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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.