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Q&A: Hand Flapping Consequences?


A fifth-grade student with high-functioning Aspergers has a tendency to engage in hand flapping when he has completed a task in class and before the next one has commenced. We are concerned that this may draw unwelcome attention when he transitions to middle school. We have tried substituting heavy work and proprioceptive and tactile options. But his response is that hand flapping “works best” for him. I am looking for a substitute strategy that he can choose during these transition times. We appreciate any suggestions you can provide.


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 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 hand flapping provides a calming form of visual input to help him quiet his 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. You might try letting him 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 it after each task completion.
  • To address the habit, you will most likely need a reward system in place. One suggestion: Each time he chooses from the choice board after completing an activity instead of hand flapping he gets a token. Think about letting him use his tokens to purchase things, such as free time, a walk around the building, and so on.

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

Best Wishes,