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Ask Gwen: How to Decrease Hand-Flapping - featured September 14, 2010 - featured September 14, 2010

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Ask Gwen: How to Decrease Hand Flapping

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This article is reprinted with the express permission of the author as it appeared on the Sensational

By: Gwen Wild, OTR/L

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

Gwen’s Answer: 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 SEEKER with regards to 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:
  1. Behavior Analysis – try to figure out 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, flourescent or bright lights, excessive noise or “chaos” in the room, or task demands. Use environmental modifications to try to reduce stressors/behavioral triggers.
  2. Wrist or hand Weights – leave on during times of day when the behavior is the most prevalent. An appropriate length of time would be 20-40 minutes. Amount of weight will depend on size and strength of the client.
  3. Stress ball or theraputty to keep the hands busy.
  4. Permission to wear sunglasses or glasses with anti-glare coating on them (these can be non-prescription lenses).
  5. Permission to wear a baseball hat. This decreases the impact of overhead lighting which can sometimes be a contributor to this type of behavior.
  6. Noise-reduction headphones or 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.
  7. 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 “Forms” tab. Typically, we see decreases in behaviors between 10-40% through the use of sensory strategies. Not a
    “cure,” but definitely worthwhile.

Featured Organization and Author: Gwen Wild, OTR/L and

Gwen Wild, OTR/L, specializes in treating children with sensory processing disorder and autism. She is currently the owner of Sensational Brain ( and the creator of the "BrainWorks" sensory diet tools. She travels nationwide and speaks for Summit Professional Education.

Her seminar is titled "Creating and Implementing Effective Sensory Diets for Children and Teens." She lives in Augusta, Michigan with her husband and their three daughters.

Please support our contributing authors and visit Gwen's site for more information about sensory diets.

Tags: Newsletter Autism Article Sensory Processing Disorder 17 September 2010