Treatment of previously undiagnosed psychiatric disorders in persons with developmental disabilities decreased or eliminated self-injurious behavior.

Background: Self-injurious behavior (SIB) is one of the most common challenging behaviors in persons with autistic disorder or severe/profound mental retardation. Many psychotropic drugs have been evaluated for their effectiveness in SIB. Results have varied, and no one psychotropic drug has been indicated for SIB. In this prospective, open clinical study, psychotropic drugs were used to treat the previously undiagnosed psychiatric disorder in persons exhibiting SIB.

Methods: Data were collected from 26 individuals with mental retardation (14 males, 12 females), 7 to 45 years of age (mean = 30.3 years), who exhibited SIB. Psychiatric diagnosis was made according to DSM-III-R and DSM-IV criteria. The Behavior Problem Inventory, Yudofsky’s Overt Aggression Scale, repeated direct observation, and information on use of protective devices and Likert scales from log books were used to evaluate degree of SIB. Most of the patients were treated with different psychotropic drugs and behavior modification before they were evaluated for this study, but only 7 of them carried a psychiatric diagnosis. Data were collected between 1987 and 1997.

Results: Depressive disorders, impulse-control disorder, and anxiety disorder were the most common final diagnoses. Neuroleptics were discontinued in 5 patients and tapered by 50% to 75% in 14 patients. Antidepressants were added in 12 patients. Treatment of psychiatric disorders produced significant (p < .001) decrease in the severity of SIB in the 26 patients, and SIB was eliminated in 12 patients. The severity of SIBdecreased to mild from a moderate, severe, or extreme degree in 11 patients and from an extreme to a severe degree in 3 patients.

Conclusion: The most effective treatment for SIB that is resistant to environment changes and behavior modification in persons with developmental disabilities is the treatment of their psychiatric disorders with the appropriate psychotropics.