Child playing with cubes and lining them up, exhibiting stereotyped behavior in Autism

One of the hallmark symptoms or traits of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in children is restrictive and repetitive behaviors (RRBs). If you have been a part of the Autism community for a while, these terms are probably familiar to you, and if you are a parent of a child with ASD, you most likely have witnessed how these behaviors tend to manifest.

As you may know, there is still so much that is unknown about ASD, but as researchers and doctors continue to study critical features and symptoms, we have learned more about things like stereotyped behavior in Autism. Today, we are going to discuss stereotypy, or repetitive body movements, and how it impacts children with Autism.

What is Stereotypy?

Let’s start by clarifying some confusion over the term stereotypy or stereotyped repetitive behaviors. Previously, we have discussed general misconceptions that have led to problematic stereotypes surrounding Autism. Today’s discussion will focus on stereotypy and that is why we want to emphasize the difference in meaning between behavior stereotypes and stereotyped behavior.

Stereotyped behavior or stereotypy is simply defined as repetitive body movements that can be exhibited as verbal or nonverbal behaviors. They can range in complexity and vary from person to person, but some of the more common stereotyped behavior Autism symptoms are:

  • Rocking back and forth
  • Hand flapping
  • Marching in place
  • Toe walking
  • Finger tapping
  • Repetitive finger movements
  • Repeated words or phrases
  • Crossing and uncrossing of legs repeatedly
  • Self-caressing
  • Spinning objects
  • Lining objects up
  • Intense and predictable routines
  • Echolalia (delayed or immediate repetition of another person's spoken words)
  • Dropping items to watch them fall

Parents will typically notice these repetitive patterns in their young children and are often the first sign that the child may have Autism. Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists these patterns as major diagnostic features of ASD, stereotypic behaviors can occur in individuals who do not have Autism. It is common for individuals with other developmental disabilities to exhibit signs of stereotypy as well.

What Causes Stereotyped Behavior in Autism?

As we continue to understand the complexities of Autism Spectrum Disorder, we must remember that a lot is still unknown when it comes to repetitive behavior or stereotyped behavior in Autism.

Although there is not an exact cause, there are several possible explanations for stereotyped behavior. The most common explanations regarding stereotypy in Autistic individuals, specifically children, include:

  • Self-regulation or dealing with frustration triggered by stress/anxiety
  • Seeking sensory input
  • Self-expression

It is not uncommon for a child with ASD to become overwhelmed by bright lights and loud sounds. If a child experiences sensory overload, they may engage in stereotyped behavior like rocking back and forth or hand flapping to calm themselves down. A child may exhibit repetitive behaviors as a way to deal with a stressful situation caused by a misunderstanding or communication breakdown. If the child can’t effectively communicate their wants and needs, their frustrations may manifest in stereotypic behavior or even Autistic meltdowns.

Repetitive Behaviors Treatment

Typically repetitive behaviors pose no harm to a child or the people around them, but parents may seek treatment if these behaviors are causing unnecessary stress for their child. The most common treatment would be Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, which involves a licensed ABA professional that works with your child to teach them other ways to deal with stressful situations. Other parents have used autism supplements to help improve symptoms of ASD that may cause stress to your child.

To reiterate, there is nothing wrong with repetitive behaviors, and most of the treatments and routine changes are sought out simply for the child’s wellbeing. But it must also be mentioned that repetitive behaviors and stimming are helping the individual to deal with their emotions, so some parents have zero interest in seeking treatment options.


At Simple Spectrum, we know that every day may present a new set of challenges for you and your family, but together we can help to understand more about Autism. Repetitive behaviors are very common in children with Autism and although each child may exhibit different behaviors, stereotypic patterns are part of what makes each child so unique!