Although individuals with autism
usually appear physically normal and have good muscle control, they
unusual repetitive motions, which may be called, stereotypic movement
disorder, stereotypies or repetitive behaviors. Self-stimulation,
or "stimming", is another common term for repetitive behavior.
Typical examples include hand waving, teeth grinding, rocking movements
and nail biting. In some cases, it can involve self-injurious
behaviors such as head banging, self-biting, picking at the
skin and self-hitting.
Repetitive behaviors can be easily confused with
the tics that arise in Tourette's
syndrome, which is itself a comorbid
disorder with the Autism Spectrum Disorders. The tics associated
with Tourette syndrome usually begin at around age six or seven
years of age, while repetitive movements typically start before
two years of age in children on the autism spectrum and are more likely to be triggered by excitement or
These behaviors might be extreme and highly apparent,
or more subtle. Some children on the autism spectrum may spend
a lot of time repeatedly flapping their arms or wiggling their toes,
while others can suddenly freeze in position. Repetitive behaviors
can also extend into the spoken word as well. Echolalia
is the repetition of a single word or phrase, even for a specific
number of times can also become a part of the child's daily routine.
Possible causes of repetitive behavior
Many theories exist as to what function repetitive
behaviors serve, and the reasons for its increased incidence in
autistic people. For children with an understimulated nervous system,
it may provide needed nervous system arousal, releasing beta-endorphins.
For hypersensitive people, it may provide a "norming"
effect, allowing the person to control a specific part of the world
they perceive through their senses, and is thus a soothing behavior.
Self-injury as a form or repetitive behavior?
is viewed as a form of stimming. Usually, self-injury is very different
from stimming, but people with decreased pain sensitivity may injure
themselves because they like the feel of it, similar to other stims.
For example, they might like the way their hand feels in the mouth
when they bite themselves, while not feeling the pain of the bite.
Or they might like pressure on their forehead and bang their head
without it hurting, even if they are risking brain damage in the
interventions for repetitive behavior
Possible interventions for repetitive behavior
Behavior Analysis, Sensory
Integration Therapy and medication.
preoccupations and obsessions
Repetitive behaviors can cross over with other
typical characteristics of autism, such as intense
preoccupations. Children might spend hours lining up their cars
and trains in a certain way, not using them for the type of pretend
play expected of a non-autistic child. If someone accidentally moves
one of these toys, the child may be tremendously upset. Autistic
children often need, and demand, absolute consistency in their environment.
A slight change in any routine — in mealtimes, dressing, taking
a bath, or going to school at a certain time and by the same route
— can be extremely disturbing to them.
A child with autism will sometimes have persistent, intense preoccupations.
For example, the child might be obsessed with learning all about
computers, TV programs and movie schedules or lighthouses. Often
they show great interest in different languages, numbers, symbols
or science topics.
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