How do I Teach a Student with Autism who has Repetitive Behavior?

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Children with repetitive behavior can repeat one action for hours at a stretch.Most of the time, repetitive behaviors are attempts by a person’s sensory-motor system to develop control or protection from feeling overwhelmed. Some examples are:

Nick seems to be able to find a piece of string in any environment. 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 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 a person on the spectrum may 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 meeting from participating in the undesirable, repetitive action. This way it is easier to find a more acceptable replacement activity.

One such repetitive behavior is watching spinning objects, such as fans, strings, 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.

Learn Moreā€¦ Take this course: Introduction to Autism

Discuss Here: What are some other activities that may interest children with repetitive behavior?

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