Effective Treatment Strategies for Stereotypic Movement Disorder

This article will equip readers with a comprehensive understanding of Stereotypic Movement Disorder and offer valuable insights into effective treatment strategies.


Stereotypic movement disorders fall under the category of neurodevelopmental disorders. Neurodevelopmental disorders refer to a collection of mental health conditions that begin during early development, with symptoms manifesting prior to someone starting school. The symptoms are characterized by deficits or abnormalities in terms of brain function that have an influence on the following:

  1. Occupational function
  2. Personal relationships or function
  3. Social function
  4. Academic function

It’s also not uncommon for neurodevelopmental disorders like stereotypic movement disorder to coexist with other neurodevelopmental disorders. It’s important to find treatment for stereotypic movement disorder after a correct diagnosis so that you can work to prevent self-injurious behaviors if a parent uses emerging therapies or innovative techniques as well as lifestyle modifications to manage or reduce the severity of symptoms.

stereotypic movement disorder

Understanding Stereotypic Movement Disorder

Stereotypic movement disorder is diagnosed when an individual meets the following criteria:

  1. They experience repetitive and purposeless motor behavior, for example, hitting their own body, rocking their body, banging their head, biting themselves, and shaking or waving their hands.
  2. They experience repetitive motor behavior, as mentioned above, that interferes with activities like social and academic performance and could result in self-injury.
  3. The onset of repetitive and purposeless motor behaviors begins in early development.
  4. The repetitive motor behavior cannot be attributed to other neurological conditions, mental health disorders, or substance abuse.

Stereotypic movement disorder is characterized by rhythmical movements that don’t have any purpose, usually involving the body, hands, or head. An individual might try to stop these movements but find that they can’t. Sometimes, children exhibit self-restraining behaviors to try and stop the movements, like sitting on their hands to prevent them from shaking or wrapping their arms in their clothes to prevent their arms from hitting themselves.

Children who struggle with a stereotypic movement disorder can have a wide number of repeated behaviors, but each child often manifests with an individually patterned behavior like rotating their hand, flicking their fingers in front of their face, stretching their mouth, rocking their body, poking their eyes, banging their head, biting their nails, among other things.

If you have a child demonstrating these symptoms, it’s important to review all of the options you have for the treatment of stereotypic movement disorder.

Treatment for Stereotypic Movement Disorder

It’s important to find a treatment plan that works for you and your family as soon as possible. This starts with getting a proper diagnosis. Because of the impact that stereotypic movement disorder can have on all areas of function, the sooner a child receives a comprehensive treatment plan, the more likely they are to develop the skills necessary to control some of their symptoms.

Treatment should include:

  • Conventional therapy
  • Education
  • Holistic care
  • Lifestyle adjustments
  • Innovative techniques

Conventional Treatment

In terms of conventional therapy, treatment with medication is not very effective, but behavioral therapy and psychoeducation or occupational therapy as individuals get older can generate much better results. Research demonstrates that behavioral therapy can use a combination of differential reinforcement and awareness to help individuals become more aware of their movements and reduce them.

Even instructional and educational resources for parents and children can provide additional support that families can use in conjunction with the skills taught by a qualified therapist.

stereotypic movement disorder therapy

Emerging Therapies and Innovative Techniques

Stereotypic movement disorder treatment can involve many emerging therapies like transcranial magnetic stimulation. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive form of treatment that has emerging potential across several mental health conditions, especially those related to neurological dysfunction.

There is no anesthesia required and limited to no side effects. It’s a procedure that can be safely completed in an average of 20 minutes per day, several days per week, with results appearing after just a few sessions for most clients.

TMS and Deep brain stimulation (DBS) are both highly useful considerations for the treatment of stereotypic movement disorder because they can penetrate specific regions of the brain associated with abnormalities and dysfunction that result in abnormal movements. This can directly stimulate the region, improve blood flow, and boost brain function whereas other treatments might work on the symptoms rather than the cause.

Holistic Approaches and Lifestyle Modifications

In addition to other stereotypic movement disorder treatment options, there are holistic approaches and lifestyle modifications that can be one part of a comprehensive treatment program.

In terms of lifestyle modifications, there are things that can and should be done depending on the manifestation of the symptoms to keep a child safe from harm. If your child is struggling with symptoms of stereotypic movement disorder, it is imperative to make changes to their living environment or their academic environment so that it’s safer for them and they are not at risk of self-injury.

In addition to that, holistic approaches can’t extend to things like meditation and mindfulness, which complement work done through cognitive behavioral therapy and similar psychotherapy sessions by increasing awareness and, by extension, controlling the symptoms.

Case Studies and Success Stories

With the right treatment for stereotypic movement disorder, individuals can see great success in terms of the frequency, intensity, interference, and number of symptoms.

Studies have confirmed that children who participate in behavioral modification techniques with differential reinforcement and increased awareness of their symptoms still found a reduction in movements one year later.

Moreover, highly motivated parents who participate in treatment for their child can increase the success a child enjoys, with decreased severity and number of stereotypic movements.

Summing Up

Overall, treatment of any neurodevelopmental disorder, including stereotypic movement disorders, is important from a young age. Given the development of stereotypic movement disorder during early childhood, recognizing symptoms, receiving a diagnosis, and starting treatment for stereotypic movement disorder can help control the severity of symptoms and put into place conventional or emerging treatment and lifestyle modifications. It is always best to explore the treatment option that works best for your individual needs.