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A “choice”, an “addiction”, a way “out of the lost”; Exploring self-injury in autistic people without intellectual disability.

Moseley, R., Gregory, N. J., Smith, P., Allison, C. and Baron-Cohen, S., 2019. A “choice”, an “addiction”, a way “out of the lost”; Exploring self-injury in autistic people without intellectual disability. Molecular Autism, 10 (1), 18.

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DOI: 10.1186/s13229-019-0267-3


Background Non-suicidal self-injury describes a phenomenon where individuals inflict deliberate pain and tissue damage to their bodies. Self-injurious behaviour (SIB) is especially prevalent across the autism spectrum, but little is understood about the features and functions of self-injury for autistic individuals without intellectual disability, or about the risk factors that might be valuable for clinical usage in this group. Methods One hundred and three autistic adults who responded to an online advertisement were classified as current, historic or non-self-harmers in accordance with responses to the Non-Suicidal Self-Injury Assessment Tool (NSSI-AT). Multinomial regression aimed to predict categorization of participants in accordance with scores on tests of autistic traits, alexithymia, depression, anxiety, mentalizing, and sensory sensitivity. Linear regression examined relationships between these predictors and the range, frequency, lifetime occurrence and functional purposes of SIB. Qualitative analysis explored the therapeutic interventions that participants had found helpful, and what they wished people understood about self-injury. Results Current, historic and non-self-harming participants did not differ in age, age at diagnosis, male-to-female ratio, level of employment or education (the majority qualified to at least degree level). The most common function of SIB was the regulation of low-energy affective states (depression, dissociation), followed by the regulation of high-energy states such as anger and anxiety. Alexithymia significantly predicted the categorization of participants as current, historic or non-self-harmers, and predicted use of SIB for regulating high-energy states and communicating distress to others. Depression, anxiety and sensory-sensitivity also differentiated participant groups, and sensory differences also predicted the range of bodily areas targeted, lifetime incidence and frequency of SIB. Sensory differences, difficulty expressing and identifying emotions also emerged as problematic in the qualitative analysis, where participants expressed the need for compassion, patience, non-judgement and the need to recognise diversity between self-harmers, with some participants perceiving SIB as a practical, non-problematic coping strategy. Conclusions Alexithymia, depression, anxiety and sensory differences may place some autistic individuals at especial risk of self-injury. Investigating the involvement of these variables and their utility for identification and treatment is of high importance, and the voices of participants offer guidance to practitioners confronted with SIB in their autistic clients.

Item Type:Article
Uncontrolled Keywords:Self-injury; self-harm, autism; alexithymia; sensory differences; suicidality; qualitative
Group:Faculty of Science & Technology
ID Code:32079
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:20 Mar 2019 13:15
Last Modified:14 Mar 2022 14:15


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