were investigated: SIB only, aggression only, SIB plus aggression, and neither SIB nor aggression. Dr. Edelson found several symptoms, behaviors, and medical comorbidities that were associated with individuals who engaged in SIB only and those who engaged in SIB and aggression. These included rocking (repetitive/ritualistic behaviors), seizures, impaired cognitive ability, anxiety or nervousness, and sleep issues. Additionally, 67% of these individuals were reported to have a lack of pain sensations. This study also indicated that individuals who experienced both SIB and aggression exhibited destructive behaviors which tended to be tied to distress experienced due to changes in routine or environment. Dr. Edelson additionally reported that individuals who exhibited SIB, aggression or both behaviors were more reactive to food than those who did not engage in either behavior. Interestingly, those who did not exhibit either SIB or aggression were more likely to suffer from gastrointestinal problems such as constipation and diarrhea. Dr. Edelson hopes that his findings regarding sensitivity to pain and food reaction may help guide future treatment efforts. 

Original Study

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