Persistence of self-injurious behaviour in autism spectrum disorder over 3 years: a prospective cohort study of risk markers

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Colleges, School and Institutes


There are few studies documenting the persistence of self-injury in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and consequently limited data on behavioural and demographic characteristics associated with persistence. In this longitudinal study, we investigated self-injury in a cohort of individuals with ASD over 3 years to identify behavioural and demographic characteristics associated with persistence.

Carers of 67 individuals with ASD (Median age of individuals with ASD in years = 13.5, Interquartile Range = 10.00–17.00), completed questionnaires relating to the presence and topography of self-injury at T1 and three years later at T2. Analyses were conducted to evaluate the persistence of self-injury and to evaluate the behavioural and demographic characteristics associated with persistence of self-injury.

At T2 self-injurious behaviour had persisted in 77.8 % of individuals. Behavioural correlates of being non-verbal, having lower ability and higher levels of overactivity, impulsivity and repetitive behaviour, were associated with self-injury at both time points. Risk markers of impulsivity (p = 0.021) and deficits in social interaction (p = 0.026) at T1 were associated with the persistence of self-injury over 3 years.

Impulsivity and deficits in social interaction are associated with persistent self-injury in ASD and thus may act as behavioural risk markers. The identification of these risk markers evidences a role for behaviour dysregulation in the development and maintenance of self-injury. The findings have clinical implications for proactive intervention; these behavioural characteristics may be utilised to identify ‘at risk’ individuals for whom self-injury is likely to be persistent and therefore those individuals for whom early intervention may be most warranted.


Original languageEnglish
Article number21
JournalJournal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2016