Hand Flapping: Why is my child with autism behaving this way? | Autism & Behavior Management: ASD Self-Stimulatory Behaviors ​ | 1:1 ABA Therapy Program — Autism Partnership Singapore

Behavior Management: Why is my child with autism behaving this way e.g. hand flapping?

The challenging behavior presented by children with autism can be a concern for many families.. These could be in the form of tantrums, meltdowns, and non-compliance. It could also be self-stimulatory behaviors such as high-pitched screaming, insistence on following a fixed routine, or repeatedly throwing things on the floor. Sometimes, families find it challenging to pinpoint the reason behind these challenging behaviors.

Having to manage challenging behaviors is often stressful for families, especially when in public. In some cases, families may choose to give in to the child to avoid them being upset.

Unfortunately, giving in to the child is not a long-term solution and only serves to reinforce the challenging behavior, making it more difficult to change in the future.

Identifying the reason behind the behavior is the first step to effectively tackling the challenging behavior. Only when we accurately pinpoint the reason, will we be able to teach appropriate replacement skills and reduce challenging behavior.


So what are the different reasons for the occurrence of challenging behavior? Research indicates that both desirable and challenging behaviors are learned and maintained by the environment (Cooper, 2007). The different reasons are namely:

Oftentimes, a specific behaviour could be occurring due to multiple reasons. Take the example of a child who engages in hand flapping…

The primary reason for hand flapping may be to provide self-stimulation as the child enjoys the sensation. A secondary reason could be to reduce frustration and stress when presented with corrective feedback, when in a chaotic situation, or when an unpreferred task is presented. In this case, hand flapping would help the child to self-soothe or block out the source of frustration. A third reason could be that engaging in hand flapping often results in a big reaction from the people around the child, which may be reinforcing for him or her. As you can see, there may be a variety of reasons why a behavior may occur, and they would require different treatment approaches based on the reason.


Why is my child with autism flapping his hand?

Now that we know the different possible reasons behind the occurrence of challenging behavior, let’s look at how we can go about identifying the reason behind your child’s challenging behavior. We would need to look at the events that typically occur right before and immediately after the occurrence of the challenging behavior. Let’s use the example of hand flapping again:

It is important to note that the event may not always happen immediately before the challenging behavior. Hence, it is recommended to track several events that occur before the challenging behavior. Once a pattern can be established over a period of time, we can then derive the function of the behavior. That would then allow us to develop appropriate strategies to tackle the challenging behavior. View the graph below to find out more plausible patterns that can cause a child to engage in challenging behaviors.


Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.