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Treating Patients with Autism in a Dental Setting

Course Number: 402

Stereotypical Behavior

Self-stimulatory behavior is often referred to as “stimming” or “stereotypy” and is stereotypical of autism. It includes repetitive behavior such as rapidly flapping their hands, rocking, repeating phrases or even sounds, moving things in front of their eyes, etc. Self-stimulatory behavior is very common in individuals with autism and is different for each person. It can happen when the individual is bored, overwhelmed, nervous, or happy. It depends on the individual. Self-stimulatory behavior may look very strange to someone who has never been around someone with autism.

Prior to working with the patient, it is useful to find out if the patient engages in stereotypical behavior. If they do, ask what it looks like and how you should respond. If this information is not known and stereotypical behavior is observed during dental work, follow these general guidelines: Unless the behavior is disrupting dental work, do not feel an obligation to stop or change the behavior. However, if it is disrupting dental work, try redirecting the person by showing them another item or giving them something else to do with their hands.