ECT for self-injury in an autistic boy

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2009 Jul;18(7):458-63. doi: 10.1007/s00787-009-0754-8. Epub 2009 Feb 5.


Objective: Self-injurious behavior presents a significant challenge in autism, and first-line psychopharmacological and behavioral interventions have limited efficacy in some patients. These intractable cases may be responsive to electroconvulsive therapy.

Clinical picture: This article presents an eight-year-old boy with autism, mental retardation, prominent mood lability and a five-year history of extreme self-injurious behavior towards his head, averaging 109 self-injurious attempts hourly. The patient was at high risk for serious head trauma, and required usage of bilateral arm restraints and protective equipment (i.e., padding on shoulders, arms, and legs). All areas of daily functioning were profoundly impacted by dangerous self-injury.

Treatment: Fifteen bilateral ECT treatments resulted in excellent mood stabilization and reduction of self-injury to 19 attempts hourly, and maintenance ECT was pursued. The patient was able to return to developmentally-appropriate educational and social activities.

Conclusion: ECT should be considered in the treatment algorithm of refractory cases of severe self-injury in autism.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / complications*
  • Child
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / complications*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / therapy*