Making the accessibility and availability for autism diagnosis a top priority by every family and community is never an understatement. With early diagnosis comes the opportunity to opt for early intervention programs that will provide autistic individuals with the right tools to cope and deal with their disorder at the earliest age. If this is not the case, many autistic children and teens will suffer from community and personal problems caused by their autism features. One of the worst possible scenarios that becomes inevitable for young autistic persons who were not diagnosed early is the risk of harming their own selves, which is one of the most concerning autism features. With the complexity of this neurodevelopmental disorder, it is also apparent that not only should these young people undergo autism diagnosis as early as possible, but the diagnosis itself should provide accurate and reliable findings to avoid following a wrong interpretation of the problem. A wrong diagnosis of autism may have the same adverse implications to an individual’s life as for late diagnosis, if not worse. When a person doesn’t know that they are autistic, they could suffer from mental health issues which ultimately lead them to self-harm. It is the duty of every parent and the family of the autistic child or teen to seek for reliable diagnosis as early as possible.

Self-Injurious Behavior

As one of the most devastating autism features, the risk of self-harm in autistic child and teens should be a primary cause of concern for parents and caregivers. These actions include, among many others, head-banging, biting, rubbing and scratching. According to researchers and experts, there are many factors that can cause self-injurious behavior in autistic people. These include:

Physiological Factors:

  • Biochemical – the increase in the level of specific neurotransmitters and hormones in the body could put an autistic person in a euphoric state and provide an anesthetic effect which drives the individual to engage in self-harm
  • Seizures – the self-injury is caused by the person’s attempt to restrain themselves from the effects of seizures which is commonly triggered by stress
  • Genetic – the cause of self-harm is due to abnormalities in the genetic coding, as a type of biochemical dysfunction that drives the person to commit in self-inflicted injuries
  • Arousal – it is believed that people on the spectrum originally have either of the two arousal levels, the under-arousal level, and over-arousal level; in the case of the former, the self-injurious behavior is seen as a method of self-stimulation, while in the latter, the self-harm is seen as a way to release tension or anxiety caused by high arousal levels
  • Pain – this factor explains how autistic people resort to self-harm in order to reduce the pain experienced in specific parts of their body such as a migraine, ear infection, and gastrointestinal problems; aside from actual body pains, sensory issues such as noise can also give a painful sensation to the autistic individual, hence the self harm
  • Sensory – there are some forms of self-injurious behaviors that provide the much-needed sensory cravings of autistic individuals such as aggressive scratching and rubbing to surfaces without regard to pain and damage in the body
  • Frustration – oftentimes, people on the spectrum especially children, may not be able to communicate their needs and concerns to others or conversely find it hard to understand what other people are telling them which results in the feeling of frustration which eventually drives them to self-harm

Social Factors:

  • Communication – in relation to frustration factor, those on the spectrum have communication challenges that can lead them to develop self-injurious behaviors
  • Social Attention – unlike neurotypical people who resort to tantrums to get the attention of the people around them, autistic persons have the tendency to injure themselves if too much attention is being given to them
  • Obtain Tangibles – the self-injurious behavior is often driven by the desire to get what they want, whether it’s a specific object or event
  • Avoidance/Escape – autistic people often resort to self-harm whenever they’re confronted with a social situation that they don’t want to be in, as an attempt to avoid or escape the scenario


How Schools Can Worsen the Situation

The overall lack of support from educational institutions in the aspect of detecting and addressing autistic features in their students is also said to contribute to the increasing number of self-injurious behavior in autistic individuals. Given the long wait that the families have to endure before finally getting a referral for autism diagnosis in public health services and authorized practitioners, the autistic child or teen will have to continue dealing with school responsibilities while still unaware of their autistic features. In this matter, the school’s wrong approach can have direct implications on the autistic person’s mental and physiological well-being. In the worst case scenario, the school may treat the child or teen’s mental breakdown as a form of disruptive behavior related to naughtiness and rebellious nature which ultimately leads to school exclusion.

When this happens, the child is not only deprived of their need to learn and exercise their cognitive aspect, they are also cut off from the means to improve their social skills. They will feel alone and unsupported, and this may even cause an increase in the frequency of self-injurious behaviors.

The Ineffectiveness of Mental Health Services

People with high-functioning autism are often referred to mental health services for their problems, which in most cases, is not the best solution to address their needs. That’s because mental health services focus on treating mental disorders by prescribing medication in the hope of recovery and control. However, autism as a spectrum disorder is not just a typical type of mental disorder that can be treated by mental health services. The complexity of autism makes it hard for such type of services to reach the core of the problem. Self-injurious behaviors have to be dealt with through other more effective alternative treatment.