Self-injurious Behaviour


Hurts or Harms Themselves

This post is the last in the series looking at the most common sensory processing difficulties that parents reported that they encountered with their children:


  •  Hurt or harms themselves

I think the first thing to say is,  behaviour is often very complex, and there is not necessarily one reason for a behaviour and therefore not one answer.  In my work, I am often asked the question ‘Is this sensory or is it behaviour?’  For most behaviours, this is just too simplistic, and what do we mean by the phrase ‘or is it behaviour?’   If we want to change a behaviour it is fundamental to firstly understand the reasons behind the behaviour.  In response to this question being asked so many times, I have developed a two day course,  Making Sense of Behaviour, which uses a structured framework  to develop an understanding of an individual’s behaviour.


Bearing this in mind, let’s look at what might be sensory elements behind self-injurious behaviour.  Common self-injurious behaviour that I encounter includes; headbanging in various forms, biting, pushing chin into hard objects, scratching and picking skin , pulling out hair, poking/pushing eyes, to name just a few.  We often observe these behaviours when individuals are distressed (and there can be many reasons for distress), and the individual is using the sensory input in attempt to regulate and calm themselves.

Some guiding principles to consider:

The first principle is we need to make sense of the behaviour

Is the individual  distressed or anxious? How can we address this?

Is the behaviour because the individual is bored, unoccupied, and does not have the skills to play or occupy themselves?  Are our expectations too high?

If we think the individual is using the behaviour as sensory input in an attempt to regulate themselves then:

What sensory input does the self-injurious behaviour provide, and how can we provide this same type of sensory input in another way?  For example, if the individual is seeking vestibular (movement) input, then we could encourage them to use a swing or trampoline instead.

How can we proactively ensure that enough regulating sensory input is built into an individuals’ day?


Find out more about behaviour on the course Making Sense of Behaviour

14 and 15 November 2018 at The Space Centre, Preston

Book now to avoid disappointment.



Big Life Fix

In this BBC 2 series the UK’s leading inventors create ingenious new solutions to everyday problems and build life-changing solutions for people in desperate need. I was contacted by a researcher last summer about an 11 year boy who had Tourette’s syndrome asking for advice about sensory strategies to help with regulation. We had a long discussion about the benefits of different types of regulating sensory input. The programme was broadcast in August and Episode 4 shows Malachi and the deep pressure garments that Zoe had invented. Unfortunately it is no longer available to view on BBC iPlayer.



Self-Injurious Behaviour and Autism

This website provides a list of some of the most significant scientific reviews and studies of self injurious behaviour in people on the autism spectrum.

Effects of Sensory Integration Intervention on Self-Stimulating and Self-Injurious Behaviour

This small scale study (only 7 participants) suggests that sensory integration approach is effective in reducing self-stimulating and self-injurious behaviours.

Relationships Between Stereotyped Movements and Sensory Processing Disorders in Children With and Without Developmental or Sensory Disorders

This study suggests that atypical sensory processing contributes to increases in stereotyped movements, rather than atypical processing resulting from autism or some other specific disorder.


 Making SENSE of Behaviour

More about this course

14 and 15 November 2018

How do we make sense of some of the difficult behaviours we see in children and adults that we work with?  Is it just behaviour? is all behaviour “communication”? or is it more complex than this?

For example, how do we make sense of:

  • A child who appears to be consistently defiant and manipulative
  • A young person who head bangs without any apparent trigger
  • A child who never sits still, seems to be constantly distracted and unable to concentrate

Understanding why individuals behave in the way that they do, and how it may be linked to sensory processing difficulties, is fundamental to developing appropriate and effective strategies and interventions that will lead to effective change.

The aim of this two day advanced course is to provide teachers and health professionals with a structured framework to develop an understanding of an individual’s behaviour, drawing on ideas from a variety of approaches to develop an individualised formulation. This will inform a clear intervention involving developing and implementing appropriate and effective strategies and programmes to assist the individual in school, home and other settings. Understanding and integrating sensory integration theory into the formulation and intervention will form a key part of the course. There will be a practical session in the large sensory room at SPACE on Day 2.

This course provides an extension to the knowledge gained on the course ‘Introduction to Sensory Integration and Sensory Processing Disorder’.