Repetitive behaviours

Many children with autism engage in some kind of self-stimulatory behaviours. Some children flap their arms or their hands, some spin things in front of their eyes, some flick their fingers.. .some don't do anything at all. Ben flaps his hands and spins (boy, does he spin) at home and flicks his fingers in front of his eyes. However he now does such things mainly at home, though when he is out he flicks his fingers when stressed. For me, the finger flicking when away from home is a useful indicator of Ben's stress levels and not something I need to stop.

When anyone comments on Ben's spinning and flicking, I often tell them to try it for themselves. (We have had many a hilarious hour with eight or more teenagers, spinning around and waggling their fingers in front of their faces.) It really is quite satisfying!

Nevertheless, such behaviours away from home can cause problems for children in many ways. Obviously it is not that easy to do any work at school if a child's hands are constantly flapping, and so ways in which to modify such behaviour can be put in place. Also if a child is likely to get teased or doesn't want to draw attention to themselves, then a good idea is to give them a 'fiddly' to hold in their pocket (a piece of material or blue tack works well - though Ben would eat it!) so that they can carry out their flapping or flicking in secret. All these things depend on the level of functioning of the child and whether dealing with such things is a priority. At the moment, Ben's spinning and flicking and flapping are a source of comfort to him or a means of communication and are a part of what makes him endearing.

When talking about such behaviours in his book, Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome, Luke writes: 'I try to find a balance between making an effort to mix with others without standing out too much, and accepting the inevitable - that I am always going to seem a little different'. Wise words indeed and as parents we can learn much from his way of thinking.

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