Autism Parenting: Why Does My Child Flap His Hands?

Kids with autism have several quirks that non-autistics consider strange. Hand flapping, fixations, and echolalia can be some examples of ASD unique conduct.

Today, we will analyze the reason behind those conducts as well as ways to prevent it.

The Reason Behind Common ASD Conducts and Behaviors

1.- Lack of Eye Contact: A lot of autism is related to sensory deficits. The avoidance of eye contact is no different. When a person is talking, you have to process auditorily, and sometimes that makes it difficult to process visually. So a kid with autism may have to choose to listen to a person or look at them.

Sensory may not always be the reason. Sometimes it can also be a deficit in social skills, which is another hallmark of Autism.

2.- Word Repetition: Echoing speech is a normal part of language development. Echolalia in autism can have one of several purposes, or its purpose can change over time. In some cases, phrases repetition can calm ASD children in stressful situations, or they can memorize a word for self-talk, or they might implement a complete phrase when it’s complicated for them to communicate with their own words. In all cases, echoing is a normal symptom of autism.

3.- Fixation: Fixation is a common characteristic of the behavior of an autistic child. The child may be fixated on a book, a picture, a person, maps, music, numbers, or a movie. Fixations can be a good thing because the child’s brain has finally found a place of function and normality. The old method of taking the fixation away from the child has been replaced with the idea of using the fixation to facilitate learning. If a child is fixated on a certain television cartoon, turn the sound off and let them read through closed captioning what is going on.

If children remember all the words of the program they are fixated on, they will soon begin to associate the words with actual audio sound. Not only does this placate the fixation, but it uses the fixation to stimulate learning in a new medium.

4.- Motor Stereotypies: (also called stereotypic movement disorders or stimming), are rhythmic, repetitive, fixed, predictable, purposeful, but purposeless movements that occur in children who are otherwise developing normally. Examples of primary motor stereotypies are flapping and waving of the arms, hand-flapping, head nodding and rocking back and forth. These conducts are normally an expression of joy, happiness, and excitement. However, it can also point to anxiety, frustration, and overwhelm. These conducts are self-soothing, and reduce anxiety or stress in situations that can be overwhelming for them, helping them regulate their emotions and feel better.

 How Can I Ease Stimming Conducts? 

Always keep in mind that this conducts should never be label as bad behavior, or tantrums. Although there is not a real way to “reduce” or “control” these behaviors, identifying the reasons behind them is a great way to prevent them. Some things to observe when the hand-flapping occurs that may help you determine the cause of it are:

  • Who is around the child?
  • What is the child doing?
  • Where is the child/what is the environment?
  • Is the child exposed to or experiencing known sensory triggers (sights, sounds, smells, movement, all of the above)?
  • What are the demands being placed on the child at the time (transitions, homework, eating, social/play skills, language)?
  • Is this a new scenario or a familiar one for the child?

Evaluating the situations above can be a great way to determine the feeling behind hand flapping. Also, it can be a great way to explain to them to those around you, for example, “He is flapping his hands because he is excited about your visit” or “He is stimming because he needs a break from this activity”. Once you identify patterns you will be able to determine if the hand-flapping is indicative of positive or negative emotion and if it serves the purpose of self-calming or not.

Keep in mind that as with any behavior, the more attention you give to the hand-flapping, the more likely you are to reinforce it. Supporting your child’s emotional health, through the prevention of stressful situations or environments is the best way to help him. 

At WSCC, we offer support for autistic families and their children with Stem Cell Therapy treatments that can transform autistic conditions by healing the gut, decreasing inflammation, and improving brain function. We also created an autistic community on Facebook that is destined to offer support and companionship for ASD parents and their families on their journey.

Remember, you are not alone!