Understanding and Managing Repetitive Behaviour in Neurodivergent Teens: A Survival Guide for Parents to Help Nurture Positive Change

Share This Post

Did you know that repetition is a common behaviour in many neurodivergent individuals, including those with autism, ADHD, or OCD? This behaviour can manifest in various ways, such as repeating phrases, routines, or actions. While some people may find this behaviour odd or annoying, it serves an important purpose for the individual.

Repetition can provide a sense of predictability, order, and comfort in a world that may seem chaotic or overwhelming to a neurodivergent person. It can also help them regulate their emotions, cope with anxiety, or express themselves in a non-verbal way.

However, this behaviour can also create problems at home or school, especially if others don’t understand or respect it. For example, parents may feel frustrated or embarrassed when their child repeats the same question or activity over and over again, especially if they are in a hurry or need to move on. Similarly, teachers may see repetitive behaviour as a distraction or disruption in the classroom, leading to discipline or exclusion.


Moreover, forcing a neurodivergent individual to stop their repetitive behaviour abruptly or without warning can trigger a meltdown, which is an intense emotional and behavioural reaction that can last for hours and be very distressing for everyone involved.

So, what can parents do to manage repetitive behaviour in their neurodivergent teens without causing meltdowns or damaging their self-esteem? Here are some tips:

  1. Understand the function of the behaviour: Try to figure out why your child is repeating a certain behaviour and what purpose it serves for them. Is it a way to cope with stress, to communicate a need, or to feel in control? Once you understand the function, you can find alternative ways to meet their needs that are more acceptable or less disruptive.
  2. Set clear boundaries: While it’s important to respect your child’s need for repetition, it’s also important to set limits when necessary. For example, you can agree on a specific time or place for the repetitive behaviour, or negotiate a compromise that satisfies both your child’s and your own needs.
  3. Use positive reinforcement: Instead of criticising or punishing your child for their repetitive behaviour, try to reward them for using alternative strategies or making progress towards reducing it. Praise their efforts and acknowledge their achievements, even if they are small.
  4. Seek support: Don’t hesitate to ask for help from professionals, such as therapists, counsellors, or support groups, who have experience in working with neurodivergent individuals and their families. They can offer you guidance, advice, and resources to cope with the challenges and celebrate the strengths of your child.


Understanding the function of repetitive behaviour in neurodivergent teens is critical for parents because it helps them to identify the underlying cause of the behaviour. For many neurodivergent individuals, repetitive behaviour serves a specific purpose, such as providing a sense of predictability, order, or comfort in an unpredictable world. By understanding this, parents can help their teens find alternative ways to meet their needs that are more acceptable or less disruptive.

Patience and compassion are also crucial when managing repetitive behaviour in neurodivergent teens. Repetitive behaviour can be frustrating for parents, especially if it seems to interfere with daily routines or social interactions. However, it’s important to remember that this behaviour is not intentional or malicious, and that it serves an important function for the teen. 

Responding with anger or criticism can lead to a breakdown in communication and further exacerbate the behaviour. Instead, parents can choose to respond with patience, empathy, and understanding, while setting clear boundaries and expectations for behaviour.

By taking the time to understand the function of repetitive behaviour and responding with patience and compassion, parents can help their neurodivergent teens manage their behaviour without causing meltdowns or damaging their self-esteem. They can create a safe and supportive environment that recognises and respects their teen’s unique needs, strengths, and challenges, and help them thrive in a world that may not always understand them.

Remember, every neurodivergent individual is unique and deserves to be respected, understood, and supported in their own way. By embracing neurodiversity and recognizing the value of repetitive behaviour, you can create a more inclusive and compassionate environment for your family and community.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates and learn more about how you can become a #Polyvagalfam

About the author: Yasmin Shaheen-Zaffar

With a passion for improving the emotional wellbeing of young people, adults and parents, she is  the founder and creator of Polyvagal Teen®, she has developed an innovative approach to helping teens recognise and manage stress and anxiety through becoming “Polyvagal Aware”. In addition, Yasmin is also the founder of World Let’s Stop Shouting Day, which aims to promote peaceful communication and reduce conflict and aggression in our daily interactions. Neurosloth™ and The Hearts Whisper®

She also runs a small private practice providing counselling and neurofeedback  to young people and adults in North Yorkshire.

More To Explore

Don`t copy text!


Out March 15th On Amazon

235 page workbook journal £17.99

Join Waitlist

Our Polyvagal World

Join The Conversation: BOOK NOW
Wed. 7th of Feb 2004 7.15PM GMT
Live With Dr Stephen PORGES

Sorry You Missed This Event! Follow Us On Eventbrite To Get Notified Of Future Events!