I know it has been a while since I have posted a new blog, but now that the holidays are over it’s time to hit the ground running in the new year.
I thought it would be a good idea to write about stereotypy (stair-ee-ah-tip-ee). Stereotypy is defined as repetitive or ritualistic motor mannerisms or vocal utterances. It is commonly assumed that these types of behaviors are self-stimulating (hence the name stimming or stemming) to one or more of the senses, but unless the individual can tell you why they are engaging in that behavior there is no way of knowing the exact reason. By observing the individual and using the ABC’s of behavior analysis, it is possible to gain some understanding of why the person is engaging in the behavior. Let’s look at an example. If a child has not engaged in any type of visually stimulating activity, then begins flicking their fingers in front of their eyes, and gains visual stimulation from this behavior, it would be a wise to try and provide the child with visual stimulation to see if the behavior reduces.
There are many types of stereotypic behavior. Stereotypy can be described and categorized based on the typography or how the behavior looks.
- Vestibular stereotypy is described as any type of activity that alters an individual’s sense of balance or spatial orientation. This would involve activities like repetitive spinning or rocking the head back and forth.
- Visual stereotypy is described as any type of activity that involves repetitive or irregular visualizations or ocular movements. This would involve activities such as hand flapping in front of eyes, looking out of the corners of the eyes, or watching objects spin.
- Proprioceptive stereotypy is characterized by individuals seeking deep pressure, altering their sense of relative positioning of body parts within themselves. I know this sounds complicated, but its simply individuals engaging in activities such as tensing of the muscles or joints and leaning into objects or others.
- Tactile stereotypy is represented by any activity that alters an individuals sense of touch. This would included activities such as rubbing fingers together or repetitively rubbing/touching a particularly textured object or surface.
- Vocal stereotypy is described as any vocal utterance that an individual repeats in a specific tone, speed, pitch, or volume. This type of stereotypy would involve echolalia (repeating a specific phrase that the individual has heard previously), any type of grunting, or high pitch squeals or squeaks.
- Auditory stereotypy is characterized as any activity that involves listening to sounds repetitively in a specific volume or manner. This would involve holding speakers to ears, repeating parts of songs or videos, or cupping the ear to alter incoming sound.
- Oral motor stereotypy involves any repetitively activity involving the mouth that would be considered irregular. This type of stereotypy involves putting objects in the mouth, grinding teeth, or clicking teeth together.
Mayer-Johnson has a great inventory of sensory items to reduce stereotypy.
I didn’t want to try and list them all because all of the repetitive behaviors that individuals display could essentially be considered different forms of stereotypy. It is important to observe the behavior and try to determine the reason or function for the behavior. Once you have a hypothesis, test it by providing the individual with that function in an appropriate manner. Check to see if the behavior reduces after you have provided what the individual is seeking. This can be a difficult process but it is always worth trying. When we reduce stereotypic behaviors, or only allow them to engage in these behaviors at appropriate times and locations, the individual will be more involved in others and their environment. Thanks for reading and feel free to ask any questions.