Mental health

At a glance

Self-harm in children with autism and intellectual disability

Lead researcher

Dr Caroline Richards


University of Birmingham



Amount awarded


Last updated



Self-harm, such as biting, scratching, head banging and body punching, occurs at very high rates in children with autism and intellectual disability (ID). As many as one in two children with autism and ID will self-harm, and in most cases this behaviour persists beyond childhood.

Dr Caroline Richards' research will investigate two potential causes or drivers of self-harm in children with autism and ID. The first is problems with stopping and starting certain behaviours, otherwise known as inhibition. The second potential cause is poor sleep, and the researchers will investigate whether this leads to more frequent and more severe self-harm.

These findings will inform interventions for self-harm, with sleep and inhibition as new, preventative intervention targets.

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Mental health - Eating disorders and self-harm

  • Why is there a need to fund new research?

    Despite an increase in young people affected by eating disorders and self-harm, there is still limited research focusing on what causes these devastating mental health problems. As many as one in six teenagers have self-harmed at some point, and self-harm is the strongest known risk factor for suicide. Eating disorders are also common, affecting around 15 per cent of young women and over three per cent of young men.

    Although up to half of people with an eating disorder have self-harmed, we also know little about why these mental health problems often occur together.

    Building on a previous £1.3 million investment in eating disorders and self-harm research by the Foundation and the MRC (part of UK Research and Innovation), these new research projects will improve our understanding of what causes these conditions and ultimately, it is hoped these insights will lead to earlier intervention and better treatments.

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