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Posted: September 7th, 2023

Early Interventions in Rocking Behaviors of Children With Autism

Early Interventions in Rocking Behaviors of Children With Autism

Rocking is a common form of self-stimulatory behavior (stimming) among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Stimming is a repetitive behavior that involves movements or sounds that can help regulate sensory input, express emotions, or cope with stress. Rocking can be characterized by rocking back and forth on the hands and feet or from side to side. While rocking can have some benefits for children with ASD, such as soothing themselves or blocking out overwhelming stimuli, it can also interfere with their social interaction, learning, and safety. Therefore, early interventions are needed to help children with ASD reduce their rocking behaviors and replace them with more adaptive skills.

Causes and Triggers of Rocking

The exact causes of rocking in children with ASD are not fully understood, but some possible factors include:

– Sensory processing challenges: Children with ASD may have difficulties processing sensory information from their environment, such as sounds, lights, textures, and smells. They may be hypersensitive (over-responsive) or hyposensitive (under-responsive) to certain stimuli. Rocking can help them either block out excessive sensory input or seek more sensory input to stimulate their nervous system (Verywell Health, 2023).
– Emotional regulation difficulties: Children with ASD may have trouble understanding and expressing their own emotions and those of others. They may also struggle to cope with negative emotions, such as anxiety, frustration, anger, or boredom. Rocking can help them calm down, release tension, or communicate their feelings (Autism Some Assembly Required, n.d.).
– Environmental factors: Children with ASD may rock more frequently or intensely in certain situations, such as when they are stressed, excited, tired, or bored. Rocking can also be influenced by the availability of other activities, the presence or absence of other people, or the level of stimulation in the setting (Put Children First, 2022).

Early Intervention Strategies

Early intervention is crucial for children with ASD to help them develop their social, communication, and cognitive skills and reduce their challenging behaviors. Some effective strategies to address rocking behaviors in children with ASD include:

– Functional behavior assessment (FBA): FBA is a process of identifying the function or purpose of a behavior by observing its antecedents (what happens before), consequences (what happens after), and frequency (how often). FBA can help determine the causes and triggers of rocking and design appropriate interventions based on the individual needs of the child (Cooper et al., 2019).
– Differential reinforcement: Differential reinforcement is a technique of reinforcing desirable behaviors and withholding reinforcement for undesirable behaviors. For example, a child who rocks to seek attention can be praised and rewarded for engaging in social interaction and ignored when they rock. A child who rocks to avoid a task can be given a break or a preferred activity after completing the task and denied access to those reinforcers when they rock (Cooper et al., 2019).
– Sensory integration therapy: Sensory integration therapy is a form of occupational therapy that aims to improve the child’s ability to process and respond to sensory information. It involves exposing the child to various sensory stimuli in a controlled environment and helping them adapt their behavior accordingly. For example, a child who rocks to seek sensory input can be provided with alternative sensory activities, such as swinging, bouncing, or playing with textured toys. A child who rocks to block out sensory input can be taught coping skills, such as deep breathing, relaxation techniques, or using headphones (Case-Smith & Arbesman, 2018).
– Social skills training: Social skills training is a form of behavioral therapy that teaches the child how to interact appropriately with others in various situations. It involves modeling, role-playing, feedback, and reinforcement of social behaviors. For example, a child who rocks to express emotions can be taught how to use words, gestures, or facial expressions to communicate their feelings. A child who rocks to avoid social interaction can be taught how to initiate, maintain, and end conversations with peers (Reichow et al., 2016).


Rocking is a common form of stimming among children with ASD that can have both positive and negative effects on their development and well-being. Early interventions are essential to help children with ASD reduce their rocking behaviors and replace them with more adaptive skills. Some effective interventions include functional behavior assessment, differential reinforcement, sensory integration therapy, and social skills training.


Case-Smith J., & Arbesman M. (2018). Systematic review of interventions to improve or preserve occupational performance for individuals with autism spectrum disorder: A focus on sensory integration therapy. American Journal of Occupational Therapy , 72(1), 7201190010.

Cooper J.O., Heron T.E., & Heward W.L. (2019). Applied behavior analysis (3rd ed.). Pearson.

Put Children First. (2022). Rocking: Self-stimulatory behavior in autism spectrum disorders.

Reichow B., Hume K., Barton E.E., & Boyd B.A. (2016). Early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) for young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews , 2016(10), CD009260.

Verywell Health. (2023). What is stimming in autism: Types, causes, and managing.

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