Friday, February 10, 2006

Clinic Notes: Self-Injurious Behavior

Nothing is more frightening to parents of a child with autism or some other neuropsychological disorder than to see their child engage in self-injurious behaviors such as head banging, biting, or hitting themselves. Self-injurious behavior can occur in children with autism or mental retardation, as well as in children with numerous other neuropsychological disorders, and is the most common reason for institutionalization. Some children injure themselves for attention or to control the people in their environment. (See ABA program number 5 on my ABA4Autism website) With other children, the social environment doesn’t seem to matter. According to Frank Symons, 80 percent of self-injurious behavior is to 5 percent of the body--the hands and face. (The same areas often involved in acupuncture pain reduction.) The hands and face are innervated by areas of the brain, which lie adjacent to each other. Apparently, some autistic children injure themselves to release endorphins (naturally occurring brain opiates). Naltrexone, a drug which blocks opiate receptors, reduces head banging and hand biting in about a third of the kids with self-injurious behavior. Improved eye contact, socialization, and a reduction in self-stimulatory behavior also occurs in some kids with autism if they are receiving Naltrexone, leading to the hypothesis that autism is caused by an excess of endorphins. (North Carolina State Professor James Kalat suggests that in some ways autistic kids act like opium addicts going through withdrawal and then taking more opium.) Excerpted from "Little Bubba's Not Ready for Nashville Yet" available at

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