- Why Is My Baby Always Rocking?
- 5 Ways That Body Language Can Signal Trouble
- Movement, Coordination, and Your 8- to 12-Month-Old
- Sleep issues: body-rocking, head-rolling and head-banging
- Simple tips to handle body-rocking, head-rolling and head-banging at bedtime
- When to get help for rocking, rolling and banging
Head Banging and Body Rocking
- What is head banging and body rocking?
- Should I be concerned about my child’s head banging and body rocking behaviors?
- What response or protective action should a parent take?
- When should I consult a doctor about head banging and body rocking behaviors?
- Additional Sleep Information and Suggested Readings
- 7 Month Old Baby Milestones
- What to Expect in the Seventh Month
- Unusual Toddler Self-Soothing Behaviors
- Why Do Some Toddlers Engage in Weird Self-Soothing Behaviors?
- What Should You Do About Your Toddler’s Weird Self-Soothing Behaviors?
- Your Toddler’s Weird Self-Soothing Behaviors: When To Be Concerned
- Need Toddler Sleep Help? Take A Look At Our Resources!
- Does your toddler have any weird self-soothing habits? How have you dealt with them? Leave your tips below!
- Need Toddler Sleep Help? We Have the Resources You Need!
- About stimming and autism spectrum disorder
- Why children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder stim
- Helping your child with stimming
- Where to go for help with stimming
- What is stimming?
- Autism and social disconnection in interpersonal rocking
Why Is My Baby Always Rocking?
Q1. My 1-year-old is always rocking – in her highchair or just sitting on the floor. Is there something wrong with her? Or is she just doing this to have fun?
Lots of children love to rock back and forth. Most often this is just normal behavior; however, occasionally it can be associated with specific problems, such as autism. To distinguish between normal rocking and abnormal behavior, you can look at the rocking specifically and your child’s behavior in general. Is your daughter’s rocking playful, or is it machine-like, with your child almost going into a trance-like state? Playful rocking is expected behavior in 1-year-old children. Children will make eye contact with you at times during the rocking, and they usually appear happy or engaged.
General behavioral patterns to look for include your child’s language and social skills. Does she have some language, such as the words “dada” and “mama”? Does your daughter communicate her wants? Does she desire your attention? These are all normal social and language skills for a 1-year-old. If you are uncertain about how to describe the rocking or how to interpret your daughter’s behavior, I suggest you take a video of your daughter rocking and playing to show her pediatrician. Always express any concerns you have about your child’s behavior and development to her pediatrician.
Q2. My daughter is 10 months old and still has a big lump on her right breast. I know that baby girls are born with extra breast tissue at birth, but I am concerned because her breast lump is extremely large and you can easily notice a difference in size between her left and right sides. Please let me know of any tests that I could have her undergo to find out if this lump is just breast tissue or something else.
— Elinol, Massachusetts
You are correct — girls, and sometimes even boys, may be born with extra breast tissue. Some babies may even produce a small amount of milk from their breasts. This comes from the mother’s hormones, which the baby is exposed to while in the womb. After a baby is born and he/she is no longer exposed to high doses of hormones, breast tissue will usually shrink with time, though it can take up to a year. Additionally, one breast may decrease in size faster than the other, which may be what has occurred with your daughter. Breastfed babies may continue to receive hormones from the mother’s milk, which stimulates the breast tissue. Occasionally an infant may have a cyst in the breast that causes enlargement. An infection is another possible cause of swelling in the breast, however the skin would likely appear red, feel warm, and be tender to the touch, which is not what you describe.
I recommend that if you are concerned that the lump may be a cyst and not just breast tissue, you should take your daughter to the pediatrician. The doctor may be able to make a diagnosis just by examining your daughter. If the diagnosis is still unclear, your doctor may recommend she have an ultrasound. Ultrasound does not involve any radiation and is a very safe test that should give you a diagnosis.
Q3. I have a 6-month-old son and there are times during his bottle feeding when he will shake. Do you think this could be a seizure or a neurological problem?
Esther, it is very common for neonates to shake and be “jittery.” As an infant gets older, the shaking usually resolves. Many people worry that the repetitive movements their children make are seizures, however, most are not. There are several features about shaking that are associated with seizures. If the child seems unresponsive during the episodes, there is more concern for a possible seizure. If you are unable to stop the repetitive shaking movement by applying pressure to the shaking limbs, that is also more consistent with a seizure. If your son is happily drinking from his bottle and just has a little shake to his arms, most likely he is just getting used to holding his own bottle and has yet to fully master the skill. Watch closely the next time it happens. I recommend that parents use videotape to record behaviors that concern them and show it to their pediatrician.
Q4. My 18-month-old is always hungry. He eats healthy meals and has two snacks a day. Once he starts eating he doesn’t want to stop; he gets mad and throws a fit when he cleans his plate, wanting more. I give him reasonable helpings of everything. Is this unusual? He only weighs 22 pounds, so he isn’t overweight for his age!
— Nikki, Mississippi
Nikki, this is incredibly common. Children get into all types of food battles. Some refuse food, some continuously want food. As long as your child is growing well and thriving, all of this is likely behavioral.
In general, pediatricians recommend that you try to avoid food battles, but that is more easily said than done. Since your son is not overweight you do not need to be as strict with feeding as some parents. Try to find healthy low-calorie snacks like peas, green beans, or heated chopped vegetables. Children often enjoy feeding themselves these foods and can practice their fine-motor skills and colors at the same time. You might also want to have your son drink some water before meal times and allow liberal drinking of water during meals to help him feel full.
If your son still throws a temper tantrum after what you think is a filling meal, it might be best to just walk away and not respond to his fits for at least a minute. As he quiets down, you can return and give him attention. This is like a little time-out.
The period in which toddlers start asserting their independence can be incredibly difficult for parents. Tantrums are common even at 18 months. Try to give your son less attention when he is having a tantrum so he gets negative reinforcement for the behavior, and provide lots of attention and praise when he transitions well from meal times to other activities.
Q5. My son is now 1 year old, and my breasts are still leaking milk. Why is that, and what can I do about it?
— Laura, Georgia
Milk leakage, called galactorrhea, can have several causes. It quite normally occurs after pregnancy and breastfeeding.
But occasionally, leaking breasts can be a sign of increased secretion of the hormone prolactin from the pituitary gland in the brain, or sometimes the prolactin is even secreted from a small tumor called a microadenoma.
Breast leakage can be a side effect of medication too, such as SSRIs (antidepressant medications), though this rarely increases prolactin levels.
It’s very important for you to distinguish whether your breast leakage is just the normal, post-pregnancy type or whether it’s related to increased prolactin levels.
So see your doctor for an evaluation and to get the appropriate blood tests. If you do have normal, post-pregnancy leakage, there’s unfortunately not much you can do but wait it out.
There is a hormone injection that works for three months at a time and can stop the leakage, but this injection also causes a mini menopause, so it’s really not worth the trouble.
Learn more in the Everyday Health Kids’ Health Center.
5 Ways That Body Language Can Signal Trouble
Nonverbal clues are important in letting us know what people are thinking, feeling, desiring, intending, or even dreading. They also help us to communicate more effectively or be more empathetic. Every day, if we are observant, people will demonstrate behaviors that give us personal insight, whether we are at home, school, or work.
Sometimes we perform behaviors that shout, “I need help,” “I am having a really tough time,” or “Things are truly bad.” These go beyond a dour face or slumped shoulders—these are behaviors indicative of high psychological distress. For the empathetic, these behaviors truly communicate: Here is an opportunity to help.
These behaviors that tend to show up when things are really bad I have come to call reserved behaviors. I call them “reserved” behaviors because they usually only appear at those times when a person is undergoing particularly high psychological discomfort or distress and seems to be in need of comforting.
1. The Freeze Response
The freeze response is the first of the three responses that we evolved to cope with threats. I say first because for hominids and our early ancestors, it can be argued, the primary threat to survival was large felines. (This remains true in parts of Africa and India today, where humans are routinely attacked.)
All cats orient to physical movement, so it made no sense for us to “fight or flight (flee),” as is often said, when facing swifter, more powerful predators on the African savannah. So we evolved to freeze first (to avoid being detected), flee (flight) or distance ourselves second, and lastly, fight if there was no other recourse.
Even today, we continue to see people frozen stiff in the middle of oncoming traffic, seemingly unable to move when dangerously confronted by a car or train. And when we hear a gunshot, we freeze, as videos attest, and hold still when someone walks into a room with a gun. This is all part of our evolutionary heritage.
Likewise, when someone is notified of devastating news, or when a suspect is told there was a witness to the crime, the freeze response often kicks in. As they contemplate that they have been caught and will go to jail, they appear as if flash-frozen in their chair—unmoving, rigid, their hands gripping their own legs or the armrest, as if in an ejector seat (Navarro 2007, 112).
2. Rocking Back and Forth
As I have written here and elsewhere, repetitive behaviors are soothing or pacifying and help us deal with stress. From foot bouncing to finger strumming to twirling strands of hair, they help us pass the time, enjoy a moment, or deal with momentary stress or anxiety.
But the sudden onset of rocking back and forth, almost like a metronome, is reserved for extremely stressful situations—when terrible news has been received or a horrific event has been witnessed. In those cases—I have seen it in adults as well as children—a person seemingly zones out, oblivious to the world or any attempts to communicate as he or she self-soothes by rocking back and forth, sometimes for several minutes.
As renowned author and researcher David Givens points out in his Nonverbal Dictionary, the rocking action back and forth or side to side (think of a mother rocking a baby to sleep) “stimulates the vestibular senses and is therefore soothing” in a very primitive, but effective way.
3. Assuming the Fetal Position
Crushing news or an overwhelming event can cause us to momentarily assume the fetal position as if to protect our ventral (belly) side. This is usually accompanied by the individual turning away or disengaging from those around them. The behavior appears to be reassuring as well as soothing. We know from research that whether you are physically kicked or just hear something hurtful, the pain registers in the same brain areas (principally, the amygdala) and causes similar responses.
This explains why I have seen adults assume the fetal position as if punched in the stomach when notified of something horrific. In one case, a young mother I accompanied to the morgue to identify her daughter collapsed into the fetal position upon seeing her child’s body there.
Interlaced Fingers (Teepee Hands) Source: www.jnforensics.com
4. Stiff Interlaced Fingers (Teepee Hands)
Here is a behavior usually reserved for when people are upset or distraught, or unveiling disquieting information about themselves, about tragic events or difficulties encountered—or when couples are breaking up.
The behavior is performed subconsciously (as are all reserved behaviors) by interlacing stiffened fingers. The hands look like a teepee either held stationary or rubbed back and forth. This is differentiated from the usual palm-on-palm hand rubbing which is a mild a pacifier; teepee hands go further than that (Navarro 2008, 62).
The interlacing of stiffened fingers, I suspect, serves two practical purposes. The stiffening of the fingers indicates a conscious awareness or arousal that there are issues, and the interlacing of fingers causes increased tactile stimulation.
I have seen this behavior many times when individuals must report bad news—something broken, a car accident, intentions to quit a job. Clinicians I have trained confirm seeing this behavior in couples therapy just before, or while, patients/partners explain previously hidden infidelities, improprieties—or a desire to divorce.
Children, like adults, often perform this behavior as they gather up the strength to reveal that they did something wrong, or failed to comply with a task.
One caveat here: Some people do this behavior routinely, and as such, we should note the behavior as simply idiosyncratic and is not as significant as when it appears in other individuals only in extraordinarily stressful situations.
5. Lips Sucked In
Occasionally we see a political or sports figure who has to confront the press over some unsavory episode. In these scenes of public apology, we often see the individual stand before the media, or his or her accusers, and their lips appear to have completely disappeared—dramatically sucked inward.
We originally evolved this “closed mouth-tight lip” reaction, either pursed or otherwise, in response to spoiled or foul-tasting food. Over time, we adapted the closed mouth (tight compressed lips) to deal with negative things we see or hear—this is why when we see flights being canceled at the airport, passengers stand looking at the flight-board with compressed lips. The extreme of this is the sucking in of the lips, a behavior that communicates to others, in real-time, that they are feeling great distress, or they are contrite.
The behaviors described above are a few of the most often observed “reserved behaviors.” There are likely more—such as the sudden covering of the face with both hands when we hear something tragic. But whether performed by adults or children, these behaviors, in particular, can serve to tell you that the person is experiencing something seriously wrong, challenging, awkward, or stressful. They are communicating precisely how they feel, sometimes while overwhelmed, and are struggling with something significant. What a great opportunity to empathetically lend an ear, ask how we may help, listen carefully—or just put our caring arms around them.
Copyright © 2013, Joe Navarro.
Movement, Coordination, and Your 8- to 12-Month-Old
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From scooting to crawling to cruising, babies learn how to get around during these months. So now is the time to childproof your home, if you haven’t already. Be especially careful to gate staircases and block off rooms that you’d rather your baby didn’t explore.
How Is My Baby Moving?
By now your baby is sitting and using his or her hands every so often for support. Once comfortable in this position, your baby will start to turn and reach for objects without falling over. Your baby will also get better at changing positions, and soon figure out how to get into a sitting position, then pull up to stand.
When on the stomach, your baby will learn to push up onto the hands and knees and rock back and forth. This little “exercise” is working the arm and leg muscles, getting your child ready to propel forward (or backward) in an attempt to get moving.
Some babies are better at crawling than others so don’t worry if your child has developed some novel ways of getting around, including rolling, scooting on his or her bottom, or creeping.
As long as your baby is using the arms and legs on both sides of the body and shows an interest in exploring surroundings, there’s usually no reason to be concerned.
Leg muscles have gotten stronger from standing, bouncing, and crawling. Now is the time for your baby to start taking steps while holding on to the couch, coffee table, or other pieces of furniture for balance. This is called “cruising.”
Fine motor and hand–eye coordination also continue to improve during this period. Babies develop the ability to pick up small items. This coordination can range from an awkward raking grasp to a precise finger-to-thumb pincer grasp.
How Can I Encourage My Baby?
Give your baby safe areas to practice moving and many chances to move. Limit the time your baby spends in strollers, cribs, and other equipment that restricts movement.
Put a favorite toy out of reach, and encourage your baby to move toward the desired object.
Encourage walking by letting your baby cruise along the furniture (remove or pad furniture with sharp edges), or hold your baby’s hands while he or she practices. Walking toys with a bar that extends to about chest height on a baby and is attached to a stable, weighted base with wheels also can help your baby practice. The baby holds the bar for support and pushes the toy for movement. You’ll need to supervise this, of course, and make sure stairs are blocked off.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Normal child development tends to follow a certain pattern. The skills that babies develop early serve as building blocks for future skills. Still, the time it takes to develop these skills can vary widely among kids.
Let your doctor know if your child does not:
- crawl, creep, or scoot around
- stand when supported
- use both sides of his or her body equally
- seem to have good control of his or her hands
Not reaching individual milestones doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem. Talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns about your baby’s development.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD Date reviewed: June 2019
Sleep issues: body-rocking, head-rolling and head-banging
It’s common and normal to see young children body-rocking, head-rolling and head-banging at bedtime or during the night. They do it because it’s rhythmic, and it comforts and soothes them.
Your child might:
- get on all fours and rock back and forth, hitting her forehead on the headboard or edges of the cot
- sit in bed and bang her head backwards against the headboard
- lie face down and bang her head and chest into the pillow or mattress
- lie on her back and move her head or body from side to side
- make noises while she’s rocking.
Body-rocking often starts around six months of age. Head-rolling and head-banging usually start at around nine months of age. Most children stop this behaviour by five years, but occasionally it keeps going after this.
Simple tips to handle body-rocking, head-rolling and head-banging at bedtime
If your child is developing well in all other ways, you might decide to put up with the body-rocking, head-rolling or head-banging. This behaviour will eventually go away.
Here are some other ideas that might help:
- Think about how long your child is spending in bed before falling asleep. Too much time awake in bed might result in head-banging and body-rocking.
- Try to pay no attention to the behaviour. Your child might behave this way more if he sees it’s a good way to get your attention or get you to come into the bedroom (even if it’s only to tell him to stop).
- If your child is in a bed, remove bedside tables or other hard surfaces, and move the bed well away from walls. This will help to stop bruising or thickening of your child’s skin in the spot where she bangs her head.
When to get help for rocking, rolling and banging
If this behaviour happens a lot through the night and your child also snores, it’s a good idea to talk with your GP. The GP will check for things that might be disturbing your child’s sleep, like obstructive sleep apnoea.
For some children, body-rocking and head-banging can be particularly intense. This includes children with developmental delay, autism spectrum disorder or blindness. These children are also more likely to rock or bang during the day. For these children, the rocking and banging can be harmful.
If you’re really worried about your child’s rocking or about other areas in your child’s development, talk to your child’s GP or child and family health nurse. It’s a good idea to take a video of the behaviour to show the GP or nurse.
Sometimes children rock, roll and bang their heads more if they’re experiencing some anxiety or stress during the day. But rocking, banging or rolling doesn’t mean your child has an emotional problem.
Head Banging and Body Rocking
What is head banging and body rocking?
Head banging and body rocking are types of rhythmic movement disorder that usually involve some type of repetitive stereotypical whole body or limb rocking, rolling, or head banging behaviors. These behaviors are usually seen in children around naptime and bedtime and may recur after awakenings throughout the night.
- Head banging typically occurs with the child lying face down – banging the head down into a pillow or mattress. In the upright position, the head is banged against the wall or headboard repeatedly.
- Body rocking is typically done with the entire body while on the hands and knees. In the upright position, the upper body may be rocked.
Body rocking and head banging may occur at the same time. Other less common types of rhythmic movement disorders include body rolling, leg banging, and leg rolling. One or two movements can occur every second or two and “episodes” often last up to 15 minutes. Sometimes this may be accompanied by humming or other vocalizations. The movements usually stop if the child is distracted or after sleep is established. Usually, there is no recall (amnesia) upon awakening.
Should I be concerned about my child’s head banging and body rocking behaviors?
If your child is normal and healthy and only shows these behaviors during the night or at naptime, you should not be concerned — these are common ways for children to fall asleep. They are seen in many healthy infants and children beginning at an average of 6-9 months of age. These behaviors typically subside by age 2 or 3 and by age 5 are only still seen in 5 percent of normal, healthy children. These movements tend to occur at the same rate in both girls and boys and may run in families with a history of these movement disorders. Note: Head banging and body rocking behaviors should only be considered a disorder if they markedly interfere with sleep or result in bodily injury. Parents of certain children with other health issues — including developmental delay, neurological or psychological problems, autism spectrum disorder, or those who are blind — will need to be watchful of these behaviors, as they can (though rarely) lead to injury. Of note, rhythmic behaviors in children with health problems may occur both during the day and night.
What response or protective action should a parent take?
Simply keep in mind that head banging and body rocking are normal activities that some children engage in to help with sleep onset. There is not much you need to do, and most children will grow out of this behavior by school age.
There is no real need to put extra pillows or bumpers in the crib–they usually don’t work. Also, don’t forget that by visiting your child while they are doing these activities, you may be reinforcing what may be an attention-seeking behavior. So make sure you are giving your child plenty of attention during the day, and ignore this behavior at night.
As far as your child’s safety is concerned, do make sure the bed or crib they are in is secure–that all the bolts and screws are checked and tightened on a regular basis. If your child is in a bed, put a guardrail up, so he or she does not roll out of bed. You may want to move the bed/crib away from the wall to reduce the noise factor at night.
When should I consult a doctor about head banging and body rocking behaviors?
You may wish to discuss this with your doctor if:
- There is injury associated or you fear there is potential for harm.
- There is a lot of disruption to the home environment due to noisy head banging.
- You feel your child may have other sleep disorders such as snoring and sleep apnea.
- You are concerned about the development of your child.
- You worry your child may be having seizures.
Additional Sleep Information and Suggested Readings
- sleepeducation.org and other educational links at American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
- The National Sleep Foundation.
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7 Month Old Baby Milestones
Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
As your baby gets older, his physical achievements will have a ripple effect on the rest of his development. “The typical developmental charts divided skill areas into separate domains, when in fact they are all very interconnected,” says Claire Lerner, LCSW-C, director of parenting resources at Zero to Three, a national nonprofit focused on infant and toddler development. “It’s not just that the child can sit up; it’s how sitting up allows for the development of skills in other domains as well.”
What to Expect in the Seventh Month
An important 7 month baby milestone: your child should be able to sit up on his own or with some support. “That’s major, because he’ll have the use of his hands to reach out to explore and manipulate things,” Lerner says. Such hands-on activity is beneficial for Baby’s brain. “It encourages cognitive development because that kind of exploration of objects is how children learn,” Lerner explains.
- RELATED: The ABC’s of Baby Brain Development
Your baby’s fine motor skills are also improving, although he still probably won’t have the precise control of the pincer grasp, which comes later. Instead, your little one will probably use his whole palm to reach, grasp, and bang toys together.
Your baby might also test out other new floor moves. “They’re learning to go from sitting to crawling or crouching stance, so parents might see them tipping over, which isn’t a bad thing—they’re just trying to learn,” says Yvette Warren, M.D., a family physician who helped develop Countdown to Growing Up: A Growth and Development Tracker for the National Fatherhood Initiative.
Although some babies are already creeping and crawling this month, others will rock back and forth on their hands and knees as they work toward figuring out how to push themselves forward. But even if these babies haven’t taken off yet, they can roll toward whatever they’re interested in. “Usually, if a child is motoring around a little, it’s to reach a goal,” Lerner says. “They already have a plan at that age—they want to get closer to you or a desired object.”
How to Help Baby Development
Lerner recommends building off the skills your baby already has. If your baby picks up blocks and drops them on the floor, for example, bring over a bucket and show her how to drop them in. “The key is that you’re following the child’s lead,” Lerner says. “You’re being a good observer to see what your child is able to do and how you can encourage her to take the next step.”
- RELATED: 7 Month Old Baby Development
Toy activity panels with knobs, squeaks, and other sensory elements are a big hit with babies this age, Dr. Warren says. But your own living room can also provide plenty of entertainment: Lean your little one against the couch, and put an interesting object nearby to see if she goes for it. If your baby is rocking on all fours, try placing an interesting item just out of reach to tempt her to crawl.
If your child isn’t starting to sit or show interest in exploration, talk to your pediatrician or other trusted child development professional. “At 7 months, not crawling or motoring is still very much in normal limits, as long as your child is making progress,” Lerner says. Also, don’t worry if your baby still needs support to stand. “It’s very rare for 7-month-olds to be able to pull themselves up,” Dr. Warren says.
- By Nicole Sweeney Etter
Small children often rock back and forth. These motions – in which the entire body rhythmically moves or, in some cases, the head thrashes – are pretty common behaviors, says Dr. Leonard B. Pollack, a Henry Ford Health System pediatrician based in Sterling Heights.
If it’s an occasional occurrence, he notes, it’s entirely normal; in rare cases, though, it might be a sign of autism or a related issue.
What it looks like
Body rocking in toddlers can start as early as 6-9 months, the Cleveland Clinic reports, and continue for a few years.
“It’s usually the kid sitting on the floor with his hands on the floor between his legs, literally rocking back to forth,” Pollack says. It can happen standing or sitting, the clinic notes. Sometimes, a child lies down and bangs his head into a pillow or mattress or, if standing upright, against a wall.
“Usually it’s a pretty rapid rocking – every one to two seconds,” Pollack says, and, in most cases, “won’t be more than a few minutes.” Humming and vocal sounds may occur too but, Pollack notes, that “doesn’t really distinguish normal from abnormal.”
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He adds, “It’s relatively brief if kids don’t attract the parents’ attention.”
Why they do it
Attention-grabbing can be one culprit, Pollack explains: “It’s more pronounced if they are very tired or if the child is very bored and nothing is stimulating them.”
Older toddlers “may not want to nap or go to bed, so they could be doing anything to avoid that,” he notes. However, it’s typically not a willful tactic. “If you think of children that age, when they’re doing something intentional, it doesn’t last long. They’re unlikely to stick with anything for a couple of minutes.”
Although kids are generally too young to explain why they’re doing it – and may not even fully realize what they’re doing – body rocking is often benign and ends around age 4. By that point, Pollack says, “They develop other ways of keeping themselves entertained or stimulated.”
How to address it
Trying your best to ignore body rocking episodes is key, Pollack notes, since it’s a common movement for a child.
“Young kids don’t distinguish much between positive parental attention and negative parental attention,” he says. “They just see that ‘mom paid attention to me’ – therefore, they learn that ‘if I do this, I will get mom’s attention.’”
Pollack continues, “As long as it’s within the normal range, the more we ignore it, the quicker it will go away.” Still, pay attention to see if it gets better on its own.
“Discuss it with the child’s physician after getting an idea of how frequently it occurs and if it’s affecting everyday life in a negative way.”
“Certainly, if you have a child so engrossed in doing it that you can’t get his attention,” Pollack says, it could be a bigger issue. In extreme cases, a child body-rocks because he can’t help it.
“It can be an early sign of autism,” Pollack says. “Head banging goes with it sometimes, and it could be a sign of a significant neurological problem.”
Body rocking also can be a result of Rett syndrome, which can cause behaviors like “repetitive hand movements, prolonged toe walking, body rocking and sleep problems,” notes the Autism Research Institute’s website.
But as a general rule, Pollack reminds, staying calm and not making a big deal of standard body rocking in toddlers is the best method. “It isn’t until they get older that they realize not all attention is positive attention,” he says.
Art by Brent Mosser
Let’s be honest for a moment. Our toddlers are cute — no doubt about that! — but sometimes, their behavior is…well…weird.
Picking their noses in public? Drinking the bathwater? Insisting on being naked at all times? Throwing tantrums over the color of their socks?
Yeah…toddlers can be strange little people sometimes!
And speaking of strange — have any of you ever noticed that your toddler sometimes engages in some rather odd self-soothing behavior before naptime or bedtime? Things like banging their heads against the wall, rocking back and forth, or tugging on their hair?
That’s what we’re tackling today. We’ll take a look at some of the unusual, odd, and just flat-out weird self-soothing behaviors that many toddlers try out from time to time. We’ll look at why our toddlers do them, how we can handle it as parents, and when the behaviors themselves become cause for concern.
Unusual Toddler Self-Soothing Behaviors
First, let’s define our terms. What kinds of odd self-soothing behaviors are we talking about? Well, there are many, but here’s a list of some of the most common:
- Head-banging and shaking. This may be the most alarming of all the self-soothing techniques listed here. Some toddlers have a tendency to bang their heads (against the wall, against furniture, against the crib bars, etc.) before naps or bed. Some toddlers will also shake their heads back and forth vigorously.
- Rubbing/stroking body parts. Toddlers may stroke their bellies, their ears, their feet, or other more private parts as they wind down before naptime or bedtime. Some toddlers also become quite fixated on stroking their parents ears, faces, or hands.
- Hair pulling/twisting. Some toddlers yank on or twist their own hair (or their parents’ hair!) as a way to soothe and calm themselves before sleep.
- Body rocking. Some toddlers rock their bodies back and forth (or side to side, or on their hands and knees) during the naptime or bedtime routine.
- Facial, body, or vocal tics. Toddlers may grimace, shrug their shoulders, twitch, make repetitive noises, etc. as they wind down for sleep.
Why Do Some Toddlers Engage in Weird Self-Soothing Behaviors?
There are several answers to this question, honestly. Some toddlers engage in these kinds of behaviors because they aren’t getting enough one-on-one contact with parents or caregivers — so they make up for that lack of cuddling and affection by trying to create it themselves.
For a small percentage of children, these kinds of behaviors indicate deeper, underlying issues, like learning disabilities, ADD-ADHD, or autism. They can also be a sign of Sensory Processing Disorder. We’ll address these more serious problems later on in the article.
However, for many toddlers, these behaviors aren’t an indicator of a serious problem — they’re simply the child’s (odd, weird, strange) way of calming and soothing himself. Why do toddlers find these rather bizarre behaviors soothing? Well, as this flyer from the Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburg points out, repetitive behaviors are thought to help toddlers release tension and extra energy, and act as a calming influence. Toddlers often do these behaviors when they are still full of energy but need to wind down and fall asleep (i.e. before naps and at bedtime). They may also engage in these behaviors during a developmental transition (like potty training) or during a season of transition or stress (like during a move, or during the birth of a new sibling).
What Should You Do About Your Toddler’s Weird Self-Soothing Behaviors?
Honestly, maybe nothing! Drawing lots of attention to these behaviors, or trying to force your child to stop doing them (or punishing your child when she does do them) will only serve to make the behavior worse (and may even make it last longer!) In many cases, you can simply ignore the behaviors, and they will eventually go away (usually by the time the child is 3 or 4.)
If you do want to take steps to minimize these behaviors, consider the following:
- If the behavior is inappropriate (like fondling private parts), then gently let your child know that it’s something they cannot do in front of others, and should do only in the privacy of their room. Make sure not to shame your toddler when you do this, though – you don’t want them to associate their sexuality with shame and guilt later in life.
- If your toddler is banging his head against something hard (like the wall), you can try padding the area where he does most of his banging.
- If your toddler is pulling or twisting her hair (or your hair!), suggest that she tug and twist a doll’s hair, instead, or perhaps tug on and twist a blanket.
- When your toddler starts doing the repetitive behavior, be sure to take the time to offer plenty of cuddling and kisses. If your toddler is old enough to talk with you, you may also want to try asking how he’s feeling, and if anything’s wrong. You could say something like, “I see you’re pulling on your ears – are you feeling worried? Did anything happen today that made you feel bad?”
- Take a hard look at your toddler’s schedule. Toddlers are more likely to engage in these behaviors when they have lots of pent-up energy and are bored. It’s possible that you’re putting your toddler down for a nap too early, or to bed too early. When it’s time for sleep, it’s best if your toddler is a little sleepy (but not overtired).
- Evaluate your family life to determine if there’s anything stressful or new that could be causing your toddler to do these repetitive behaviors. Again, transitions (both big and small) can cause a toddler to feel stressed. If you think something’s stressing your toddler, compensate by offering lots of affection and reassurance.
- Think about how much time you’re spending with your toddler. We’re not trying to make you feel like a bad parent here — not at all! We know our readers take parenting very seriously, and are flat-out awesome moms and dads. 🙂 But even the best mom or dad may be distracted from spending time with their toddler. When you have a newborn at home, for instance, you have less time available for your toddler. Or if you’re starting back to work (or if your current job is keeping you extra busy), you will no doubt miss some time with your little one. If any of these factors are true for you, try to carve out a little extra time with your toddler each day, simply to cuddle and enjoy one another.
Your Toddler’s Weird Self-Soothing Behaviors: When To Be Concerned
While most repetitive behaviors, like the ones we’ve listed above, are perfectly normal for toddlers, in some cases, they may be a sign of a deeper problem — possibly a medical problem. Odd, repetitive behaviors may indicate…
- …Autism. Sometimes, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder become fixated on repeating behaviors again and again.
- …ADD-ADHD. Children with ADD-ADHD may unleash some of their pent-up energy by doing repetitive behaviors.
- …Tourette Syndrome. If a child has an uncontrollable urge to perform a certain action over and over, it can be a sign of Tourette Syndrome. However, most young children are more likely to have something called Transient Tic Disorder — a condition in which they develop a small tic for a period of time.
- …Sensory Processing Disorder. Sensory Processing Disorder can cause children to bang their heads. Toddlers with SPDs often seek out strong sensations like headbanging, rocking, hair pulling, squashing, deep pressure as a way of meeting their sensory needs and calming their nervous system/brain. Consider using a weighted blanket to help.
- …Abuse. Children who are in harsh or abusive situations may be more likely to engage in repetitive behaviors. If your child spends time in a daycare setting, or with other family members in situations where you are not also present, ensure that your child is indeed safe in these settings.
So, how can you know if your toddler’s weird self-soothing behaviors are normal, or are something more? For starters, if your child is actually harming himself (pulling out his hair, banging his head so hard he injures it, pinching or biting himself, etc.), then take action immediately, and visit a healthcare provider. In addition, if your child is withdrawing and spending lots of time alone while doing these behaviors, or if these behaviors are interfering with his ability to interact with other people, seek outside help, as this could be a sign of something serious. Overall, if you have any concerns that your toddler’s repetitive self-soothing behaviors may be a sign of something more, talk to your child’s healthcare provider.
Remember, parents — we are not trying to scare you with this information! Rather, we want to offer you this information so that, if your toddler is doing (or eventually starts doing) any of these repetitive behaviors, you have the facts you need to handle it well and make informed decisions.
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As awareness of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) grows, parents are becoming increasingly vigilant of the signs of the neurodevelopment condition. However, the younger the child, the more subtle the behaviours can be. The average age of ASD diagnosis is four years of age, despite the fact that about half of children with this disorder may be detected by age 14 months. Detecting the signs of ASD as soon as possible is important to start the process of diagnosis and early intervention. Traditionally, parents use checklists like this to monitor their child’s development. However, a visual demonstration can be so much more powerful. To improve recognition of the early signs of ASD among doctors, parents, and early intervention providers, autism researcher Dr. Rebecca Landa of the US Kennedy Krieger Institute has developed this nine-minute video tutorial on ASD behavioral signs in one-year-olds. The video consists of six video clips comparing toddlers who show no signs of ASD to toddlers who show early signs of ASD. For example, there are differences in the ways children with signs of ASD play with toys and respond to adults around them. Each video is presented with voice-over explaining how the specific behaviors exhibited by the child, as they occur on screen, are either indicative of ASD or typical child development. Dr. Landa is the director of the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders. The videos and information presented within this tutorial were obtained through her research, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. If you are concerned about your child’s development, make an appointment with your child’s GP and request a referral to a developmental paeditrician, who can undertake a full screening. More information about seeking an ASD diagnosis is available in our forums. essentialbaby.com.au
About stimming and autism spectrum disorder
Stimming – or self-stimulatory behaviour – is repetitive or unusual body movement or noises.
Many children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) stim and might keep stimming throughout their lives. They use stimming to manipulate their environment to produce stimulation, or because they have trouble with imagination and creativity and can’t think of other things to do, like pretend play.
The amount and type of stimming varies a lot from child to child. For example, some children just have mild hand mannerisms, whereas others spend a lot of time stimming.
Stimming might include:
- hand and finger mannerisms – for example, finger-flicking and hand-flapping
- unusual body movements – for example, rocking back and forth while sitting or standing
- posturing – for example, holding hands or fingers out at an angle or arching the back while sitting
- visual stimulation – for example, looking at something sideways, watching an object spin or fluttering fingers near the eyes
- repetitive behaviour – for example, opening and closing doors or flicking switches
- chewing or mouthing objects
- listening to the same song or noise over and over.
Stimming isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as it doesn’t hurt your child. But some stimming can be ‘self-injurious’ – for example, severe hand-biting.
Stimming can also affect your child’s attention to the outside world, which in turn can affect her ability to learn and communicate with others.
For example, if your child is flicking his fingers near his eyes, he might not be playing with toys so much and not developing his play skills. When he’s older, if he’s absorbed in watching his hands in front of his eyes in the classroom, he’s not engaged with his schoolwork. If he’s pacing around the fence in the playground, he’s missing valuable social opportunities.
We all use stimming sometimes. For example, some children suck their thumbs or twirl their hair for comfort, and others jiggle their legs while they’re working on a difficult problem or task. You might pace up and down if you’re anxious, or fiddle with a pen in a boring meeting.
Why children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder stim
Stimming might happen because children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are:
- oversensitive to the world around them – stimming can calm them down because it lets them focus on just one thing and takes away some of the sensory overload
- undersensitive to their surroundings – stimming like hand-flapping or finger-flicking can stimulate their ‘underactive’ senses
- anxious – stimming might calm them down and reduce anxiety by focusing their attention on the stim or by producing a calming change in their bodies
- excited – some children with ASD might flap their hands when they’re excited. They sometimes flap for a long time when they’re excited, or flap, squeal and jump up and down at the same time.
Helping your child with stimming
Stimming often reduces as your child develops more skills and finds other ways to deal with sensitivity, understimulation or anxiety.
But there are also several things you can do to help your child with stimming.
Changing the environment
If your child finds the environment too stimulating, she might need a quiet place to go, or just one activity or toy to focus on at a time.
If your child needs more stimulation, he might benefit from music playing in the background, a variety of toys and textures, or extra playtime outside.
Some schools have ‘sensory rooms’ for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who need extra stimulation. There might be equipment children can bounce on, swing on or spin around on, materials they can squish their hands into, and visually stimulating toys.
Working on anxiety
If you watch when and how much your child is stimming, you might be able to work out whether she’s stimming because she’s anxious. Then you can look at your child’s anxiety and its causes.
For example, is there something new or changed in your child’s environment? Preparing your child for new situations and teaching him new skills to deal with things that make him anxious can reduce stimming.
Encouraging physical activity
Physical activity might reduce stimming by getting your child engaged with others and keeping her occupied. After exercise, children can often focus better on their work. If your child is engaged in her work, there’s less motivation to stim. You could try short sessions of physical activity throughout the day, to break up other activities.
Using behaviour strategies
You could try these behaviour techniques to help your child with stimming:
- Reward your child if he stops stimming when you ask, and reward him when he’s not stimming. Rewards might include a sticker, or time to play with a favourite toy. The stim itself can be used as a reward for doing something else that’s positive. Stims can be great motivators.
- Let your child stim after she does something that you’ve asked her to do. If you gradually build in more tasks before allowing your child to stim, stimming will gradually reduce and be replaced with more appropriate behaviour.
- Teach your child that there’s a time and place for stimming. For example, you might say that after school is the time, and his bedroom is the place.
Where to go for help with stimming
Occupational therapists can help you tackle your child’s stimming and help your child learn play skills. A psychologist, an experienced Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) practitioner, a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst® or another professional who’s skilled in using behaviour interventions might also be able to help.
If your child’s behaviour is causing her harm or hurting other people, speak to your child’s paediatrician.
There’s a wide range of therapies and interventions for children with ASD listed in our Parent Guide to Therapies. Each guide gives an overview of the therapy, what research says about it, and the approximate time and costs involved in using it.
What is stimming?
Share on PinterestOccupational or behavioral therapy may help manage or prevent stimming behaviors.
Stimming is a behavior displayed by autistic people who employ it as a coping mechanism for particular emotions.
Stimming is thought to provide a pleasurable sensation and taking it away abruptly could have adverse effects and is not recommended.
To reduce the intensity and frequency of stimming, or even to stop the behavior, experts recommend slowly replacing the behaviors with others that are safer or more acceptable.
The replacement behaviors should also provide the person with the same pleasurable, stimulating, or calming experience.
- placing the hands in the pockets or gentle finger tapping instead of hand flapping
- chewing or biting a safe rubber object instead of fingers or an arm
There are other ways of managing or reducing stimming behaviors. These methods may include:
Certain medications used in autistic people may be able to reduce stimming behaviors.
However, some of these medications have side effects. People should discuss the risks and the benefits of medication with their doctor.
How these medications control stimming is not fully understood. But, experts think that they may provide arousal or decrease motor movements.
Occupational and behavioral therapy
Certain behavioral or occupational therapies may help autistic people reduce or stop stimming behaviors. Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is a method of treating autism through a system of reward-giving.
In some cases, occupational therapy may be helpful. It may be recommended to help develop the appropriate responses to certain senses, such as sound and sight.
Speaking with a qualified healthcare professional will be helpful to work out what recommendations are most appropriate.
Environment modification and practice
Share on PinterestIf environmental factors that cause stimming cannot be managed, finding more appropriate alternatives to stimming behavior may help.
If there is a known trigger that begins or worsens stimming, it may be helpful to try to remove or alter the situation to reduce anxiety and stress.
For example, if large crowds tend to make a person anxious and their stimming behaviors increase, they could try keeping to less crowded environments when possible.
If it is impossible to stop stimming entirely, it may be possible to change the activity to something more appropriate.
For example, if a child flaps their hands when stressed or anxious, encouraging them to squeeze a stress ball or a soft toy rather than waving their arms about may be a more appropriate option.
It may even be possible to encourage the person to do the repetitive behavior only when they are in a safe environment, such as in their home or the home of a loved one.
With the current advances in therapies for autism, families do not have to face these challenges alone. Speaking to a doctor or another health professional can help determine the best method to address stimming.
A defining characteristic of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) involves impairments in connecting with others, including impaired verbal and non-verbal communication, and lack of imitation and social reciprocity (APA, 2000). Early accounts of explaining such deficits seemed to partition off such deficits from perceptuo-motoric problems that also frequently occur (i.e., unusual attention processes, poor praxis and balance, and difficulty coordinating perception with action, and one limb with another; see Bhat et al., 2011), focusing instead on cognitive or motivational accounts of the social deficits. Because many social abilities such as pretend play with others can involve complex skills (e.g., joint attention, joint action, and understanding of intentions), it has been suggested that children with ASD might have a theory of mind deficit (Baron-Cohen et al., 1985; Rogers and Pennington, 1991; Williams et al., 2004). Although embodied simulation accounts that arose from research on mirror neuron processes (Rizzolatti and Craighero, 2004; Williams et al., 2004; Oberman et al., 2005) seem to give credence to theory of mind accounts, empirical evidence has failed to corroborate the role of deficiencies in these processes in the emergence of social deficits (Carpenter et al., 2001; Sebanz et al., 2005).
An adequate theoretical grounding of ASD sociality deficits is urgent in light of the increasing numbers of children being diagnosed with ASD, and the considerable resources being employed in autism interventions. Such research might have significant implications for whether the current dominant theoretical framework for developing interventions for children with ASD should continue to focus exclusively on social, cognitive, and communication skills or whether new approaches might fruitfully be added that focus on the development of a better perceptuo-motor grounding in the social world. Since communication requires movement and timing, it may well be that motoric difficulties link in crucial ways to being socially connected with others (Gernsbacher et al., 2008). In the current study, we examine whether low-level motoric processes that occur normally during social interaction—the tendency to synchronize the incidental movements of our bodies with others—is deficient in children with ASD.
Our perspective to understanding potential synchrony deficits in children with ASD starts with the assumption that humans are grounded in an environment that includes others (e.g., Marsh, 2010; Semin and Echterhoff, 2010), and that even trivial non-goal-directed movements are foundational for allowing us to be embedded in that world, to be of the world rather than standing apart from it. Crucial to a sense of connection to one’s world (non-social or social) is first the ability to be able to entrain perceptually—to be able to follow and track the world. If sensory systems operate in such a way that rhythms of the world flow unexpectedly fast or slow, that one does not have sensory systems properly attuned to detect and thus synchronize with the flow of information at the proper rate, it could be uncomfortable, frightening, frustrating, or excessively arousing, which could ultimately lead one to shut off from such excessive or unpredictable stimulation.
There is substantial evidence that sensory and visual perception (e.g., timing) processes can be disrupted in children with ASD (Grossberg and Seidman, 2006). Coordination between an individual with ASD and an environmental rhythm has been examined (Gepner et al., 1995; Gepner and Mestre, 2002a,b). Typically-developing (TD) children show spontaneous entrainment of their postural sway motions to oscillatory stimuli presented on a screen; children with ASD did not exhibit such spontaneous coupling. Adults with Asperger syndrome have also been found to show impaired performance on tapping tasks that involve timing their movements to auditory stimuli (Gowen and Miall, 2005). Additionally, general deficits in motion perception have been found in children with ASD (Gepner et al., 2005; Milne et al., 2005).
As evidence from research on postural sway suggests, perceptual responses to the world are often reflected in one’s movements. However, even if perceptual and visual timing systems are intact but individuals are motorically unable to be embedded in the world, and cannot properly partake in the rhythms of the world by moving their own bodies to pace themselves to it, it would be like catching a merry-go-round when we cannot run fast enough to jump on. If our bodies do not work in the regular rhythmic and symmetrical patterns that are signatures of normal rhythmic behavior (Schmidt and Richardson, 2008), a crucial and necessary condition for social connection is missing. We have hypothesized that a minimal condition for becoming a social synergy with others—a coordinated perception-action system with another (Marsh et al., 2006)—is that one is pulled into the natural orbit of another’s movement rhythms—responsive to the speed of their movement and pulled to move in ways that match them temporally.
A Gibsonian ecological theory of perception (Gibson, 1979) and a dynamical systems approach to action (Warren, 2006) both posit that action is crucial for learning properly about the world, about the flow of the world, and our relationship to that world. For instance, developing proper perceptual attunement to the visual cliff comes with having crawled sufficiently to experience the optic flow in connection with our movement. Children who develop new physical capabilities encounter new possibilities for action, or affordances, particularly social affordances (Campos et al., 2000; Karasik et al., 2012). From an ecological and dynamical perspective, a child would have increased difficulty in properly developing new skills to be embedded and situated in the world, if motoric processes were off kilter.
There is substantial evidence that motoric deficiencies are often common in children with ASD. These can include fine and gross motor coordination, postural control and balance deficiencies, as well generalized difficulties performing gestures and complex movement sequences, along with bilateral arm coordination difficulties (Henderson and Sugden, 1992; Ghaziuddin et al., 1994; Ghaziuddin and Butler, 1998; Minshew et al., 2004; Jansiewicz et al., 2006; Mostofsky et al., 2006; Isenhower et al., 2012). Severity of ASD has also been linked to deficiencies synchronizing one’s gestures with one’s speech (de Marchena and Eigsti, 2010). Recent narrative (Bhat et al., 2011) and meta-analytic reviews (Fournier et al., 2010) of the pervasiveness of motoric difficulties in ASD suggest that motoric coordination deficits might be considered cardinal features of ASD. If perceptuo-motor deficits are integral to the social deficits of children with ASD such as deficiencies in imitation, in joint attention, and engaging in physical cooperative or verbal communication tasks (turn-taking and reciprocity) that reflect joint action (e.g., Baron-Cohen, 1989; Williams et al., 2004; Kelley et al., 2006), what might be reasonable tasks for beginning to look at such links? Many of these social tasks can require a high level of complex coordination involving attention (e.g., gaze), gesture and other complex behaviors, as well as the production of words in cognitive demanding circumstances (e.g., verbalizing thoughts). Moreover, focusing on motoric skills in the context of overtly social tasks requires that the task be one for which the child has adequate interest. Otherwise, if motoric deficiencies occur in the course of performing such a task, one could falsely assume that because the child does not perform the correct motoric behavior, they are not able to do so even if social interest was sufficient (Kinsbourne and Helt, 2011).
In the current paper, we focus instead on understanding the more minimal conditions that are involved in social responsiveness, focusing not on goal-directed action and all of the challenges (e.g., adequate interest in the goals) that such tasks require, but instead on inadvertent movement patterns that occur automatically under natural social interactions. An ideal task would be one in which the motoric behavior is not constrained by whether a child has shared overt goals. One approach, for example, has been to look at inadvertent social influence (movement interference) when another person (vs. an environmental stimulus) is moving in a different plane while one rhythmically moves one’s arm back and forth (Gowen et al., 2008). Intriguingly, high functioning adults with ASD showed relatively limited differences in interference patterns, relative to control adults—both groups showed the typical interference effect, enhanced when the stimuli moved in a biological style of motion, and maximally impactful if the stimulus was another person’s arm moving.
Whereas Gowen et al.’s task involved overt, intentional movement in the context of some other stimulus obviously moving congruently or incongruently, in our study we examined spontaneous coordination of less overt, and more incidental movement as it occurs in a social context. Focusing on simple periodic rhythmic movements is useful not only because many important movements (solitary as well as social) involve rhythmic behavior (e.g., walking or clapping), but also because considerable past research provides insight into natural dynamics of interpersonal coordination even when such movements are incidental or irrelevant to goal state (Schmidt and Richardson, 2008). The natural tendency to display such dynamics, we suggest, might be particularly informative about an individual’s foundation for being socially grounded in the environment. In the current study, we use the task of spontaneously synchronizing a rocking chair to that of an adult. We use this task for two reasons. First, rocking in a chair is a natural behavior that is familiar to both children who have ASD and those who do not. Second, unlike many other tasks that may require relatively complex motor skills, or motor skills of some particular type, steadily moving a rocking chair can be achieved equally well using a variety of different methods (e.g., by pushing off with one’s feet, or by merely moving one’s trunk back and forth). A rocking chair is an external prop that can simultaneously amplify and simplify movement.
Although this particular paradigm has not been previously used with children, researchers have demonstrated the usefulness of a social collaborator for improving rhythmic coordination in children. For example, children’s unilateral or bilateral drumming performance can be facilitated by having an adult drum with the child (Kirschner and Tomasello, 2009; Kleinspehn-Ammerlahn et al., 2011). We hypothesize that if deficiencies in the interpersonal coordination of rhythmic incidental movements occur in ASD, it may provide a window into understanding some of the minimal underlying motoric dynamic deficiencies that might restrain a child from being solidly grounded in a social world. Moreover, research with adults importantly links such interpersonal synchrony to creation of social bonds and increased susceptibility to others’ influence (e.g., Hove and Risen, 2009; Miles et al., 2009; Wiltermuth and Heath, 2009; Wiltermuth, 2012).
To examine interpersonal synchrony, in the current study an adult was asked to rock at a set rhythm and children’s tendency to spontaneously rock in synchrony with the adult was assessed. The synchronization model we use here is one proposed by Haken et al. (1985; HKB model) for understanding rhythmic interlimb coordination. Its modeling of the entrainment dynamics of coupled oscillators (Kugler and Turvey, 1987; Kelso, 1995) has provided an important framework for studying rhythmic coordination in adults (cf. Turvey, 1990; Amazeen et al., 1998) and children (Fitzpatrick et al., 1996; Robertson, 2001; Lantero and Ringenbach, 2007). Moreover, the model applies to both the coordination of limb movements within individuals as well as the coupling of different individuals’ movements, under circumstances involving both intentional (Schmidt et al., 1990, 1998) as well as spontaneous (Schmidt and O’Brien, 1997; Richardson et al., 2005) conditions. For example, the model has been used to explain the spontaneous rocking coordination of pairs of adults in studies purportedly about rocking chair ergonomics (Richardson et al., 2007).
In the rocking chair paradigm used with adults, participants are merely asked to focus their attention on their partner’s chair while each rocks at their own individual pace. Sensors tracking participants’ chair movements during brief trials (e.g., 90 s) reveal that participants spontaneously synchronize rocking in a symmetrical state called in-phase behavior. In-phase rocking means that both individuals are at their maximum point forward (or backward) in their rocking cycle relative to each other (i.e., they are at 0° relative phase). Spontaneous synchrony in adults is evidenced by in-phase rocking at rates above 11% of a trial, with the lower range of synchronous states (e.g., 20% of a trial) occurring during spontaneous synchrony while participants are simultaneously engaged in a filler task such as mentally rehearsing memory words or forming impressions of a picture (Demos et al., 2012). When the cover story of the experiment (e.g., “rocking chair ergonomics”) does not necessitate participants doing a simultaneous task, rates of in-phase behavior can be substantially higher (e.g., 45%, Richardson et al., 2007).
In the current study we extended the rocking chair paradigm to children by assessing rocking behavior during a natural interaction with their caregiver. We predicted that children without ASD would show significantly more in-phase rocking behavior than children with ASD.