Hand Flapping: When to Worry

Many people correlate hand flapping with only Autism, however this is not the case. All children could exhibit a hand flapping behavior when they are in a heightened emotional state including when anxious, excited, and/or upset.  Many believe that children with Autism will engage in hand flapping as a self-stimulatory activity, which can be accompanied by other stimming behaviors like rocking and/or spinning. Blog-Hand Flapping-Main-Landscape

Children with autism are often extremely sensitive to specific sensations and sounds that may not effect someone who is not on the spectrum. Environments in which there are multiple sounds, loud noises, and crowds can cause distress for some individuals with and even without autism. Hand flapping is seen as a way to escape the over stimulating sensory input present in the environment.

Other times when hand flapping can be observed in children (both verbal and non-verbal) is when they are trying to express or communicate to others around them. It is viewed as them trying to express that they are: happy, excited, anxious, or angry. In cases like these, families and professionals often feel that hand flapping should not be a concern, stopped, or corrected.

Hand flapping would be something to worry about when and if it impacts a child’s functional daily living ability, for example if it impacts their ability to navigate their environment safely.

NSPT offers services in the Chicagoland Area! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

Strategies to Replace Hand Flapping

As I mentioned in my previous blog, hand flapping behavior from a child can occur for many different reasons and not only in childrengirl stimming with Autism. It is important to keep in mind that every child is unique and reacts to various situations in a different manner as well as with different mannerisms. Children may use hand flapping when they are overly excited, nervous or if they are demonstrating increased fidgeting.

Below are a few strategies which can be used to decrease hand flapping across environments, at home, school, and in the therapy setting:

  • Squeezing a ball or small fidget toy
  • Squeezing “theraputty”, playdough or clay
  • Pressing hands together firmly (in a prayer position)
  • Pressing hands firmly against another person’s hands, such as a long sustained high five
  • Wall push-ups
  • Give self a “bear hug” or ask an adult for a “bear hug”
  • Wash hands or rub-in lotion or hand sanitizer (this will provide deep pressure into the hands and provide increased body awareness as to what your hands are doing)
  • Verbal re-direction from adult (e.g. “It looks like your body is feeling really excited; instead of waving your hands, can you try squishing some putty or give yourself a bear hug?”)

To summarize, it is important to help your child to identify when the hand flapping behavior is occurring and what he/she can do to replace this behavior so that he does not become self-conscious or stand out from his peers. It is also important to provide consistent strategies across different environments so that the child does not become confused. These strategies can become concrete for the child. If you have any concerns regarding hand flapping and your child, please reach out to your occupational therapist to find an individualized plan that will work for you and your entire family.