What are some ways for parents to help manage repetitive movements in children with autism?
Managing repetitive movements in children with autism can be challenging, but there are strategies parents can employ to help address and redirect these behaviours. Here are some effective ways to manage repetitive movements:
- Understand the function of the behaviour: Observe and try to understand the underlying reason or function of the repetitive movements. Repetitive behaviours can serve various purposes, such as self-stimulation, self-regulation, sensory seeking, or as a response to anxiety or boredom. Identifying the function can help in determining appropriate management strategies.
- Provide alternative sensory activities: Offer alternative sensory activities that can serve as a substitute for the repetitive movements. For example, provide sensory toys, fidget objects, or other items that offer tactile or visual stimulation. Engaging in activities like swinging, jumping on a trampoline, or using a sensory ball can also help redirect the repetitive behaviors.
- Establish routines and structure: Create a predictable and structured environment for your child. Having consistent routines and clear expectations can help reduce anxiety and provide a sense of security, which may decrease the occurrence of repetitive movements.
- Engage in physical exercise: Encourage regular physical exercise and active play to help channel energy and reduce the need for repetitive movements. Physical activities such as swimming, biking, or participating in organised sports can be beneficial.
- Teach and promote self-regulation skills: Teach your child self-regulation strategies that they can use to manage their own sensory needs. Deep breathing exercises, sensory breaks, or simple relaxation techniques can help them self-regulate and reduce the frequency of repetitive movements.
- Provide sensory breaks: Allow scheduled sensory breaks throughout the day to provide opportunities for your child to engage in sensory activities or self-selected calming strategies. This can help address the sensory-seeking aspect of repetitive movements.
- Redirect to alternative activities: When you notice repetitive movements, gently redirect your child’s attention to alternative activities or interests. Offer engaging tasks or play opportunities that capture their attention and provide a satisfying sensory experience.
- Utilise visual supports: Visual supports, such as visual schedules or social stories, can help your child understand expectations and transitions. Use visual cues or reminders to prompt them towards more appropriate behaviors when repetitive movements arise.
- Collaborate with professionals: Consult with professionals, such as occupational therapists or behavior analysts, who can provide specific strategies and interventions to address repetitive movements. They can offer individualised guidance based on your child’s needs.
- Maintain a supportive and understanding approach: Approach the management of repetitive movements with patience, understanding, and empathy. Remember that repetitive behaviors are often deeply ingrained and can take time to change. Focus on creating a supportive and accepting environment that encourages positive growth and development.
It’s important to note that while some repetitive movements may be challenging to eliminate entirely, the goal is to manage and redirect them in a way that allows for greater engagement, self-regulation, and participation in daily activities. Individualised approaches and consistent support from parents and professionals are key to effectively managing repetitive movements in children with autism.
Leanne Hopkins is an Occupational Therapist at Succeed Healthcare Solutions and is passionate about creating a world where families thrive. If you are a member of the community who would like assistance with your child’s repetitive movements, please contact us and arrange a free 15-minute Discovery Interview to see how we can assist.