Strategies to Replace Hand Flapping

As I mentioned in my previous blog, hand flapping behavior from a child can occur for many different reasons and not only in childrengirl stimming with Autism. It is important to keep in mind that every child is unique and reacts to various situations in a different manner as well as with different mannerisms. Children may use hand flapping when they are overly excited, nervous or if they are demonstrating increased fidgeting.

Below are a few strategies which can be used to decrease hand flapping across environments, at home, school, and in the therapy setting:

  • Squeezing a ball or small fidget toy
  • Squeezing “theraputty”, playdough or clay
  • Pressing hands together firmly (in a prayer position)
  • Pressing hands firmly against another person’s hands, such as a long sustained high five
  • Wall push-ups
  • Give self a “bear hug” or ask an adult for a “bear hug”
  • Wash hands or rub-in lotion or hand sanitizer (this will provide deep pressure into the hands and provide increased body awareness as to what your hands are doing)
  • Verbal re-direction from adult (e.g. “It looks like your body is feeling really excited; instead of waving your hands, can you try squishing some putty or give yourself a bear hug?”)

To summarize, it is important to help your child to identify when the hand flapping behavior is occurring and what he/she can do to replace this behavior so that he does not become self-conscious or stand out from his peers. It is also important to provide consistent strategies across different environments so that the child does not become confused. These strategies can become concrete for the child. If you have any concerns regarding hand flapping and your child, please reach out to your occupational therapist to find an individualized plan that will work for you and your entire family.


12 replies
  1. Mayra
    Mayra says:

    Hi, my son (non-autistic) flaps when he is excited. He is in kindergarten and his teachers have mentioned it to me. When we talk about it, he says he likes to do it because he gets excited. From reading research, I have gathered that this should be handled by a professional, but his doctor gives me little input on the subject. It is not a big issue for me, but I fear that as he grows he will eventually get picked on. What type of professional therapy is best for this type of behavior?

  2. Tia
    Tia says:

    Are you aware that the latest studies about stims are showing that it is good for autistics? Here is a link where you can read the published study in Biology Psychology about how stimming actually reduces the stress hormone in autistic individuals Higher levels of this hormones leads to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack stroke…conversely stimming leads to? A not “normal” looking child? I’m just confused as to why we would want autistics not to stim when science is slowly proving what they have been telling us for years. Stimming is a calming mechanism- it is good for their health and good for them.

  3. Jo Ashline
    Jo Ashline says:

    There is nothing wrong with hand flapping. It’s beautiful and expressive and the right of autistic individuals everywhere. It’s society that needs to change, not hand flapping. This isn’t like smoking in public, which has been shown to cause cancer and kill. This isn’t weilding a weapon. Hand flapping is a form of self-regulation and communication and my son with autism is free to flap whenever he wants to. It’s one of my favorite things about him. We truly need to spend more time reframing society instead of trying to change our loved ones on the spectrum.

    • Linda
      Linda says:

      I’m so please to hear you say this, Jo. My nine year old daughter flaps her hands when she is joyfully excited. Sometimes she even stands on one foot and wiggles the other, too. I’ve always seen it as a natural expression of joy for her, and I have no intention of trying to squelch the impulse. People can love her as she is.

  4. Lydia
    Lydia says:

    I’m an autistic adult, and I cannot fathom why you would want to express a child’s expression of any emotion, especially a child who struggles with verbal communication. This is a natural outpouring of what is often joy, much like your natural tendency to smile. What if someone sought to force you to quit smiling when you were happy? Wouldn’t that make you sad? It’s very sad to me that you want to make these kids quit flapping. Stimming is so important in self-calming, expression, and communication!

    • Michelle McGrellis
      Michelle McGrellis says:

      Love this reply! I am a BCBA and I have worked with children with autism for many years and It wasn’t until I had my second son who is neurotypical and now 9 that I truly understood handflapping and body tensing as an expression of emotion. I still struggle internally about him being teased or otherwise ridiculed for the behavior but it hasn’t happened….at least not yet. I truly understand now that this is how he expresses emotion, typically happiness and excitement. His friends accept him for who he is and others question and accept the response they receive. I just hope beyond hope that it continues to be this way as he grows older. Although I am not confident with middle and high school.

  5. Kelly Hafer
    Kelly Hafer says:


    Parent perspective here, so nowhere near as important as an autistic self-advocate’s perspective. BUT, just wondering why the need to replace the flapping? Our kiddos have many “issues” to concern ourselves with, as parents and therapists, but, doggone, flapping? I’ll take flapping any day of the week, frankly. As we know, “all behavior is communication.” So, why would we ever want to stifle our loved one’s voice?

  6. April
    April says:

    The first time I flapped as a kid openly (I inwardly knew flapping was something people would lbalk it because I saw that other people didn’t do it), I was super excited at something my mom said and I flapped without restraint. My mom and sister (my mom honestly had no idea what the behavior meant) good naturedly laughed heartily at me.

    IT BROKE MY HEART. My unrestrained joy was LAUGHED AT.

    I made every effort after that to find ways to hide my stims. For most of my life, I would sneak off to the bathroom to stim, take a trip into a room away from others for a sec (“be there in a minute I’m looking for something”) to stim. I created mostly imperceptible stim alternatives and turned my larger stims into something more “normal” looking.

    When my son first flapped at like seven months I was torn–between the most amazing joy at seeing something so BEAUTIFUL to me and knowing full well how hurtful it would be to have such “open joy.”

    Of his own accord, like me, he has learned to channel his flaps and use them accordingly–but not because of shame. He has seen my many stims and knows they are accepted by his family and friends and that plenty of his classmates at his incredible school share the habit. Just that it can be distracting in certain settings, so in respect for certain settings, we can channel our stims into something less distracting no running around in circles humming during class time, but he can quietly flap if he needs and then during recess he can run to his hearts desire!).

    I still have a difficult time showing my “true” flaps in public. I have conditioned myself so much to hide them always and to be ashamed of them. I hate that about myself, that it’s taking me so long to desensitize myself to how people perceive the flapping. My flaps are just as integral to my person as my ability to verbalize, perceive, and connect with others. Thirty years of hiding my flaps (diagnosed at age 30 with ASD) has made me ashamed of something so beautiful and NORMAL.

    I used to sing a lot as a kid. Probably an annoying amount in retrospect, and I sung with all my heart (and all my lung capacity) in a very small house. My dad used to get SO ANNOYED with me. And I remembered my mom often defending me saying “I’ll take singing anyday, Bill. She could be singing with all her heart or crying with all of her heart. We are lucky that we can hear how HAPPY she is.”

    That’s how I look at my son and stimming.

    He could be melting down and internalizing all of his feelings.

    Instead he openly lives them and advocates for getting his needs met while using them (stims when he’s agitated tell him to tell us he’s overwhelmed. #CommunicationWinWithBehaviorThankYouVeryMuch!)

  7. Barnaby
    Barnaby says:

    Why try to re-direct flapping? Because it is NOT the same as smiling. Because it will make my son an even bigger target for bullying. Because, like it or not, we cannot bend the world to ‘fit’ us.

  8. Tim
    Tim says:

    Im 16 years old i have aspberger’s syndrome I have very obvious handflapping type movements I am able to stop them when going to school and social events but i want to do a 24/7 full stop I have conquered many obstacles but this nagging habit of mine seems like it will be hard to quit and a google search brings very little quitting advice


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Stay tuned for my next blog on strategies to replace hand flapping behaviors. […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *