Is repetitive behavior harmful?

Recently, a momma asked me about repetitive behavior. She wanted to know why her son watches specific parts of videos over and over again, and what she should do about it.

This is a common concern that many parents have. You may be experiencing the same thing, or something quite similar.

Here are some thoughts on repetitive behavior. First, as long as your child is not harming himself, others, or property and the behavior is not getting in the way of their quality of life, there really isn’t any harm in allowing repetitive behavior in moderation.

How would you feel if someone told you that the one thing you absolutely love doing during your downtime is no longer allowed? For example, I enjoy watching home improvement shows. On the weekends, or when I have some spare time to relax, I like to sit in front of the tube and zone out on the Home and Garden channel. If my husband said to me, “Jen, you really have to stop watching those shows during YOUR downtime,” I would probably get pretty annoyed.

Your child most likely participates in these repetitive behaviors because they are calming, relaxing, and they make him feel good. Repetitively rewinding a video, and replaying it, is a predictable activity where your child knows the outcome. This makes him feel good. In a world where he is probably receiving lots of therapy, and constant demands from adults, having a little control over his own life is a wonderful feeling.

This behavior may also be stimulating for him. He may like to repeat the same activity because it causes him to feel super happy and excited.

If this behavior is getting in the way of your child’s daily functioning, or if he’s becoming so obsessed with it that he melts down when it’s time to stop, try the following strategies:
  1. Figure out the cause of the behavior and observe when it occurs the most. Is it before school, after school, on the weekends, bedtime, etc.? Write all of this down.  Is he trying to disconnect from his long day of school, where he had to hold it together all day long? Is he trying to get stimulated before school, because he woke up feeling really lethargic? Or maybe he’s overwhelmed by something, and needs time to disconnect from the noisy world? He is most likely giving you a clue when he participates in this repetitive behavior.
  2. Once you find a pattern, and figure out what the cause of the behavior is, start putting this activity in his visual schedule. Let him know that he is allowed to rewind and play videos at certain times in his day. Put a time frame around it. Set a timer so that he knows how long he can participate in this activity. When you gain control of the behavior and let your child know the parameters around when he can participate in this activity, you are helping him learn an important life-skill. There is a time and a place for everything. He can watch his videos repetitively for a certain amount of time, and then it is time to move on. This will also help minimize meltdowns, because he knows what to expect.
  3. Participate in this activity with him. Find out what all the fuss is about. Take this time to engage with your child, explore his interests, and have some fun with it. By trying to get into his world, you are opening up many opportunities to connect with him. Even if this means that you have to spin in circles, jump up and down and flap your hands, or watch the same video over and over…try it. Your child will thank you.

 

Does your child participate in repetitive behaviors? What is your usual reaction? Please share below.

For more support and strategies, please be sure to check out our online program, The Autism Solutions Blueprint. There is a section focused on sensory challenges (among 11 other topics), visual tools that you can print out, and video trainings to walk you through how to make your home autism-friendly. You can now pick your price for this program. Click here for more information.

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6 Comments
  • Patricia Shepherd
    Posted at 08:02h, 29 December

    This was REALLY helpful! My son rewinds and fast forwards the DVR a lot when he watches his programs and I never associated the action with him either winding down or as a means of stimulation (kind of like me needing coffee in the morning). And on the days when he doesn’t have a chance to watch TV in the mornings he does have a meltdown. Thnks so much for sharing!

  • Alma
    Posted at 09:38h, 29 December

    my son is obsess with playing on his ipad; at the moment he is hooked on playing roblox and looking at youtube videos. He gets so overwhelm that he can start hitting as a cause to imitate a certain sound in the video he will be watching or the game he is playing.

  • Alicia
    Posted at 13:46h, 29 December

    My son also does the same thing. He’s so obsessed with ROBLOX and YouTube videos. Right now we are obsessed with the Loud house. He gets upset if they are fighting or arguing. He begins to bang and hit things. He’s even broken his iPad a few times. He’s so different from my daughter and nephew who are also on the spectrum.

  • Michael Alessandri
    Posted at 17:18h, 01 March

    Jen, you are always so practical and thoughtful in your advice, and you consistently give parents such comfort. Keep up the inspirational work! Your mentors are watching from afar and we are all so proud of you.

    • Jennifer Lingle
      Posted at 18:59h, 01 March

      Michael! Thank you!!

  • Daniela Chaparro
    Posted at 00:00h, 02 March

    Our child has many repetitive behaviors; some of them interfere with his learning and others don’t. But thankfully, none of them are harmful.. We’ve been working with an amazing ABA team to tackle them and try to redirect him, but it seems that when he drops one of those behaviors (opening and closing drawers, for example), he picks up a new one.
    Coincidentially today, before reading this article, I was thinking that we’re actually taking away from him some of the things that he loves the most and that male him really happy.. It breaks my heart sometimes!
    Maybe it would be a good idea to pick ONE repetitive behavior that we’ll allow during that downtime and just let him be free and enjoy it for a little while! (watching the same pictures or videos over and over for 15 min won’t harm anyone!)
    Thank you so much for the tip!