Repetitive behaviour in Autism
14 Jun 2021
by The Autism Service

We wanted to look at one of the characteristics of Autism (ASD) which often causes parents a lot of concern prior to diagnosis.

Repetitive behaviour

Parents may worry about autism when they see their child repetitively lining up toys, spinning objects, or opening and closing drawers. 

When asked to describe a characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), many people will often comment on repetitive behaviours such as hand-flapping, rocking, jumping or twirling and repetitive play, such as lining up toys. This is a common behaviour we see in children with ASD. Of course, this behaviour in itself does not mean an automatic diagnosis of autism. We should point out that the symptoms of ASD are wide ranging.

What do we mean by repetitive behaviour?

Repetitive behaviours are one of the hallmark symptoms of ASD. It can encompass a range of behaviours, such as rocking back and forth, hand-flapping, fidgeting with objects or repeating a phrase. It can also include behaviours such as an insistence on sameness and routine. It is often known as 'stimming' or self-stimulating behaviour.

Why is repetitive behaviour often seen in people with ASD?

Nobody knows what causes repetitive behaviour in people with Autism as such. It can often result from anxiety and set actions or repeated words can feel calming to someone with Autism. It can often arise during periods of stress and can be away to help deal with daily life.It can also be a way to reduce sensory input as by focusing on one action or sound, it can reduce the impact of an overwhelming environment.

Is repetitive behaviour harmful?

It can cause problems as it can stop people engaging with other important activities as it is a distraction. If the repetitive behaviour is in itself harmful, such as repeatedly banding a head against a wall, then work needs to be done to prevent it.

It can also have social consequences as the behaviour can be seen as odd by others.
But sometimes the behaviours should just be accepted and enjoyed for what they are.

Can you cure repetitive behaviour?

The short answer is no. But you can help.

The best way to tackle it is to try and work out why it is happening.

If it always happens in the same situation, then try to change that environment. 

If the person is doing it to reduce stress and anxiety, try coming up with other ways to help manage that, such as preparing calming activities and breathing techniques.

If you have any questions about repetitive behaviours, please do get in touch with us and we can do what we can to help you.