Autism in Children: Repetitive Behavior

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Autism in children manifests itself through repetitive behaviors. These are attempts by a person’s sensory-motor system to develop control or protection from feeling overwhelmed.

Here are some examples:

  • Nick finds a piece of string. Once he has it, he twists and twirls it between his fingers. He seems mesmerized by the string and is upset when it is taken away.
  • Maxwell sits in his sand box on most days. He picks up a fist of sand and lets it pour through his fingers. He repeats this over again and again for hours.

Following are reasons why Autism in children leads them to engage in repetitive behaviors:

  • Tune out of stimulation (relaxation)
  • Get back in control (re-regulation)
  • Shift neural energy (modulation)
  • Give time and energy (processing)
  • Rouse and excite (stimulation)

Try to discover what sensory-motor needs the student is getting met from participating in the undesirable, repetitive behavior. This way it is easier to find a more acceptable replacement activity.cOne such repetitive behavior is watching spinning objects, such as fans, string, or tops. Visually watching or even spinning the whole body can activate or block the inner ear balance sense. Short, slow, controlled rocking activities on a rocking chair, lying on the floor, sitting on an air-filled seat cushion or gentle balance board can slowly strengthen the inner ear balance sense.

Sometimes children demonstrate repetitive behavior because they are in a new environment. Instead of trying to stop the child from doing what they are doing, the teacher might try to interest the child in other activities.

What activities can you use to interest children with autistic leanings in your classroom?

From Professional Learning Board’s online continuing education course for teachers: Introduction to Autism

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