Advice for Child with Stereotypies
February 23, 2007 8:51 PM   Subscribe

My five-year old son has some benign but frequent sterotypies - flapping his hands, jumping in circles, grimacing. He's entering kindergarten this fall, and I'm worried about how this behavior might cause him trouble in the school environment. Any insights and experience from parents, teachers, or people with sterotypies themselves would be extremely helpful.

He makes these gestures when he’s preoccupied or excited, which, since he’s five, is the majority of his waking life. His behavior isn’t disruptive – he’ll sit still when asked – but he does these actions so frequently, and often in lieu of playing with the other kids, that his preschool teachers thought he might be autistic. When we took him to a pediatric neurologist, the doctor said that, besides these stereotypies, he didn’t have any other symptoms of autism (and that he was extremely intelligent and probably bored in school). The doctor didn’t seem concerned by the diagnosis and didn’t recommend any sort of treatment.

So far, we’ve treated this behavior as just “that thing he does.” It doesn’t bother us, and his preschool teachers leave him alone during unstructured playtime. But he’s starting kindergarten in the fall, and I’m worried about how his teachers are going to react to his behavior. Intellectually, he's ready - he's smart as hell, intellectually curious, and, although introverted, adept at social niceties. But he literally can not sit still for longer than a 1/2 hour or so.

As I said, he’ll stop his actions when prompted, but I honestly don’t think he realizes what’s he doing when he starts up. I want him to succeed in school, but I don’t want to get him medicated or segregated or, god forbid, punished. What can I do to help him make this transition to school less stressful for him and his teachers?
(anonymous in anticipation of his eventual self-googling)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My son did the "arm flapping" thing at that age (as well as other characteristics)... He was eventually diagnosed with Asperger's when he was in 5th grade after a very caring and knowledgeable teacher recognized the signs... He's not medicated (not necessary) but I did pull him out of school when it became obvious that the school was more interested in punitive measures for his behavior rather than figuring out how to help him... He's much happier and healthier now... He was (and is) a very eccentric, but wonderful, kid (now a teenager)... And he hasn't lost his group of school friends at all (they are still in his social circle and he sees them regularly)... I would encourage you to have your son tested for Asperger's (but that's just based on my personal experience)... I send you my best wishes.
posted by amyms at 9:29 PM on February 23, 2007

P.S. Just wanted to add that I didn't pull him out of school until 7th grade (the middle school was more interested in making him sit in the hallway when he disrupted the class than in working with me to help him)... I've been homeschooling him with great success for two years now... But, even if your son has Asperger's (or a related diagnosis) he can remain in regular school and have lots of social interaction... Just make sure you are an educated (and vocal) advocate for his needs.
posted by amyms at 9:40 PM on February 23, 2007

ah. having been through this myself, and then going through it with my currently almost 15 year old, i'll start by saying relax. the abnormal aspects of your child's behavior will quickly diminish with the increase of peer presence. he'll be fine. just about every other kid in kindegarden is going to have their own personal spaz moment.

as for the second part: um, yeah, the behavior you describe does *indicate* some aspect of hyperactivity. weather this needs to be treated via medication, etc. remains to be seen. however, medication should be a option reserved for later, when whatever problem your kid has does not respond to your current treatments. mediction is a complicated solution, and shouldn't be taken lightly, and school personnel do not have the ability to fully understand the impications of medicating students. you are the parent: you are much more qualified for that decision. and your peadiatric neurolgost is the best source of info for you at this point. he says no problem, so relax.

and the anon/google aspect: your kid won't care. and by the time he figures his way around a search engine, they'll be lookig up something else that will be a lot more horrifiying.

remember: i'm just some half assed parent who chose to respond tonight.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 9:46 PM on February 23, 2007

upon review: amyms is dead on about being an advocate for your kid's needs. that is crucial.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 9:49 PM on February 23, 2007

I have a child who has some mild social issues. I suggest telling the teacher in advance and relaying what your expected action/reactions are from the teacher when, as or if this becomes a classroom issue.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:50 PM on February 23, 2007

and the anon/google aspect: your kid won't care. and by the time he figures his way around a search engine, they'll be lookig up something else that will be a lot more horrifiying.

lol... So true, lester's sock puppet...

I was paranoid at first about openly discussing my son's condition, but then I realized that I am "hiding" behind a username, and it's more important to be honest and maybe help other parents who are going through the same thing.
posted by amyms at 10:22 PM on February 23, 2007

I was a big arm flapper for quite awhile. Aside from being made fun of gently by friends and family, it didn't really have any affect on me. I suppose somewhere before my teens I was able to reign in my flapping because it didn't really fit in at school.

The best flapping incident would have to be while watching a play of Anne of Green Gables when Anne and her friend get into the raspberry cordial.
posted by ODiV at 11:26 PM on February 23, 2007

So far, we’ve treated this behavior as just “that thing he does.” It doesn’t bother us.

Good. He's a five year old. He's not going to be doing this when he's eighteen, you know.

As I said, he’ll stop his actions when prompted, but I honestly don’t think he realizes what’s he doing when he starts up.

Then do some prompting. The person most capable of changing your child's behavious is you.

but I don’t want to get him medicated

Anyone who suggests such a thing is not acting in the best interests of your son.
posted by Jimbob at 12:20 AM on February 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've done a lot of research on autism and autism spectrum disorders, and seriously, it's like this: your son could have asperger's. or he could have ADHD. or he could have nothing! as users above have noted, everyone coming into kindergarten has their little spaz moments and everyone has their peculiarities.
The point is, you're son's probably just fine. Maybe a little hyper, but that's not at all uncommon these days. But for the small chance that he does have Asperger's/ADHD, you should always get a second (and sometimes third) opinion. Because one doctor can always be wrong, and in the event that he does have one of the above, early treatment can be started and he'll be able to live a normal life later on.
posted by alon at 3:32 AM on February 24, 2007

I am an arm flapper/hand shaker. I do it when I get excited. It feels good, and I don't really realize I'm doing it when I'm doing it. I have managed to reduce it down to finger-rubbing for very public things (like singing) but it's just something I do. All my friends and family know about it and accept it and will tell me when I'm doing it.

I have never been medicated or treated for it because it's not a problem. It never interfered with school (although sometimes I would get excited or distracted while writing or doing homework at home and find that I had stopped working and started flapping). I never had any social problems because of it.

I would say, unless it's associated with other issues like inability to react properly to social cues or it is interfering with his progress at daily activities, let it be (but gently prompt him to stop when it's not appropriate.)
posted by nekton at 5:45 AM on February 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Remember to distinguish between those aspects of his behavior which are problems for him and those aspects of his behavior which are problems for other people.

Be militantly committed not to care about the latter: other people's convenience and other people's discomfort with more sedate (or even more neurotypical) behavior should be none of your concern, as much as the school may try to make it so. This is especially true if the cost of such concern is imposing restrictions or medications on your son.

If this seems a bit Hobbesian to you, don't sweat it. Every kid with special characteristics needs demanding and self-interested parents. You can't be any less relentlessly self-interested than (say) the parents of a prospective baseball star would be if the coach insisted that he bat eighth and play right field in order to give other kids without talent on some specious egalitarian grounds.

Beyond that, the vast majority of this kind of behavior moderates over time. Come fifth or sixth grade, maybe you consider some therapeutic approaches, simply to give him an easier time of it during puberty, and certainly he needs a tool kit by his late teens in order to be able to conform better where there's an actual personal return to him for conformity (in college, on the job market, etc.)
posted by MattD at 6:54 AM on February 24, 2007

You might try video taping him in the act. Play it back and see what he thinks about his actions. Ask for comments. Chances are, if he sees what he is doing, he will probably think better of it. When you see the behavoir in progress remind him of the movie and ask if he really "wants" to do that. It will make him more conscientious without giving him a complex; he will have decided for himself that it is not proper behavior.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:28 AM on February 24, 2007

Lot of kids do this. If the child's not developmentally delayed in some way, chances are he'll just grow out of it.

Also, have you been to kindergarten lately? I tell you what, if I thought that you could line up 30 five-year-olds in neat rows, like church, and have them sit solemnly and listen for 6 hours straight, I'd become a kindergarten teacher myself.

Kindergarten's not like that; they understand that kids need to move around every so often, and a good teacher will have ways of bringing the errant kids into line.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:22 AM on February 24, 2007

But he literally can not sit still for longer than a 1/2 hour or so.

Wow... sounds to me like you have a five year old.

Let me get this straight: your "problem" is that your pre-school son has a "condition" which causes him to express enthusiasm and excitement in a benign physical manner?

Your concern and sensitivty speaks volumes, and you're right to be worried - but your focus, in this case, should be on the other kids and the small-minded adults he'll inevitably encounter. As he grows (it's really not an issue at the age of 5), the behaviour may get reactions from some people. Most of it will be well-meaning, and through that your son will learn to expand his expressions of enthusiasm in to other means - not repress them. When the reactions become extreme, afraid, or hurtful, your job will be to tell him that they are the ones who are wrong - not he.

And you're right to not want to medicate your child, but it saddens me that you felt it had to be mentioned, even in the negative. If you do encounter anyone who seriously wants to medicate your child for being expressive of his emotions and beholden to his naturally mercurial enthusiasms, put at least forty feet between your child and that person. Immediately. And enforce the buffer indefinitely. They are not trying to help either of you.

This is an absolutely crucial time in your kid's life - but not because this is where you and he make the ultimate and final choice between lifelong-social-outcast-due-to-emotive-appendages or Super Focused President of the World. This is where you decide whether you'd like to impart upon your son the importance of thinking of others' opinions before his own at all times, or equip him with the emotional and intellectual tools to resist the efforts of mediocre people seeking to make him a dullard simply for the convenience of the lowest common denominator of a society which is choking the planet with boredom.

Lighten up and let yourself believe that individuality is not a disorder - you won't have an arm-flapping 30 year old son. You'll have a confident and beautiful man who can deal with any situation, including the ones you can't predict - which are precisely the sort that will be in the majority as he grows in to adulthood.
posted by poweredbybeard at 8:49 AM on February 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Everyone except nekton seems trying to reassure you that your kid will stop the arm-flapping, but maybe he won't.

Other people regard the arm-flapping as the problem and are advising you to try to change your son. I think that's misguided.

Your son, like every other child, needs to learn self-awareness and discipline, so should be helped to be conscious of his body and to stop or reduce the arm-flapping for limited periods at appropriate times. But setting a goal of eliminating it entirerly by a certain age may create a battle between you from which neither of you will emerge winners.

I love your priorities, that it's the school that needs to take him into account. I'm not a parent, but I'm pretty sure you can bring your child to school to meet his future teacher in the classroom before school starts and then in another interview express your concerns and ask how the teacher thinks your child will do in the classroom. Keep meeting with the teacher throughout the school year if you feel it's necessary. If your child is unhappy at one particular school you can also change to a different one. (No, not all schools share the same culture. The particular school makes a difference.)

Your child may or may not be anywhere on the autism spectrum, and that may or may not be of any importance, but because he has autism-like flapping behaviours you might gain some insight into social issues by reading blogs by autistic people.

Autism Diva - - has a lot of links to some great self-affirming, child-affirming blogs. No, your child's life will be nothing like theirs. But his arm-flapping overlaps with theirs, and your concerns about future social issues overlaps with their parents'.

Also, what MattD said.
posted by kika at 10:21 AM on February 24, 2007

My son has some of these little tics, and had them much worse when he was 5. We always called it "acting floopy." His main thing was walking in circles, around and around and around. His behaviors were disruptive in preschool, and since he was already reading and doing math a few grades ahead we decided to skip kindergarten (which is not compulsory in our state). We had such a lovely year that we continued with the homeschooling and this is our 7th year.

He was later diagnosed with ADHD and is on meds, which work wonderfully for him. He no longer walks in circles and his tics are much milder, though I think that is a factor of age rather than the medications.

Anyway, homeschooling and pursuing the ADHD issue when he was 7 made a positive difference for my little oddball. YMMV. Good luck, and enjoy your floopy kid!
posted by Biblio at 10:36 AM on February 24, 2007

Oh, I wanted to add that the "acting floopy" thing was a way to label the behaviors in a silly way that was non-pejorative. It was always better to say "hey, you're being floopy" during dinner than to start yelling at him to sit still and stop kicking the table legs.
posted by Biblio at 10:40 AM on February 24, 2007

I work in early childhood special ed and teach children with autism, so we the hand flapping a lot. if you want to decrease the behavior, you need to figure out why its happening a teach your son to do something else instead of the flapping, etc. when he is excited. some squishy toys like spaghetti balls, koosh balls or vibrating toys are a good replacement for some kiddos. small trampolines and swings are also more "appropriate" ways for your son to get the sensory input he needs without looking different from his peers. But in kindergarten, definitely keep the lines of communication open with the teacher and the school!

You may seen the behaviors increase as he starts kindergarten (new enviorment, etc.) but once he learns the schedule and gets used to the routine, chances are the longer day will wear him and out the behavior could stop on its own. Good luck!
posted by enaira at 12:01 PM on February 24, 2007

You might try video taping him in the act.

My older sister videotaped me flapping my arms once. My younger sister and I were doing a sort of living room dance performance for her (to Tom Petty's Zombie Zoo!) and I was flapping like crazy (I was probably about 10, so I hadn't figured out the finger-rubbing thing).

It was embarrassing, but it didn't really affect anything behaviorally.
posted by nekton at 2:47 PM on February 24, 2007

I have 6 yr twins with mild autism. It may depend greatly on your kid's school. 'Odd' behaviours are more common in school class rooms than you might expect. Chances are the other kids won't notice anyway. The teachers may not even notice it. If you don't think your son needs anything different (at this point), then don't worry about it. Personally, I would avoid saying much about this issue to the teacher, since really, there is no issue. If a behaviour works for your kid and doesn't cause any disturbance in the classroom, then I wouldn't interfere.
posted by kch at 9:20 PM on February 24, 2007

I think I might get him tested, and then talk to the school -- about his intelligence. Presenting him as a bright kid and asking "How do we get the best out of him?" is a lot different from presenting him as a kid with behavioural problems.
posted by Idcoytco at 1:20 AM on February 25, 2007

I had never heard of stereotypies before this thread so I wikipedia'd it. Sounds very similar to what a friend described of his childhood experience. He told me he discovered several distracting toys like enaira described. After trying many things, he eventually settled on ballchains (like you can find here or in any hardware store for under a buck) cut into lengths of about a foot or so and made into a bracelet. He called them twiddle chains and would always have one wherever he went, with two or three to spare as backups. He's in his late thirties now and still carries them.

A bunch of people in this thread have mentioned autism/asperger's which reminded me that he said that they were potential reasons suggested for his behavior when he was a child. I really can't think of anyone more loved by his peers. He's one of the most charismatic and social people I know. People just gravitate toward him. I just thought I'd contribute my example because maybe it might help you see your son's behavior as indicative of a potential marker of a gift. My friend adores his parents, by the way.

Interesting (longish, on preview) story about him: He described to me how he would often go home after school and sit in his bathroom, thinking about the day's events and rolling the twiddle chain between his fingers. He said this would lock them into his memory, which remains amazingly expansive to this day. We were out at a bar with some of his friends from grade school (this was when he was in his late twenties) and to demonstrate some aspects of his memory he pointed at one friend and said, "Your phone number in your first house was [whatever it was]. Your brother drove [some model car] with licence plate number [some license plate]. His friend's friend drove [another model car] with [another license plate number] and his phone number was [another number]...," and on he went. It was really fascinating. He wasn't bragging, just explaining what his experience was like. His gift for memory made his ability to tell stories captivating.

Good luck, anonymous. It sounds like your head and your heart are in the right place.
posted by funkiwan at 1:46 PM on February 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

dear anonymous, this is more an observation than an answer, I know, so ymmv.

but i'm assuming you're American, and let me tell you that yours is a very interesting -- if worrying -- question for most of us non-USians: when confronted with America's huge Asperger/ADD/etc plague we realize that either the rest of the industrialized world's children are woefully undermedicated and neglected in their behavior-related "issues", or America is merrily drugging several generation of perfectly normal children to their eyeballs.

sadly, it's either/or. I don't really think there's a third way here.

so, for every American doctor who'd advise medications for your kids, be advised that there are, I'm sure, more than a few American colleagues and certainly thousands of non-USian doctors who'd simply tell you that you have a lively five year old, period.

having said that, I'm not a neurologist, so the American approach to this thing could very well be the correct one, and the rest of the world will realize that later.

or, you know, the other way around.

good luck and give your kid a pat on the head from a distant friend (who, by the way, used to be a rowdy child and is now a perfectly boring adult who likes to read and go to the movies or the opera for fun and whose only hyperactive moments happen, painfully, at the gym).
posted by matteo at 3:01 PM on February 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

« Older Unisex words - why?   |   Major Hair Loss probably from Liptor...please help Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.