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By Joseph H Friedman MD

Stereotypies are also known as or subsume Complex repetitive movements. -ed.

Stereotypic behaviors are seen in a number of neurologic and psychiatric conditions, as well as in normal people. They are common in autism, retardation, and psychoses and are present in some dementing disorders. Some are medication induced. Head-banging and rocking behaviors are seen in normal children who outgrow them. They are on a continuum with obsessive compulsive spectrum disorders, the umbrella term now used for tics, hair pulling, and a variety of other repetitive, purposeless behaviors. In this clinical article, Joseph Friedman MD, Director of the Movement Disorders Program at Butler Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island, and Professor in the Department of Neurology at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Rhode Island, reviews these behaviors, and puts them into the context of the various disorders in which they occur. Stereotypies help define some of the autistic disorders. Treatment is discussed briefly.

Key Points

  • Stereotypies are common behaviors present in humans as well as animals, which may or may not reflect pathology.
  • Stereotypies may represent a transient phenomenon in children, but may be associated with a variety of severe neurologic disorders, including specific biochemical disorders such as Rett syndrome and Lesch Nyhan disease, but also in the whole spectrum of autistic disorders.
  • Stereotypic disorders may require intervention, especially when harmful, but often do not. Treatment is highly individualized, involving medications or behavioral interventions and often unsuccessful.