Stereotypical Behaviors and Self-Stimulation

A young boy presses his ear as a form of self-stimulation.
A young boy presses his ear as a form of self-stimulation.

One very human trait we all share is the need to regulate our sensory nervous system. Sometimes we are very sleepy and need to rouse ourselves, and at other times we need to calm ourselves down.  If we are bored we will look for something to hold our interest, and conversely if we are overly stimulated we will seek a way to tune out some of that sensory information.  What we do at those times is find some way to regulate our response to overly-stimulating situations or boredom.

Frequently this process is referred to in individuals with significant disabilities as “self-stimulation”, “stereotypical behavior”, or “blindisms”. (See Looking at Self-Stimulation in Pursuit of Leisure: I’m Okay, You Have a Mannerism) Individuals who are visually impaired with additional disabilities often demonstrate behaviors like these.  Some of these behaviors are viewed as problem behaviors, and in fact can become that when the individual persists in these behaviors to the exclusion of other activity.

It is not uncommon to see these behaviors occur with children who have significant additional disabilities.  These behaviors can be troublesome, but if we try to remove them often the behaviors escalate.  Sometimes these behaviors can become self-injurious and put the child at risk.  So what can we do?

Dr. Nielsen addressed this concern and in the following videos, Patty Obrzut discusses this issue and how to address it using an Active Learning approach.

Videos on Stereotypical Behaviors and Self-Stimulation

Description: Stereotypical behaviors occur for several reasons. It could be that there’s a lack of opportunity to move to the next developmental level, or it could be a form of communication, or a form of protest. You have to respect that a child’s stereotypical behavior is part of that child’s personality.

Stereotypical Behavior

Description: Providing an Active Learning environment will help to facilitate sensory input for children, so that they don’t have to turn to their own bodies, or self stimulation, to provide sensory input.

Self Stimulation

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