Stereotypes in childhood: types and associated disorders

Sometimes we will have observed how a child performed repetitive behaviors or movements that we will likely have directly related to tics, childhood mania, or attempts to attract attention. And while in some cases this may be the case, in others it may be stereotypes about children.

Throughout this article we will talk about stereotypes in childhoodWe will describe how to identify them, as well as the different classifications, their diagnosis and possible treatments for them.

    What are stereotypes about children?

    Stereotypes or stereotypical movements they are considered a hyperkinetic impairment of movement. In this case, there is an excess of movements or reactions of the limbs and face. Although this disorder can occur at any age, it is quite common in children and can be due to a stereotypical movement disorder.

    In stereotypes about children, these can manifest as semi-voluntary, repetitive and rhythmic movementsSeemingly impulsive or brash and not done for a specific purpose or purpose. Moreover, they are called stereotypical because they always follow a fixed pattern and the child always performs them in the same way.

    These movements include swaying, scratching, poking the nose, bruxism, bumps, throwing objects, repetitive vocalizations, biting lips or fingers, clapping for no reason, or any motor reaction that exhibits always the same pattern.

    To be more precise, stereotypical movements have the following characteristics:

    • They are semi-volunteers, which means they can stop if the person wishes.
    • they are repetitive.
    • They can be rhythmic or in the form of muscle contraction.
    • They have neither goal nor purpose.
    • they are coordinated.
    • They can stop when the person is distracted or begins another task or activity.

    The incidence of this motor disorder of about 3 to 9% of the population between 5 and 8 years old, with a higher incidence in children diagnosed with generalized developmental disorder (TGD), in which it occurs with an incidence of between 40% and 45%.

    In children without any psychological or motor diagnosis, these movements are often performed unconsciously as a means of relieving stress, as well as in times of frustration or boredom.

    Differences from tics and compulsions

    Although at first glance they may appear to be very similar movements, there are some fundamental differences between stereotypical movements, tics, and compulsions.

    In the case of tics, however these are also shown as repetitive movementsContrary to stereotypes, these are completely unintentional, shorter in duration, and in many cases the person does not even realize they are experiencing them.

    On the other hand, compulsions also consist of repetitive movements that require some coordination. However, these yes they have a goal, that of reducing the feelings of anxiety or the discomfort caused by the obsessive thoughts that accompany them.

      When and why do they appear?

      Although it has not yet been possible to determine exactly what is the cause of the emergence of stereotypes in children, there are a number of theories that point to both the possibility of a related psychological or behavioral cause. to the child’s learning, as the probability that there is indeed a neurobiological basis that causes it.

      In any case, the onset of stereotypical movements tends to occur before the child turns 3 years old and must present at least more than 4 weeks before they can be diagnosed as such.

      These semi-voluntary movements are generally more intense during the hours of sleep, when the child feels very stressed, when the level of anxiety increases, When performing any task requiring a lot of concentration, when they are tired or bored or when subjected to sensory isolation.

      As mentioned above, in a large number of cases these movements usually decrease in intensity or disappear when the child begins another activity or task. Knowing this, once the movements have started, parents can try to capture the child’s attention and involve him in a pleasurable task so that in this way the stereotypical movements stop.

      Types of stereotypes in children

      There are different classifications of childhood stereotypes depending on whether or not they are accompanied by other alterations, depending on the number of muscle groups involved or how they manifest themselves.

      1. Primary / secondary stereotypes

      Primary stereotypes are taken into account when they occur in children without any developmental disorder or disorder, while secondary stereotypes occur in children with neurological disorders such as autism, intellectual developmental disorder or sensorimotor deficits.

      Additionally, primary stereotypes, which are not associated with any other alteration, tend to have a better prognosis as they generally tend to fade over time.

      2. Engine / sound stereotypes

      In this second subgroup, stereotypes are divided into motor stereotypes, when they are manifested by movements, or phonic stereotypes in the case of vocalizations or oral sounds.

      3. Simple / complex stereotypes

      Finally, when the child makes simple movements or guttural noises can be classified as simple stereotypes, while in the case of more complex and coordinated movements or activities or vocalizations, we speak of complex stereotypes.

      How can they be diagnosed?

      In cases where the parents or guardians of the child perceive a possible presence of mannerisms, it is recommended go to a specialist who can make the correct diagnosis.

      To do this, a clinical evaluation of the child is carried out by direct observation of the child. However, if in doubt about the diagnosis, a series of physical tests such as electroencephalograms, MRIs or even an assessment can be performed using a series of specialized questionnaires.

      In this way, the possibility that stereotypical movements are part of a larger condition can also be ruled out. such as seizure disorders, OCD or ADHD.

        Is there a treatment?

        In the vast majority of cases of childhood stereotypes, it is not necessary to resort to treatment because, even in the case of secondary stereotypes, these are usually not harmful. In addition, in primary stereotypes, these generally recover over time.

        however, in more serious cases or in which the child has developed self-injurious behaviors or they present a danger, a therapeutic approach can be made either by psychological intervention or by pharmacological treatment.

        When it comes to psychological interventions, there are many specific therapies, such as mechanical restraint therapy or habit reversal, Which have been shown to be very effective in dealing with stereotypical movements.

        Finally, although pharmacological treatment has been shown to have a lower success rate, in some cases drugs such as benzodiazepines, antiepileptics, atypical neuroleptics or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be used. , among others.

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