A review of behavioral treatments for self-injurious behaviors of persons with autism spectrum disorders

Johnny L. Matson, Department of Psychology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, USA.
Santino V. Lovullo


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are considered to be among the most serious of the mental health conditions. Concomitant with many cases of ASD is intellectual disability. Further compounding the disability is the fact that both conditions are known risk factors for self-injurious behavior (SIB). To date, the most effective intervention methods, based on the available data, appear to be variants of behavior modification. This article provides an overview of the current status of learning-based interventions for SIB in ASD and provides a review of specific studies. Although most studies describe some combination of reinforcement and punishment procedures, efforts are under way to develop more positively oriented strategies, such as functional assessment, to decrease the use of punishment. However, almost all the treatment studies employ single case designs, thus preventing a comparison of treatment efficacy. These issues are discussed along with other strengths, weaknesses, and future directions for clinical practice and treatment.