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