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Q&A: How to Decrease Hand Flapping?


What do you recommend to decrease hand flapping besides heavy work and deep pressure and verbal cues for “quiet hands” for a sensory seeker?


Hand flapping can be a difficult habit to replace, especially if this is an older child or adult. Another complicating factor is that even if this child is a sensory-CRAVER regarding movement and proprioception, he/she may be an AVOIDER in other sensory areas that could be causing the need to use hand flapping as a form of self-calming. Here are a few more things to try:

  • Behavior analysis: Try to determine what times of day the hand flapping increases and if there are any environmental issues that cause an escalation in the frequency of the behavior. Often, frequency of this type of behavior increases in response to transitions, fluorescent or bright lights, excessive noise or “chaos” in the room, or task demands. Use environmental modifications to try to reduce stressors/behavioral triggers.
  • Wrist or hand weights: Leave them on during times of the day when this behavior is the most prevalent. An appropriate length of time would be 20–40 minutes. The amount of weight depends on the size and strength of the client.
  • Stress ball or Theraputty: Keep the hands busy.
  • Glasses: Get permission to wear sunglasses or glasses with antiglare coating on them (these can be nonprescription lenses).
  • Baseball hat: Get permission to wear a hat. This decreases the impact of overhead lighting, which can sometimes be a contributor to this type of behavior.
  • Headphones: Use noise-reduction headphones or get permission to use an iPod with headphones and preferred music. Sometimes hand flapping will decrease when the noise of the environment is less disturbing to the individual.
  • Data tracking: Since sensory strategies are seldom “cures” for behaviors such as these, data tracking is essential to be able to see what works and what doesn’t. Detailed instructions and forms can be found on this website under the “Free Printalbe Forms” heading. Typically, we see decreases in behaviors between 10–40% through the use of sensory strategies. It ’s not a “cure” but definitely worthwhile.

Keep me posted. I’m always curious to hear results!

Best Wishes,