Treatment of Severe Self-Injurious Behavior in Autism Spectrum Disorder by Neuromodulation

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Abstract

An increasing number of case reports and series document the safe and effective use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in children, adolescents, and young adults with autism spectrum disorder who engage in severe, intractable, repetitive self-injurious behavior (SIB) without environmental or operant function. Although the treatment is very effective for such patients, they typically remain highly dependent on frequent maintenance ECT (M-ECT) to maintain suppression of the SIB achieved during the acute course. Some patients receive M-ECT as frequently as once every 5 days. Such a regimen is quite burdensome for the patient and the patient's family, and the long-term effects of such regimens, starting as early as childhood, are unknown. In this review, we explore the expanding literature supporting the use of ECT for suppressing severe SIB associated with autism spectrum disorder. We also focus on the possible development of alternate nonconvulsive focal forms of brain stimulation, which might replace frequent M-ECT or reduce how frequently a patient needs to receive it. Although there are scarce clinical data currently available supporting these latter treatments, future studies are clearly indicated.

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