Neurobehavioral Unit (NBU)

Severe Behavior Disorders

Treatment of Severe Behavior Disorders

Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism, are at increased risk for engaging in problem behavior such as self-injury, aggression, and property destruction. When these behaviors are intense and frequent, they can significantly impair a child’s functioning. The term “severe behavior disorders” is often used to broadly describe the presence of these problem behaviors.

Application for Admission

To start the application process, you have three options:

Genetic, Metabolic, and Chromosomal Disorders

A syndrome is a medical term that describes individuals who have certain physical, developmental, and/or behavioral characteristics that occur due to a single underlying cause (e.g., a faulty gene or set of genes). An individual who is diagnosed with a certain syndrome may have some or all of the characteristics of that syndrome.

Restrictive and Repetitive Behavior

One of the hallmark features of an autism spectrum disorder is the presence of restrictive and repetitive behaviors (RRBs), interests, and activities. Individuals may engage in stereotyped and repetitive motor movements (e.g., hand flapping or lining up items) or speech (e.g., echolalia). They may have an insistence on sameness, such as needing to take the same route to school every day or requiring that activities be completed in exactly the same order each time.


Pica is generally defined as the consumption of nonnutritive items, which is inappropriate for developmental age, continues for more than a month, and is not part of a culturally sanctioned practice. In other words, pica involves eating items that are not food for at least one month, and the individual must be “too old” to be putting things into their mouth (i.e., individuals over the age of 2 years).


Running away or wandering off, known as elopement, is a relatively common problem for individuals diagnosed with intellectual disabilities. Individuals with autism and those who have more significant intellectual and communication deficits may be more likely to elope. One large study on elopement found that about half of individuals with autism who elope have had at least one instance in which they were missing long enough to cause their caregivers to be concerned about their wellbeing and safety.

Disruption and Aggression

Destructive and Disruptive Behavior

Destructive or disruptive behavior is a common type of problem behavior that may be displayed by individuals with an autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disability. Common forms of these behaviors include, but are not limited to, throwing, ripping, tearing, kicking, banging or breaking objects, furniture, or even windows.

Self-Injurious Behavior

Self-injurious behavior (SIB) involves the occurrence of behavior that could result in physical injury to one's own body. SIB is displayed by 10 to 15 percent of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Common forms of SIB include, but are not limited to, head-hitting, head-banging and self-biting. SIB can result in minor injuries such as scratches and bruises or more severe injuries such as blindness, broken bones, or even death.

Kennedy Krieger Institute Awarded Three-Year CARF Accreditation

June 12, 2014

BALTIMORE, MD— CARF International announced that Kennedy Krieger Institute has been accredited for a period of three years for the following CARF program areas:

The Comeback Kid

by Abigail
November 13, 2013
The Neurobehavioral Unit at Kennedy Krieger helps turn around a young boy with self-injurious and aggressive behavior.

Luke McNair happyChrissy McNair describes her son Luke, 13, as “one of the happiest kids I’ve ever met.” He usually wakes up in a good mood and likes cracking jokes with his two brothers. He loves Top-40 music and animals, and has been riding horses since he was 3 years old. “The best word for him is passionate,” says his mother.

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