3 Ways to Disrupt Repetitive Behaviors

Have you ever wondered why your child wants to listen to the same movie on repeat? While this could just have to do with their preference and enjoyment of the movie and embedding it into a daily routine, children with Autism can display repetitive actions in several forms such as:

  1. Verbal repetition
    1. Echolalia- repeating words or sounds directly after hearing someone use them
    2. Scripting- reciting words, lines or phrases from a variety of media sources or people
  2. Physical repetition
    1. Hand flapping, pacing, repetitive motions
  3. Repetitive play/schedule
    1. Playing with the same toy in the same way, repeating the order of the schedule/play

Parents can often wonder, why is my child so repetitive? Especially if it begins to impede on everyday activities. They may wonder how they can help their child to be able to enjoy other activities and stop the behavior that is disrupting their daily routine. The difficult part about repetition with children with Autism is that there is no answer as to why they enjoy repetition. However, there has been a lot of research done on different techniques that can help to change repetitive behaviors or eliminate them from disrupting. 

Here are some ideas that can help with the disruption: 

  1. Modeling other behaviors
    1. Modeling ways to indicate excitement, play, exercise and social engagement can help your child to understand different ways to engage in activities
  2. Differential reinforcement
    1. Providing reinforcement (social praise, edible, toys, or other highly preferred items) when the child is doing the activity you want them to will increase the likelihood that they will do that in the future
  3. Providing visuals  
    1. Providing visuals to indicate a schedule to help with the transition from repetitive behavior to other activities can provide your child with consistency and aid in decreasing maladaptive behaviors

Using these tools above can help you and your child to have a better understanding of what is appropriate, functional and aid in developing life skills to enhance social, play and physical abilities. 


Below are some research studies done with specific methods used to decrease repetitive behavior: 

Brown, J. L., Krantz, P. J., McClannahan, L. E., & Poulson, C. L. (2008). Using script fading to promote natural environment stimulus control of verbal interactions among youths with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 2(3), 480-497. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2007.08.006 

Charlop-Christy, M. H., & Kelso, S. E. (2003). Teaching children with autism conversational speech using a cue card/written script program. Education and Treatment of Children, 26(2), 108-127.

 Dotto-Fojut, K. M., Reeve, K. F., Townsend, D. B., & Progar, P. R. (2011). Teaching adolescents with autism to describe a problem and request assistance during simulated vocational tasks. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5(2), 826-833. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2010.09.012 

Ganz, J. B., Kaylor, M., Bourgeois, B., & Hadden, K. (2008). The impact of social scripts and visual cues on verbal communication in three children with autism spectrum disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 23(2), 79-94. doi: 10.1177/1088357607311447 

Goldsmith, T. R., LeBlanc, L. A., & Sautter, R. A. (2007). Teaching intraverbal behavior to children with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 1(1), 1-13. 

Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (1993). Teaching children with autism to initiate to peers: Effects of a script-fading procedure. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26(1), 121-132.