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Autism

What Are Behaviors of Aspergers?

06/15/2005

Question:

My 9 year old son has a variety of stereotypical behaviors - he flaps his arms, he hops, he makes some odd writhing movements. They get worse when he is excited or overstimulated. He may have some Asperger`s, no one really knows what he has. At age 9 these behaviors are really sticking out and can be quite annoying and embarassing to the rest of the family when we are out with him, in particular his teenage brother. Do you have any suggestions of what to do about this?

Answer:

Stereotypic behaviors such as hand flapping, ritualistic pacing, spinning, lining up objects, or visual inspection of objects are thought to be “automatically” and intrinsically rewarding for many children with autism spectrum disorders.These activities may give a child a new sensory experience that is rewarding. One way to think about this is that many children with autism often do not have age-level play and social skills. Some pass time by engaging in repetitive motor behaviors. It is also possible that, though stereotypic behaviors are initially reinforced intrinsically, they may also become reinforced (i.e., strengthened) by social attention when caregivers try to stop or discourage the behaviors. These behaviors can interfere with learning if they occur a lot in the school setting. They can also “stigmatize” the child (i.e., make him or her appear odd).

There are at least 3 possible behavioral interventions (forms of behavior modification) that may be used to reduce such repetitive behaviors. These interventions are usually employed separately, but they may also be done simultaneously. If parents wish to reduce such behavior, they should seek the help of a behavior therapist.

The stereotypical behaviors that you mention can certainly be associated with pervasive developmental disorders (the global term that includes autism and Asperger syndrome). It is important that you get your child to a clinic familiar with autism and related issues, and with psychopharmacological management. Only then can a plan be best formulated.

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Response by:

Michael G Aman, PhD Michael G Aman, PhD
Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

David Q Beversdorf, MD David Q Beversdorf, MD
Formerly
Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurobehavior and Neurology
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

Eric   Butter, PhD Eric Butter, PhD
Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatricsl
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University