Fact sheet for information on repetitive behaviors and Autism, an Autism Spectrum Disorder


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 stress.


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?

Sometimes self-injury 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 long term.


interventions for repetitive behavior

Possible interventions for repetitive behavior include Applied 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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GNU Free Documentation. It is derivative of an autism and Asperger's syndrome-related articles at http://en.wikipedia.org

People with Autism usually appear physically normal and have good muscle control, unusual repetitive motions, known as self-stimulation or “stimming,” can be a common characteristic.