Stereotyped behaviors

What is a stereotyped behavior?
IN BRIEF

Stereotyped behaviors can be movements such as swinging, flapping, snapping, turning around, or spinning objects. Sometimes, instead of movements, behaviors are expressed by sounds, so it could be a cough, a click of the tongue or some other sound.

Stereotyped behavior

Stereotyped behaviors, also known as repetitive or ritual behaviors, are used by many autistic people. They may also be present in people with other differences or with no particular diagnosis.

Stereotyped movements

Movements can vary from person to person. Here are some examples of stereotyped movements common in autism :

Verbal stereotyping

Stereotyped behaviours sometimes take a verbal form. Here are a few examples.

Why do autistic people have stereotyped behaviours?

There’s no certainty as to why autistic people have stereotyped behaviours, but it probably has something to do with the particular way their brains process sensory information and deal with stress and anxiety. On the other hand, there is evidence that these movements can be useful.

Functions of stereotyped movements

Can stereotyped movements be problematic, harmful or dangerous?

If the behavior is too intense, or if the person has difficulty controlling it, that’s when it becomes problematic. If, for example, regularly spinning around for too long causes the person to fall and injure themselves, we need to find a way to guide the person towards other ways of fulfilling the purpose of the movement. If stereotyped behaviors interfere with the person’s daily activities, such as eating, dressing or interacting with others, this is also a problem. In such cases, it’s important to establish a private area where the person can carry out their activity, such as their bedroom.

Attention

Many will want to prevent autistic people from using stereotyped behaviors, arguing that it’s important to maintain social appearances. However, respect and inclusion require the normalization of difference. If the behavior doesn't harm the person or their loved ones, it should be up to society to adapt, not the other way around. We would never dream of preventing a non-autistic person from self-regulating, for example. The same applies to autistic people.

Valérie Jessica Laporte

WRITER SPECIALIZING IN AUTISM (FRENCH)