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How Do I Handle Repetitive Behavior of Autism



I teach Autistic Children in their homes. I currently teach a 9 y.o. who repetively rewinds children`s videos all day long. Currently, we only let the child rewind when he has completed 3 activities on his schedule board. This time is considered his break time. We`re only letting him do this for about 2-3 mins. My question is he has 2 televisions and 2 vcr`s in his bedroom. He will come home from school where he isn`t given the opportunity to watch t.v. and do this repetive behavior all day long. He goes from one area of his room to the other area back and forth per television. He also has both televisions going one at the sametime. We understand that this behavior is do to the sensory & audiotory input he needs. I just feel that what the team does during program time is being jeopordized. The consultant now wants us to start having him take his break and not have the t.v. or vcr on. Removing the videos all together. How do you think we should handle this and what`s is your option regarding video rewinding behavior. Thank you very much! Sincerely, Upset and concerned tutor


The repetitive rewinding of video tapes in your student is obviously an activity that he enjoys.  However, it is nonfunctional and nonsocial.  When a child is engaged in a comprehensive autism treatment program such as the one you described, very often the goal is to eliminate these nonfunctional, nonsocial behaviors and teach appropriate play skills. 

The elimination of access to the TV/VCR is one strategy that could be helpful.  And, it is just as important to give children access to other toys and activities for leisure time that are more functional and more social.  Also, it is sometimes helpful to teach children the appropriate way to watch TV.  For instance, certain rules could be consistently and always followed such as only one TV on at a time and no rewinding.

It could be problematic that a child has access to this (or other) nonfunctional, repetitive behaviors at certain times of the day and not during others.  It may make eliminating the behavior at other times harder or impossible.  But, if the TV/VCR is not available during your tutoring sessions, and other reinforcing or rewarding activities are available, then whether the TV/VCR is available during other parts of the day should not impact the tutoring session.

Eventually, it is a good idea to eliminate or shorten the amount of time spent in nonfunctional, repetitive activities all throughout a child's day.  But in order to do this, the child will need to have other activities he will enjoy doing.  Teaching him to play more appropriately should be one aspect of his tutoring program.

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Response by:

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