Neurodevelopmental movement disorders - an update on childhood motor stereotypies

Sinead Barry, Gillian Baird, Karine Lascelles, Penny Bunton, Tamasine Hedderly

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


AIM The term 'stereotypies' encompasses a diverse range of movements, behaviours, and / or vocalizations that are repetitive, lack clear function, and sometimes appear to have a negative impact upon an individual's life. This review aims to describe motor stereotypies.

METHOD This study reviewed the current literature on the nature, aetiology, and treatment of motor stereotypies.

RESULTS Motor stereotypies occur commonly but not exclusively in autistic spectrum disorders. Similar movements are also found in otherwise healthy children and those suffering sensory impairment, social isolation, or severe intellectual disabilities; they may be persistent over time. Although often difficult, it is possible to define and differentiate stereotypies from other movement disorders such as tics through features of the history, such as earlier onset and examination, together with the presence or absence of associated neurological impairment or developmental difficulties. Co-occurrence with other disorders affecting frontostriatal brain systems, including attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and tic disorders, is common.

INTERPRETATION The underlying function of motor stereotypies remains unclear but may include the maintenance of arousal levels. A neurogenetic aetiology is proposed but requires further study. When treatment is sought, there are both pharmacological and behavioural options. Behavioural treatments for motor stereotypies may in time be shown to be most effective; however, they are difficult to implement in children younger than 7 years old.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)979-985
Number of pages7
JournalDevelopmental Medicine and Child Neurology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


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