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Repetitive Behaviors in Kids​: When to Be Concerned

When children are bored or feeling restless, it's not uncommon for them to tap their pencils against their desks repeatedly, whistle or display some form of repetitive behavior that demonstrates their restlessness. However, non-typical repetitive behaviors can also be indicative of an underlying learning disorder, behavioral issue or social deficit. Thus, it's important to know how to recognize the signs of repetitive behaviors that are atypical as they can limit opportunities for socialization and hinder your child from learning. Here are some aspects to consider.

Watch for Signs

Repetitive behaviors are characteristic of a variety of disorders or dysfunctions of brain development, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). There are also various repetitive behaviors that children with learning differences, ADHD, autism, or other mental health conditions or social or behavioral issues display that may be cause for concern, including stimming (self-stimulatory behavior), tapping or fidgeting. For example, children with autism may engage in stimming by flapping their hands, rearranging objects or pulling their hair.
Tapping is a form of stimming that stimulates either a person's sense of touch, sound or hearing. For instance, a child who is bored may engage in finger-tapping, which stimulates his tactile senses. Fidgeting involves making small body movements, such as repeatedly folding and unfolding the arms or shifting the weight of the body. This repetitive behavior is often linked to restlessness and can be indicative of boredom, and is a typical characteristic of children with ADHD.

Know the Difference

Knowing the difference between repetitive behaviors that are typical signs of boredom versus indications of a dysfunction is vital so that you know when to seek help. One way to recognize this abnormality is the consistency in which your child repeats the behavior, such as excessively talking or interrupting others. Self-awareness can also be a way to determine the differences between typical boredom and a dysfunction. For instance, children with a dysfunction may typically be unaware of how disturbing repetitive tapping can be or how flapping hands may not appear welcoming to others and turn them away. Consider that repetitive behaviors, such as stimming and tapping, may be more obvious in children with a dysfunction.
Everyone fidgets, stims or taps at some point when they are bored. But there's a difference between typical signs of boredom and indications of a dysfunction. Thus, it's important to watch for the signs. By being aware of these repetitive behaviors, you can identify dysfunctional patterns that may be signs of a learning difference or disorder and know when to get the help your child may need.

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