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Why Do Autistic Children Flap Their Arms

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How Do I Stop Hand Flapping

My Child flaps his arms Does that mean he has Autism?

Talk with your childs occupational therapist or pediatrician before ever trying to shape their behavior. This article is solely informational and should never be applied to your child without professional consult.

As we mentioned above, a study found that 98% of stimming could be stopped when cued. This means that asking a child to stop is extremely effective. That said, this neglects the reason why they were stimming in the first place. If a child is anxious, overly excited, or agitated in some way, asking them to stop stimming may make the situation worse. If you want a child to decrease their hand flapping and other stimming behaviors, figure out why their doing it in the first place and how you can address the root of the issue.

Another interesting solution is physical exercise. A study found that kids and increased their interest in tasks after a period of exercise.

Again, if your kiddo is causing any harm to themselves because of their stimming, seek medical advice immediately. In general, its best to check in with your childs care team to make sure that you understand their specific stimming behaviors and what you may need to do to address them.

What Are Flapping And Self

Self-stimulatory behaviours are the repetition of body movements, sounds, or moving objects.

Stims could include hand flapping, rocking, spinning self or objects, biting, head banging, moving eyes upwards or the side, making vocalisations.

Although a common sign of autism, hand flapping does not mean your child definitely has autism. Many other children flap their arms when excited, particularly at a young age. However, children with autism may not grow-out of this stage, may flap their arms with more intensity and frequency, or may accompany flapping with another movement such as bouncing or spinning.

It’s All Aboutsensory Integration

As we go through our days, we constantly take in sensory information, send it to our brain, and then spit out a response. We hear our favorite song and start tapping our feet we feel a tap on our shoulder and turn around we smell some chocolate chip cookies and walk towards the kitchen.

If we dont struggle with sensory issues, our bodies are generally great at taking in sensory information and processing it in a productive way. We generally dont even notice it, as it is such a fundamental part of life.

That said, there are times when our brains just cant handle the amount of sensory information were throwing their way.

We get overwhelmed in a noisy shopping mall and walk outside we hear a loud noise and cover our ears we have perseverative behaviors we get exciting news and start jumping around like fools. Our scream canisters boil over and our sensory systems struggle to handle it.

Self-soothing behaviors are technically soothing our sensory systems. Our sensory system says, Ah, I have too much input and I need to get rid of it somehow! Hand flapping and other stimming behaviors are the sensory systems way to re-regulate.

Think about a scream canister right before it explodes. Its tight, stressed, and pressure-filled. Thats not a comfortable place to be in.

When your kiddo hand flaps and stims, they let some of that pressure and excitement go. Eventually, they hand flap enough that their sensory systems start to re-regulate and they return to a calm place.

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What Does It Mean When Kids Flap Their Arms

Hand flapping is a form of stimming that kids do to calm down, self-soothe, or regulate their bodies. Its common when kids are excited, nervous, anxious, or having any other type of high emotion state. It can also become a habit. Hand flapping or, arm flapping, has become one of the more popularly recognized signs of autism.

Why Does My Toddler Flap His Arms

About Toddler Arm Flapping
  • 5 min read

Our children exhibit a multitude of behaviors. And we should expect them to. Different behaviors to different circumstances is a part of learning. As they grow older, they learn to refine these certain behaviors to be more in-line with the circumstance.

These behaviors are sometimes subtle, and sometimes extreme. They are sometimes loud, and other times silent. And sometimes we dont even notice them. But then there are times they are borderline disturbing.

Some children flap their arms excessively when they are excited. And sometimes for absolutely no reason. Many parents who experience an arm-flapping child become worried if their child has autism.

While the jury is still out on the arm flapping/autism issue, there are some reasons behind the flapping. Is it autism? Is it normal? Do all children flap their arms? If they flap their arms, is there a way to get them to stop?

Perhaps we can give you the proper information to guide you through the issue. And some answers as well as to why does your toddler flap his arms?

Read Also: Life Expectancy With Autism

Is Nail Biting A Form Of Stimming

No. Neurotypicals, or people without autism , also self-stimulate nail biting, hair twirling and foot tapping all count as stims. NTs, as they’re known for short, can usually control their stims and tend to do ones that are considered more acceptable in public than those done by people with autism.

Why Do People Stim

Stimming helps people cope with emotions such as frustration and boredom. It may also help them concentrate, especially on challenging or boring tasks. Over time, stimming can become a habit. A person might come to associate biting their nails or chewing their hair with deep concentration, making it more difficult to concentrate without these stimming behaviors.

Autistic people often feel overwhelmed by sensory input such as flickering lights or loud noises. Stimming can help them recover a sense of control, calming them and making sensory distraction easier to manage. Stimming is often a sign that an autistic person is overwhelmed and struggling to cope with their emotions.

Stimming can also be pleasurable, especially when people associate stimming with relaxation or concentration.

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Theme : Stigmatisation Of Stimming

The second theme concerned the negative reactions that people perceived whenstimming and destigmatisation through acceptance based on socialunderstanding of their stims. Participants described feeling a variety ofresentful emotions when told by others to stop stimming, including anger,nervousness, frustration, belittlement, shame and confusion. They expressed thatothers might feel annoyed, stressed or alarmed by their stims, and stated thatobservers might view them as strange, aggressive, sad, ridiculous or childish.Many wished to avoid drawing negative attention and, in response to feelingmarginalised, attempted to suppress their stims in public. They also reportedstimming when alone, for this reason.

Other participants reported transmuting stims into a more socially acceptableform that provided similar feedback. For example, Ethan replaced arm stims withdancing, shaking hands, tennis, chess and sailing. Alternatively, participantstried concealing stimming from view. Repression of stimming happened more as afunction of whether people said they felt understood. Participants encounteredaccepting attitudes from others more often in private than in public. This wasbecause of greater understanding . Several only stimmed freelywhen they had total privacy or among selected family or friends.

Subtheme 1: devaluation


Subtheme 2: acceptance

Promoting acceptance through understanding

Treatments For Hand Flapping

Why Autistics Have to Talk with their Hands and Flap their Arms | Autism Awareness and Acceptance

In the short term, autism hand flapping can be treated by removing the person from the source of distress. This is not always possible, however, and it is better to seek a long term solution.

It is important for the parent or caregiver to discourage hand flapping and the offer of a treat or a favorite toy can work to motivate change. Parents can make the person aware of their behavior in the following ways:

  • Use verbal reminders to stop the hand flapping
  • Use a card with a stop sign on when the person starts hand flapping
  • Gradually increase the amount of time that a child or adult must refrain from hand flapping before they get a treat

In some cases, it is possible to encourage a substitute stimming behavior that is not so publicly off-putting or obvious. These include rubbing or massaging the back of the neck, and moving fingers around.

If an autistic person is going to be exposed to circumstances that provoke hand flapping, it is best to be prepared. For example, ear plugs can be useful in a crowd as they cut down on noise levels. Sun glasses can cut out visual stimulation and a family group around a person can minimize physical contact and jostling.

Autism and hand flapping are commonly seen together and can be a source of frustration and embarrassment. Dealing with the stimming is often most successful when a combined approach of treatment and prevention is implemented. This will take focused effort and commitment from the people who live with the autistic person.

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How Stimming Affects Autistic Children And Teenagers

Stimming isnt necessarily a bad thing, as long as it doesnt hurt your child. But some stimming can be self-injurious for example, severe hand-biting.

Stimming can also affect your childs attention to the outside world, which in turn can affect your childs ability to learn and communicate with others.

For example, if a child flicks their fingers near their eyes, they might not be playing with toys so much and not developing play skills. When the child is older, if theyre absorbed in watching their hands in front of their eyes in the classroom, theyre not engaged with schoolwork. Or if the child is pacing around the fence in the playground, theyre missing valuable social opportunities.

Why Would I Work With My Child To Stop Flapping And Self

There are many reasons that you may want to help your child stop flapping or engaging in those other self-stimulatory behaviors. Some of them may be causing him physical harm, such as biting or scratching himself. Other things may call undue attention to your child which can cause him to have trouble making friends or engaging in social interactions. Other behaviors may begin to interfere with his education, for example if he is rocking or flapping so hard that he cant focus on the teacher. Self-stimulatory behaviors by themselves are not necessarily a bad thing, but the side effects caused by them can be difficult for a child to cope with.

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Try Replacement Behaviors That Meet The Same Need:

What you will want to do now is try some other behaviors that will replace the self-stimulatory behavior but that are safer or less distracting. Keep in mind that your childs new behavior may not look entirely normal either, but we are going for more safe or less distracting. Once your child gets used to the new behavior, you can always try to teach him a more normal-looking behavior later. You will want to several different replacement behaviors to find what works best for your child. Keep trying them until one seems to stick or resonate with your child. Use this chart to determine which replacement behaviors might be appropriate to try with your child based on the information you collected during the last step.

Possible Replacement Behaviors

Child Has Been Sitting Too Long

  • Have child request a movement break
  • Offer alternative seating for the child, such as a chair vs. floor, sitting on a pillow, sitting on a small exercise ball, etc.
  • Offer child a fidget toy to play with while sitting

Child is Tired

  • Offer child a short nap

Child is Excited

  • Replace with squeezing hands together

Child is Angry/Upset

  • Replace with squeezing/biting/hitting a pillow
  • Have child request break/go for a walk

Child is Flapping/Sensory Input in Fingers

  • Replace with squeezing hands or pushing hands together
  • Offer child a stress ball or squeezable toy to play with
  • Replace with child sitting on hands

Child is Rocking/Sensory Input for Balance and Body

Child is Biting Himself/Sensory Input to Mouth

What To Do If Your Baby Is Flapping Their Arms

When should you worry about hand flapping?

Remember: Arm flapping is not always a reason for concern. Even if your baby is flapping their arms as part of a stimming behavior, you may not need to do anything.

It should be safe to let them continue, unless it is distracting them from play or learning or they are harming themselves or others in the process.

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Autism Stimming: Causes Management And Types

Here are some tips to help autistic children learn how to recognize and regulate emotions :

  • Explain to the child why he/she might be behaving a certain way. This is the first step towards helping him/her understand forms of emotion. Let the child know that others also experience these feelings, but there are ways to overcome them.
  • Understand the childs sensitivities and unique reactions to situations and create an action plan. For example, if the child gets anxious in a noisy room, teach him/her to find a quiet place to calm down.
  • Prepare and inform. When a situation, perhaps a social event, is likely to occur which will cause the child stress, inform him/her beforehand and challenge the child to go through it with the promise of a reward when he/she succeeds.

Why Do Babies Flap Their Arms

Ever wondered why do babies flap their arms?

When your baby becomes more physically expressive, you may see them moving their arms around a lot. This happens majorly when they grow to 2 months.

Babies dont learn emotions inside their mothers womb. They only know how to laugh and cry when they are born.

But as they experience more things, see people around them, and learn new ways of communication. And one among them is hand flapping.

But are you worried about your childs hand flapping? Read this article to know everything about why do babies flap their arms.

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What To Do If Youre Worried

Bishop notes that any parents who are concerned that their children could be displaying symptoms of autism should bring the issue to their pediatrician right away. And more than that they should persist if they are not feeling heard. Their insight is valuable and crucial to diagnosis.

That said, stimming behaviors arent necessarily cause for deep worry. Even for people affected by autism, stimming behaviors tend to decrease with age. Until then, if the behavior is socially disruptive, parents should take a breath.

Theres no reason to panic, Bishop says. What we want to figure out is if the behaviors are related to autism, and then try being sensitive to what the behaviors are providing a child. You can even integrate their interests into other activities.

With early intervention and some patience, stimming behaviors can become less disruptive. So while they are important to watch out for, they are certainly nothing to stress over.

Tips For Reducing Stimming Behaviors

Autism / Asperger Flapping Arms/Hands II

In most cases, stimming is not harmful and does not need to be stopped or suppressed. Karen Wang, author of the book My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities, believes that any stim eliminated by a caregiver is likely to be replaced with a new one.

Despite this, some parents might want to reduce a particular stimming behavior to avoid self injury or help maintain a level of social acceptability. For example, a caregiver might use an autism helmet to prevent a child from injuring him/herself when head banging.

If you are concerned for your childs safety, here are some more ideas for reducing stimming behaviors.

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Habits And Hand Flapping

At this point, you may be thinking, this is great, but my kid hand flaps ALL THE TIME! Not just when theyre excited or anxious. Theres a reason for that.

We all like things that feel good and our kids are no different. Self-soothing behaviors feel good. Especially for our kiddos with autism, habits are quick to form and they can be powerful.

Your child may not be especially excited or anxious in any given moment, but simply likes the feeling of stimming and has made a habit of it.

One of the most important things to note is that, while stimming may be involuntary, 98% of people in the study mentioned above were able to stop on cue. This makes stimming different from tics, seizures, or other involuntary movements we may encounter.

Ok, now that we have our basics covered, were leaving an important piece out of this puzzle. Lets dig more into how the sensory system works and why some kiddos are more prone to hand flapping than others.

Impact Of Stimming On Your Health

Many parents ask how they can help their children to stop stimming behaviors in an effort to help them blend in with their peers. But stimming is very normal, if not widely accepted socially. Instead of asking how to stop the behavior, try asking why your child is engaging in stimming.

Common reasons for people to stim include:

Overstimulation. Stimming helps block out too much sensory input from overstimulation. An example of stemming action is making a âbrrrâ sound with your lips in a place that is too loud.

Understimulation. If a place doesnât have enough sensory input â things to hear or look at â or if you are bored, stimming provides additional sensory input. An example of this type of stimming is clucking in a room that is too quiet.â

Pain reduction. If you fall or bump your arm, your reaction might be to hurt yourself in some other way to take away from that pain. Many children bang their head or body to reduce other sensations of pain. Even though it seems counterproductive, medical professionals believe that this type of stimming may release beta-endorphins that decrease the sensation of pain or provide a sensation of pleasure.

âManagement of emotions. If you suddenly feel happy or sad, it may trigger you to stim. You may flap your hands when youâre happy or begin to bite your nails when youâre upset.

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