What are typical restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests?
Infants are normally attached to favorite objects and engage in a number of repetitive rhythmic motor behaviors, like rocking and flapping. Young children show an insistence on certain toys, fairy tales and bedtime rituals. Preschool students exhibit more complex behaviors, like ritualization of daily activities, acting out the same thing over and over in pretend play, collecting or storing objects, etc. Some young boys, for instance, are fascinated with cars–they play with them many hours a day, ask questions and acquire a significant level of knowledge about them, recognize car brands in the streets as well as on printed paper, etc.
When should I be concerned about a student with restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests?
Many children normally show an intense interest in a particular category of objects or activities and engage in certain repetitive behaviors like nail biting, sticking to one game, or collecting or storing certain objects.
Teachers may be concerned if these behaviors interfere with classroom activities, preventing children from interacting with peers, and if attempts to stop the behavior results in an explosive reaction.
Teachers may also be concerned and should seek help if a student exhibits any or some of the following:
- Repeatedly spinning objects, lining up toys, flapping hands in front of eyes.
- Frequently throwing objects without minding whether they hit someone.
- Extreme distress at small changes; any change in their routine could trigger a meltdown.
- Strong attachment to unusual objects, like brushes, stones and hair bands.
- Extreme discomfort around loud noises, such as the vacuum cleaner or other household electrical appliances.
- Severe discomfort from bright lighting, specific textures of fabrics, intense smells and tastes.
What can I do to help a student with difficulties with restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests?
For some children, some behaviors like hand flapping can help them cope with new or stressful situations or channel better communication when they are frustrated in the classroom. However, if you are a teacher, you can help to prevent a student’s restricted or repetitive behaviors from becoming disruptive or dangerous. Here are a few things that teachers can do in the classroom:
- Reduce sources of anxiety. Teachers can work to maintain a quiet learning environment, speak in low voices, and avoid interrupting a student with these difficulties when he or she appears totally absorbed in any activity.
- Organize daily classroom routines. Predictable routines can reduce stress and put a student struggling with restricted behaviors at ease. Students also benefit from warnings or other preparation if routines are to change (e.g., going on a class trip).
- Reduce annoying sensory stimuli. Teachers may attempt to avoid stimuli and situations that seem to trigger student distress, such as noisy and bright lighted places.
- Avoid interrupting the repetitive behavior. Teachers should avoid attempting to interrupt repetitive behaviors, or punishing tantrums following a stressful event.
- Pay close attention. Teachers should observe and take notes of any restricted or repetitive behaviors that occur in the classroom, whether these behaviors are disruptive or not.
- Communicate concerns to the student’s caregivers. If a student has been showing concerning restricted or repetitive behaviors, a teacher may set up a meeting with the student’s caregivers.
- Speak with a school mental health professional. After speaking with a student’s caregiver, teachers may also consult with a school mental health professional to determine if further support or evaluation is needed.
- Seek support. With a caregiver’s permission, teachers may consult other professionals who specialize in helping children achieve their milestones.
Pediatricians, occupational, physical, and speech-language therapists can help to determine if a delay is present through observation and evaluation of a child’s skills. Further, a child’s caregivers may choose to have these professionals to help their child build skills when they are struggling. Occupational, physical, and speech-language therapists also work with teachers and caregivers so that they know how to support skill development outside of therapy sessions.
The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).
Repetitive behaviors that are too frequent, intense, present in many different contexts, discrepant from those faced by children the same age, and that negatively interfere with classroom daily activities may indicate the possibility of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Where to find more information
Specific, detailed, and clinical information on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be found at [clinical short guide at the program website].
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