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Study Suggests Children With Autism Outgrow Repetitive Behaviors as They Get Older

Repetitive behaviors are one of the most traits most commonly associated with autism. However, these traits decrease significantly as children grow older, according to a new study presented at the International Society for Autism Research conference in Montreal this past month.

According to a report by Spectrum News, the study found that restrictive and repetitive behaviors, such as finger-flicking and hand-flapping, decrease significantly in about 75% of children from age 3 to 11. Conducted by researchers at Montreal’s McGill University, the study is the longest yet to examine repetitive behaviors in children with autism.

“These behaviors] tend to decrease,” Valerie Courchesne, a postdoctoral researcher at McGill University who led the study, said. “So it may not be super useful and helpful to try to stop them.”

In conducting the study, Courchesne and her colleagues recruited 421 autistic children enrolled in Pathways in ASD, a study of children with autism in Canada. The children’s parents filled out a questionnaire known as the Repetitive Behavior Scale-Revised, answering questions about their child’s restricted and repetitive behaviors. The children involved in the study were 3.5, 4, 4.5, 6.5, 9 and 11 years old, respectively.

The researchers found that the most significant drop in repetitive behaviors occurred between 3.5 and 6.5 years old. In about 25% of the children, repetitive behaviors increased over time, from approximately 16 types at 3.5 to 20 types at age 11. Other children had around 30 restrictive and repetitive behaviors at 3.5, with the number dropping to about 20 by age 11.

According to Spectrum, Courchesne intends to analyze the children’s behavior by type, to understand whether certain repetitive behaviors are connected with better long-term outcomes than others.


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