Children with Autism are prone to repetitive movements. This is due to the need to expel extra energy and can be distracting and disruptive. With a few simple changes, these behaviors can be decreased.
In children with Autism, expelled energy takes the form of hand flapping, walking in circles, head banging, or jumping up and down. Also any fixation on a certain task, such as rolling a piece of string between two fingers or "flying" a hand in front of their face.
Repetitive movements are not unusual. When people are nervous or excited, they tend to drum their fingers or tap their feet in order to let out some of that extra built up energy. This is normal and happens every day. Movements can be subconscious like twirling hair around a finger or biting a lip.
While repetitive movements, with the exception of head banging, are not a safety concern to the child or others, they do impede on the child's ability to learn or take part in other activities. The more the child is focused on repeating the same task the less attention or brain power they have available for anything else.
So how do you get a child to calm down, sit down, and pay attention without distractions?
Even though a child with Autism will never be completely without repetitive behaviors, here are a few tips and tricks to help decrease them.
1.) Provide a movement outlet like swinging, jumping on a trampoline, or running laps around a track.
2.) Use chew tubes. These allow the child to sit still, but expel excess energy by biting.
3.) Create a reward system for not doing the unwanted behavior. For example, if the child does not kick the wall for five minutes, they get a treat. Then extend the time to ten minutes and so on until the unwanted behavior is gone.
4.) Replace the bad behavior with a good behavior. For example, instead of rolling paper between fingers, redirect the child to build with blocks.
This will not stop the behaviors, but by getting the child into another activity, they become more alert and socially functioning.
Dawn has an 11 year old son with Classical Autism.
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