Flapping or Jumping? Tips for Disruptive Behavior

Flapping or Jumping? Also known as extraneous movements, this behavior can be disruptive but it’s not uncommon among individuals with autism or sensory processing challenges.

First, let’s understand why the behavior may be occurring. For most of us, we are able to process incoming sensory information, interpret it and then respond with an appropriate motor response. For example, if I hear my name called (auditory), I will look up. If I feel something hot (touch), I will pull my hand away. If I lose my sense of balance (motion), I will re-right myself.

But some individuals have a diminished sensory filter, overloading them with too much sensory information at once. They may hear the buzzing from overhead lights or be unable to filter out all the voices on the school bus.

In these instances, flapping or jumping is how their body copes with the sensory overload, filtering through movement. Most of us can relate. For example, if I were to make the room too hot or too cold for you now, you might start to fidget or tap your leg to express that discomfort.  That is a more subtle expression than hand flapping or jumping around, but the origin is the same.

Though flapping and jumping are not always disruptive, there are times when it’s not appropriate. Or sometimes the behavior becomes so pleasurable that the brain gets into a kind of a loop, so we want to offer alternatives to break the repetition.

Flapping or Jumping? Tips for Disruptive Behavior

One solution is to offer a different input. For example, redirecting the use of the hands to water, putty or a soft material may help to refocus the attention with a different hand activity. To offset the flapping, try offering a fidget in their hands, art, handwriting, cooking or even a sensory bin.

Also try a stimulus to a different sensory channel such as a chewy for the mouth, aromatherapy for smell, a swing for movement.

A cognitive activity can be helpful too, such as singing a song, counting by 5s, catching a ball or reading out loud.

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Movement is also a phenomenal filter. Though it may seem like they are getting it already with jumping, make sure there is enough activity throughout the day. A good sensory diet and sensory environments may offset their need to jump or flap at inappropriate times.

Remember to be patient, try implementing one solution at a time and keep track of each solution’s effectiveness.

Lastly, be a good observer. Notice when the extraneous movements are worse or better and trust your instincts. Often the best solutions are offered from the heart.

1 year ago by 9

9 thoughts on “Flapping or Jumping? Tips for Disruptive Behavior

  1. My 6 year old grandson adds screaming to his excessive movements. He gets amped up even after laborious activity TG Y like bike rides & running. No doubt his senses are overloaded but it seems like he always has extra zip in his endurance.

    • My 5 year old daughter is the same. We do heavy work in an effort to calm her and it seems to increase her activity. She is a screamer as well and I would love some suggestions. It seems to be worse in the evenings as everyone is winding down.

      • Some ideas might be heavy hand work such as chores, baking, cleaning and so forth. Be sure to encourage and reward her efforts. You may also try some strategies that calm such as using a hammock swing or weighted blanket. Please feel free to call us at fun and function to discuss further.

  2. My 9.5 year old son seems to flap his hands a lot when over stimulated by what’s going on around him…or something he is thinking about. A lot of times he flaps when getting really excited…playing ,watching or thinking about a video game he is really into. What can i do to help him control the hand flapping when in school and outside in social situations? So that it’s not so distracting and disruptive to others around..or to himself. He has fidget spinners but don’t always use them…they are not allowed in the classrooms anymore. He needs something to help him control his body and find other ways to get that swimming energy out in certain situations. Another thing…. he doesn’t even realize he is stimming when he does it sometimes…it’s just automatic. Anyway…any tips, hints and advise would greatly be appreciated. Thank you! 🙂

    • Also.. he tends to put his hand in his mouth, rub at his eyes and nose a lot too..it’s become a pretty bad habit lately…almost like another stim…what can we do to help him cut back on this behavior? Thanks again! 🙂

    • I understand the concern. Consider some other filters for sensory stimulation such as movement (chair push ups, jumping, rocking, walking, etc) both in and out of the classroom, music, visual stimulation, auditory stimulation, vibration, weight and compression (just to name a few). Some of these may minimize the need to flap. Also say “instead of flapping lets do some pushups” to draw positive attention to a new activity.. Hope this helps to think out of the box:)

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