QUESTION: Hand Flapping?


A 5th grade student with high-functioning Aspergers has tendency to engage in hand flapping when he has completed a task in class and before the next one has commenced. The concern is that this may draw unwelcomed attention when he transitions to middle school. We have tried substituting heavy work and proprioceptive and tactile options, but, the student reports that hand flapping “works best” for him. I am looking for a substitute strategy that he can choose during these transition times. Any suggestions you have will be greatly appreciated.


Hand flapping is probably just the most convenient for him, since it doesn’t require any equipment or thought. It’s probably also a habit by now. Here are a few suggestions:

* Create a social story about the hand flapping. He needs an awareness that this behavior sets him apart and draws unwelcome attention. Provide alternate strategies in the book.
* Alternate strategies should include heavy work, proprioceptive and tactile options, as you’ve already tried, but also visual ones. Sometimes the primary input provided by hand flapping is a calming form of visual input to help calm down this overstimulated sensory system. If iPods or iPads are accessible to him, allow him to flip through photos on the device for 60 seconds between tasks. Or allowing him to flip through a magazine between tasks. Put several of these options on a choice board and help him get in the habit of referring to the choice board after completion of each task.
* To address the habit, you will most likely need a reward system in place. Maybe something like each time he chooses from the choice board upon activity completion instead of hand flapping he gets a token. The tokens can then be used to “purchase” things like free time, a walk around the building, etc.

I hope this helps! Please let me know if I can be of further help.

Best Wishes,