Repetitive Behaviors

People with autism may also engage in repetitive behaviors such as rocking back and forth or flapping their hands. This is so common among people with Autism that these are often referred to as ‘autistic-like’ behaviors. As a very young staff member, a quarter of a century ago, I was instructed that part of my job was to stop this kind of behavior. I meant well, and I was brought up by my grandmother to be kind to people who needed help, so I would try to gently pull down the person’s hands, hold them in my hand (obviously this, was back in the days before we were so gun-shy about sexual or physical abuse charges that we were afraid to touch children). I would tell the child calmly,

“Now, Michael, you know you are not supposed to be doing that.”

Now, this sounds like best practices, don’t over-react, respond to the action without criticizing the person. However, what bothered me was that when children would be rocking or hand-flapping it was clear to me that they were agitated about something and this was their way of calming themselves. I would have been a lot better off trying to figure out why the person was upset and addressing that. This can be very difficult with a person whose speech was limited to a few words or maybe signs. It is very frustrating to want to help a person, ask him what is bothering him and he cannot tell you but just keeps waving his hands in front of his face or rocking back and forth. For all I knew, what was bothering him was that I was talking!