Stereotypic movement disorder is a condition in which a person makes repetitive, purposeless movements (such as hand waving, body rocking, or head banging). The movements interfere with normal activity or have the potential to cause bodily harm.
Stereotypic movement disorder is more common among boys than girls. The repetitive movements often increase with stress, frustration, and boredom.
The cause of this disorder, when it does not occur with other conditions, is unknown.
Stimulant drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines can cause a severe, short period of stereotypic movement behavior. The behavior may include repetitive and purposeless picking, hand wringing, head tics, or lip-biting. Long-term stimulant use may lead to longer periods of the behavior.
Head injuries may also cause stereotypic movements.
Symptoms of this disorder may include any of the following movements:
Hand shaking or waving
Hitting own body
Mouthing of objects
Exams and Tests
A doctor can usually diagnose this condition with a physical exam. Tests should be done to rule out other potential causes of such behaviors, including:
Treatment should focus on the cause, specific symptoms, and patient's age.
The environment should be changed so that it is safer for patients who cause injury to themselves.
Behavioral techniques and psychotherapy may be helpful.
Medicines may also help reduce symptoms related to this condition. Antidepressants have been used in some cases.
The outlook depends on the cause. Stereotypic movements due to drugs usually go away on their own after a few hours. Long-term use of stimulants can lead to longer periods of stereotypic movement behavior. The movements usually go away once the drug is stopped.
Stereotypic movements due to head injury may be permanent.
The movement problems usually do not progress to other disorders (such as seizures).
Severe stereotypic movements may interfere with normal social functioning.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if your child has repeated, odd movements that last longer than a few hours.
Harris KM, Mahone EM, Singer HS. Nonautistic motor stereotypies: clinical features and longitudinal follow-up. Pediatr Neurol.2008;38:267-272.
Singer HS. Motor stereotypies. Semin Pediatr Neurol. 2009;16:77-81.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.