As of yet, there is no established pharmacological treatment for primary motor stereotypies, however behavioral therapy (habit reversal) has been shown to be helpful. There has been little research in normally developing (nonautistic) children. Dr. Harvey Singer, director of the pediatric neurology division at Johns Hopkins, is currently conducting several studies with the goal of one day developing an effective treatment.
So far behavior therapy (habit reversal) has been the most effective treatment for primary motor stereotypies. There is some evidence that children who exhibit physiologic stereotypies (including hand or arm flapping, waving, clenching and head bobbing) can learn how to stop the behavior once they recognize that they’re doing it.
Behavior therapy teaches children to stop their movement. With the help of a behavioral psychologist, children are taught to recognize the presence of their repetitive behaviors. As they become more aware of their behavior, they learn how to stop.
Habit reversal training may also involve teaching a child to substitute the repetitive movement with another behavior (movement or nothing at all).
It’s possible that for some children a combination of different behavioral approaches may be effective, including relaxation therapy, education, and discussion about things that cause excitement or stress for the child.
Make an appointment:
Johns Hopkins works closely with several behavioral psychologists who offer therapy to children age 7 and up. Contact Tina Kline at 410-955-4259 for more information on how to get an appointment.
To date, drugs have not proven to be an effective treatment for primary motor stereotypies and are rarely prescribed. There have been no formal studies on drug treatments in normally developing children. Studies of drug treatments for stereotypies in autistic and developmentally disabled children have been inconsistent. Future studies designed to investigate newer potential medications are planned and are being developed.
Current brain imaging in affected individuals and neurochemical measurements in animal models seek to better understand the alterations underlying the movement abnormalities in the brain. The hope is that this research will one day lead to clinical trials for new and effective drug treatments.