“Autism doesn’t have to define a person. Artists with autism are like anyone else:
They define themselves through hard work and individuality.” - Quote by Adrienne Bailon, Artist.
Maria Mody of Vermont’s son Julian was diagnosed with autism at age 2, he is now 10 years. He goes to a school for children with developmental disabilities and behavioral disorders. Julian’s challenges included tantrums and self-injury brought on by any attempts to stop or discourage repeated actions or body movements by his family members or caregiver Ana. As the situation was spiraling out of control, Maria took the help of autism specialists to improve the condition. He has been in therapy for the past 2-3 years and there has been progress with regard to his ‘meltdowns’ and injurious behavior. Of course, it is a long road ahead but things are looking bright for The Mody family.
Julian and some other children living with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) rock themselves back and forth when faced with stressful situations. This is known as Repetitive behavior which is a characteristic feature of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and covers a range of the motor, behavioral or cognitive abnormalities. This means doing something, in the same way, every day such as opening doors or playing with a toy, etc. This may be their way to calm or even occupy themselves. Some more examples of repetitive behavior include flapping hands, jumping, spinning, etc. At times this behavior of repeated actions or body movements leads to confusion between Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and ASDs leading to delayed treatment and misdiagnosis.
There are ways to help in Repetitive Behaviors in Autism. The most important way to help is to seek help early. The longer the child lives with the behaviors and routines, the harder it is to get them to modify the same. Intervene early and also lookout for any new behaviors that emerge with time.
Second, at times the behaviors are the result of discomfort in certain settings/situations such as bright lighting in a room and so on. By making changes in the immediate environment, you could see the difference in the child with regard to repetitive behaviors.
Third, collate a range of enjoyable and calming activities to engage the child/adult when feeling bored or stressed. Modify their environment to make it structured which in turn will reduce the feeling of boredom.
Fourth, develop strategies to manage anxiety in consultation with professionals such as autism counselors and caregivers.
Fifth, you could provide alternative activities that have the same function such as providing swings to those who tend to rock, edible alternatives placed handy for those who have a tendency to put things in their mouth. These edible alternatives could be in the form of fruits, trail mix, nuts, and dry fruits.
The above strategies are of help to many families such as Julian’s. It helped to calm him down and make the life of the family less stressful. You could try them out for your child as part of the overall therapy they are undergoing.