Why Do Students with Autism Keep Moving in the Classroom?

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WhyDoStudentswithAutismKeepMovingintheClassroomThe sensation of balance comes from interaction between the inner ear and the cerebellum in the Lower Brain. This sense regulates muscle tone and balance. Consider how as we move throughout the day, we work with and against gravity to regulate our movements and balance.

People with autism may move in a jerky, stiff or disorganized way. Because faster movements are easier than slow movement or stillness, people with autism can appear very restless. Some people with autism need to move a lot. Because muscle tone is hard to sustain, a person with autism will often rather sit down than stand and prefer to lie down than sit. Furthermore, it can be hard to get a person with autism to slow down if moving or get them moving again if at rest.

Some people with autism seek to stimulate their inner ear organs by moving. These students may spin, run, rock or do cartwheels to stimulate their inner ear.

With a weak balance sense, a person could feel like they are walking on ice. Some people with autism prop themselves up and slump when at rest because their balance sense can’t sustain muscle tone for a long time without movement.

One common behavior in this category is head banging. This action can range from tapping gently against the back of a chair to ramming violently against a wall. Through this kind of repetitive movement the person, who may even be in pain, can block or attempt to shut down the balance sense in their inner ear. A specialist should be consulted for suggestions in this area as it is critical to watch for signs of stress and to not over-stimulate the inner ear.

Toe walking is another method children with autism use to stimulate their inner ear. It isn’t usually walking on the toes at all, but often walking high on the balls of the feet.

Consider a student who often goes to the back of the room where he can rock and spin. This can be disconcerting to the other students as well as to the teacher. Knowing that a student craves inner ear stimulation to help his brain might change the perception of his behavior as well as reactions to managing the occurrences.

Here are some ideas that a teacher might use:

  • If a child is not able to sit still, he may benefit from sitting on a ball chair during class.
  • Be flexible whenever possible and allow the student to stand or lie down while doing reading, writing or other assignment tasks.
  • Plan short physical activities for the student between classes like running up to the library and returning a book, or swinging on a swing for 5 minutes. This may help the student to stop rocking or spinning for some time and concentrate on the class.
  • Give the student work during the class that requires him to move a little eg. distributing books, coming forward and erasing the board, etc.
  • A child who seeks movement sensation will benefit from regular gym, swimming or sports.

Discuss here: What are some movement activities that can be incorporated into a regular class schedule?

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