Monday, December 5, 2011

17 Normal Behaviors for an Autistic Child

I don't know who dreads the holidays more: our kids on the spectrum or the parents who have to explain (again) about our children. So, whether you are at the school musical, the church play, or the family get together, here is a little ditty to remind us (lest we compare) and anyone else with crinkly eyebrows and a wrinkled up nose that these behaviors are NORMAL for our kids:

1. Tirelessly Jumping.  On the bed, on the couch, on the trampoline, on the floor.  He's getting a ton of exercise which is great for all children, so provide a safe place for him to jump!
2.  Obsessive Running.  When the child isn't jumping, he is running! He's still getting lots of exercise and having fun, so provide a safe place for him to run!  Isn't half the country complaining kids are too fat?  No complaining here!

from Ashi's Gift
3.  Lining up Toys/Stacking.  Don't we like to have our own things organized?  The autistic mind is constantly filing, memorizing, organizing, seeking, searching.  It is very active and young autistic children are learning how their world works and how they can relate to it best. You can do it too, it's fun and that's alot of quality time together.  Don't tease your child by unorganizing his things.  If you have a therapist who does this, it's time to fire him.

4.  Walking Around Talking.  A cross between self-stimming and echolalia which is important for language development and the processing of information. I typically see this behavior during times of high anxiety, boredom, happiness, or just plain having fun.  Have a time where your child gets to freely talk without being nagged to stop.  

5.  Self-Stimming.  People everywhere comfort themselves. They can read a book, twist their hair, chew gum, chew their pencils, toothpicks, drum their fingers, etc. Likewise, autists have ways to cope with stress too.  It can come in the form of drumming, tapping toys, head-banging ( obviously this can be dangerous.*)  It happens during times of  anxiety, boredom, happiness, or is a great way to have fun.  Have a place and a time where he can self-stim without a parent nagging at him. Stim with him! You may find a hidden talent your child has. 

*note - headbanging can be soothing because of the constant rhythm made.  Try a metronome to see if that sound might have the same effect.  Here is a free one:

from Ashi's Gift

6.  Melting Down.  Like those little Chinese finger torture toys, the more you try to stop it, the worse it gets. So, relax, ride it out calmly and  make sure your child is safe. Some children respond well to being held tightly, others don't.  Our children need us to be strong while they cannot.  If you're out and about over the holidays, just count on at least one happening and remember, they are involuntary.  Getting enough food and sleep can go a long way.  Be aware of transitional changes - either make them smooth or eliminate them.  Be aware of sensory issues and adjust the child's environment accordingly.  

7.  "Regressing".  What may appear to be regressing is probably anxiety.  During periods of high stress your child will go back to doing things you thought he/she no longer did.  Don't panic.  Things will get back to 'normal' again.  Try to discern what is causing the anxiety and either eliminate it or reassure your child ( a million times if necessary!) that things will be okay. 

from Ashi: In a Class all by Myself

8. Problems Socializing.  It is NORMAL for an autistic child to not know how to behave in social situations.  Depending on the severity of autism, these functions can be learned, but it takes time and lots of practice.  So, give your child plenty of SAFE opportunities to learn how to socialize and allow him to make mistakes - alot of them!

Autistic children can have many sensory issues and being forced into social situations can violate every one of those sensory boundaries an autistic child needs to survive in his own skin.  Allowing socialization to happen at the child's own pace is a great way to build confidence, self worth, avoid sensory problems, meltdowns, and really lets your child know that you understand him.  If you're visiting relatives or vice versa, have a room where your child can escape to when he is overwhelmed.  Let his participation, however big or small, be good enough.

9. Hand flapping.   This is common and doesn't hurt anything.  Most likely it will dissipate on it's own if left alone.

from Ashi: In a Class all by Myself
10. Banging Wrists Together.  Pay attention to this, it can mean great distress but the child is unable to get the words out verbally.

11.  Trouble Sleeping.  This is common. Listen to your child to figure out why they cannot sleep.  Is it a fear of the dark? Their fears are very real.  Go to bed with them each night. That's a great time to discuss the day until your child drifts off.

12. Toileting Issues/Bedwetting.  Even a high functioning child may not be fully potty trained until the age of  8 or older, so don't fret.  The best advice I ever read was to have no reaction when accidents happen.  Just clean them up as if nothing has happened. Bedwetting is going to happen.  Just know it and be prepared.  Eliminate drinks after a certain time at night, use the bathroom before bedtime, set your alarm and wake your child in the night for another trip to the bathroom. We have to do our part too in order for success to happen.
from Ashi's Gift

13. Eating Issues.  Many autists have a self-imposed strict diet. If your child is a healthy weight, height, has minimal medical or dental issues, consider letting them have control of what they eat.  For example, my child will only eat chicken nuggets, nuts and raisins, vegetable juices, water.  She will occassionally also eat popcorn and cheesy sandwiches.  She has no medical/dental issues and is a perfect height/weight.  She does not enjoy sweets. I let her be in control of her diet.  It keeps the peace.  A GF/CF diet does not affect her behavior.  It does in some kids, but not all. 

 Ashi's Birthday and Other Dreaded Days
14. Not Wanting to Dress.  Clothing can feel rough or scratchy.  Kids may not be able to operate zippers, buttons, or snaps.  Look for very soft, tagless clothes as well as elastic waistbands.  Remember, our homes are also our children's safe place, so let them be in their undies here if they want! Summer seems to be easiest and season changes are the hardest. 

15. Echolalia.  This is repeating a word, a phrase, an entire Disney movie, sermon heard at church, etc.  It is an important language tool that will help catapult your child's speech and language development, so let it be.  Your child is practicing and figuring out how he relates to language.  Sometimes the words feel good to say over and over again (like a stim). 

If your child is responding to your questions by repeating them, this is good.  He is trying to focus on your question. So, rephrase the question like this, "Would you like a glass of milk, yes or no?"  " Would you like to go to the park, yes or no?"  That helps him focus while allowing him to choose.  Your child will grow out of echolalia, but it's a necessary step to learning speech and language, so no teasing, especially by a therapist.

16.  Spinning.  This is a lot of fun.  Some people think things look neat when your dizzy.  Provide a safe place for spinning!  It's harmless.

17.  Looking out of the Corner of the Eye.  I don't know how to describe this really, but some kids will turn their heads slowly until they can just look at stuff out of the corner of their eyes.  My youngest does this and all I can say is it's fun to see how long something will stay in your vision and then your peripheral vision.  It has been our experience that this was nothing serious; however, with vision, always be sure to check it out with your professional.  Some childen do require vision therapy and I am not qualified to say whether or not your child does. 

from Ashi: In a Class al by Myself
It's not about changing the child.  It is about changing the child's environment so he can be comfortable in life. Our autistic children have value, talent, something to offer the world.  When we give them a safe haven to perfom the behaviors many view as abnormal (although inconvenient is probably more correct), we are validating them as human beings, showing them that we unconditionally love them, understand them and this helps instill self-worth into our children.  Most of these behaviors will reduce or disappear on their own in time, but are necessary for the child's development during the toddler years through the early elementary age.  Attempting to stamp them out does more damage than good. 

Get down on the floor and get involved in your autist's life.  Self-stim with him, line stuff up with him, jump with him, help him obsessively research a new topic he is interested in.  Supply him with the tools he needs in social situations and be there with him. Prepare to be amazed at what a unique, fascinating, super kid you have.  Autistic children are happy kids too! 

Annie Eskeldson has provided all of her children's therapy and homeschooling.  She currently has 3 published children's books about autism including a newly released book just for the holidays, "Ashi's Birthday and Other Dreaded Days" at   

Like your kids, her own autist lived on 4 hours of sleep each night until the age of 5, wasn't completely potty trained until the age of almost 8, didn't speak until after the age of 4, didn't hold a pencil until the age of 6, and was also anti-social until the age of about 6.  She could read at the age of 2, research the Encyclopedia at age 3, finally wore clothes at 4.5, completely navigate a laptop and the internet by the age of 5, began drawing art at the age of 6, is a straight A student, is now a social butterfly at the age of  8, and wants to be a dentist when she grows up.  Yep, she's autistic!


  1. betties29 Added: 05 Dec, 2011 9:51 pm

    Love this i wish i could give this to my son's school and to everyone when we go out to the stores. delete

    betties29 Added: 05 Dec, 2011 9:51 pm

    Love this i wish i could give this to my son's school and to everyone when we go out to the stores. delete

  2. sschell73 Added: 06 Dec, 2011 9:33 am

    This sounds very informative on what parents and professionals should expect. delete

    Debzx Added: 06 Dec, 2011 2:27 am

    I found this helpful even though my Aspie friend is 22! (esp. the bit about social situations). Great article! delete

  3. betties29 Added: 05 Dec, 2011 9:51 pm

    Love this i wish i could give this to my son's school and to everyone when we go out to the stores. delete

  4. Rebecca_mom_of_2 Added: 06 Dec, 2011 8:30 pm

    Agree, great article for all parents with children on the spectrum. delete

    sschell73 Added: 06 Dec, 2011 9:33 am

    This sounds very informative on what parents and professionals should expect. delete

    Debzx Added: 06 Dec, 2011 2:27 am

    I found this helpful even though my Aspie friend is 22! (esp. the bit about social situations). Great article! delete

  5. BarbaraHutch Added: 08 Dec, 2011 1:28 pm

    Couldn't have agreed more with this post. delete

    Claire_radley Added: 07 Dec, 2011 12:54 pm

    I agree, Wendy. Definitely agree... delete

    girlfrommass Added: 07 Dec, 2011 5:30 am

    I wish the world could see our kids through our eyes

  6. Great post. All so true and realistic. delete

    r_savadosh Added: 14 Dec, 2011 6:44 pm

    Hand common. delete

    noelbella Added: 13 Dec, 2011 1:51 pm

    Agree, wish the whole world could see this list delete

    Patsy Added: 09 Dec, 2011 1:11 pm

    "Regressing". Ohhh so familiar

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