Search the Health Library
Get the facts on diseases, conditions, tests and procedures.
I Want To...
I Want To...
Find Research Faculty
Enter the last name, specialty or keyword for your search below.
School of Medicine
I Want to...
Signs and Symptoms
Children with primary motor stereotypies perform repetitive, rhythmic, fixed movements that don’t seem to have a purpose, but are predictable in pattern and location on the body. These movements are involuntary and typically last for seconds to minutes, appear multiple times a day, and are associated with periods of engrossment, excitement, stress, fatigue or boredom. Sometimes they’re misdiagnosed as obsessive-compulsive disorders or tics.
Understandably, motor stereotypies are often a cause of concern for parents. Will your child adapt well in school? Will this just go away? Could these movements be a sign of something more serious? Get answers to frequently asked questions about primary motor stereotypies.
Types and symptoms of primary motor stereotypies:
- Common – As the name suggests, these behaviors are very common and include activities like thumb sucking, nail/lip biting, hair twirling, body rocking, self-biting, teeth clenching/grinding and head banging. Common motor stereotypies are often labeled “habits” and typically fade with age — though research has identified their presence in college students.
- Head nodding – Child nods his head from side to side (“no”), up and down (“yes”), or shoulder to shoulder. The nodding is occasionally accompanied by up-gaze eye deviations or movements of the hands or feet.
- Complex motor – Movements include hand/arm flapping or waving, wiggling fingers in front of the face, rotating or opening and closing the hands, and finger wiggling. Generally a child will simultaneously perform the movement bilaterally (on both the right and left sides). Learn how your child can be part of a clinical study on complex motor stereotypies.
When to see a doctor:
If your child has stereotypic movements without other signs of a developmental disability, it’s very possible that what you’re seeing is a primary motor stereotypy disorder. Either way, we advise that you visit your pediatrician to rule out other causes.
If your child has already been diagnosed with a movement disorder and you would like a second opinion, make an appointment with Johns Hopkins Pediatric Neurology.
Request an Appointment
Pediatric Neurology: 410-955-4259
Already a Patient?
Traveling for Care?
Whether you're crossing the country or the globe, we make it easy to access world-class care at Johns Hopkins.