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Autism Spectrum Disorder
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Childhood Mental Disorders and Illnesses

Restricted, Repetitive Patterns of Behavior, Interests or Activities

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Some of the behavioral issues that those with autism spectrum disorder may display include:

Stereotyped or Repetitive Motor Movements, Use of Objects, or Speech. This might include simple motor activities being performed over and over, such as hand flapping or rocking back and forth. Children might also be focused on lining up toys/objects in certain patterns or flipping them around while focusing intently on them. Issues with speech might include a practice known as echolalia. Echolalia is a verbal behavior in which children repeat what they hear over and over and over again. Echolalia is not uncommon behavior in normal language development. However, typically when children echo phrases and words, they do so for a social reason. In contrast, children with autism spectrum disorder repeat phrases, words or whole paragraphs without the intention of interacting or communicating with other people.

Insistence on Sameness/Inflexible Adherence to Routines. Children with autism spectrum disorder typically like things to be done in exactly the same way every time without any modifications or changes. For example, they have to get dressed in the same order each day or the bedtime routine has to be followed or they are unable to go to sleep. They may show extreme distress at even tiny changes to routines. They might need to eat the same foods every day or have their plate arranged in the same way. They also may have very rigid thinking patterns and not be open to the possibility of having a different thought about the topic they are considering.

Highly Restricted, Fixed Interests That Are Abnormal in Intensity or Focus. Children with autism spectrum disorder may have one or two topics that are the only thing they want to talk about or think about. For example, this might be dinosaurs or computers or specific locations. They may show an inability to talk about anything else or "space out" if people aren't engaging with them about that specific topic. They may show a strong attachment or preoccupation with a special object and need to have it with them always. For example, a teenager who has a special toy that they still want to carry around with them.

Hyper- or Hypo Sensitive to Sensory Inputs. Children with ASD may be overly sensitive to sensory elements in their environment (hyper sensitive) or not at all sensitive (hypo sensitive). Hypersensitive children find themselves overloaded with even moderate levels of sensation. They work to block out sensory inputs such as light, sound and touch. Hyposensitive children, on the other hand, are not stimulated enough by normal sensory inputs and typically seek out extra stimulation. To illustrate, children who are hypersensitive to touch sensations may have a tantrum when they are touched. However, hyposensitive children may crave and seek out strong hugs that provide deep pressure. Children with high pain tolerances may injure themselves quite significantly but carry on as though nothing has happened. Oversensitive children may be unable to tolerate simple touches or certain textures.

Issues experienced by those with autism spectrum disorder are varied, complicated and sometimes, confusing. They affect people in important and intense ways. Without intervention and training, they will likely be deprived of the natural ability to physically interact, socialize and communicate with others.