Autism Repetitive Behaviors

A key symptom of autism is unusual behaviors. Odd or unusual behaviors such as repetitive motions, toe walking or hand flapping often make social interactions difficult.

Repetitive motions are actions repeated over and over again. Some examples include rocking, hand flapping moving an object in the same manner over and over again, repeatedly spinning a toy or flipping a light switch. This type of behavior is also often referred to as self-stimulation or “stimming.”

People with autism often have an intense need for routine. Changes in their typical routine, like a substitute teacher or changes in a television schedule can be very upsetting and cause people with ASDs to tantrum.

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Also, some people with ASDs develop routines that to others might seem unusual or unnecessary. For example, they may need to count every window in a building, line up toys in a particular order or always watch unusual parts of a video only, repeating a certain scene over and over again or only watching the credits at the end. Changes or disruptions to these routines can cause frustration or tantrums.

Examples of Specific ASD Repetitive Behaviors and Unusual Interests
  • lines up toys
  • plays with toys in same manner every time
  • is very organized
  • is rigid about routines or object placements
  • upset by changes
  • eat few foods or only certain textures
  • eats inedible things (pica)
  • smells food
  • insensitive to pain
  • unaware of danger (e.g., hot things)
  • tantrums for no apparent reason
  • has obsessive interests
  • hand flapping/finger flicking/toe walking
  • self-stimulation
  • likes spinning objects
  • likes to spin him/herself
  • likes parts of objects (e.g., wheels)
  • does not use toys appropriately (lines up cars by color rather that zooming them)
  • special areas of talent or expertise
  • perseveration
  • walks over things (e.g., toys) unaware
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