When we think of autism, we often think of difficulty with social interactions, communication, and repetitive behaviors. However, one behavior that is less commonly discussed is excessive blinking. This behavior can be alarming for parents and caregivers, but it is important to understand that excessive blinking is a common trait in children with autism.
What is Excessive Blinking?
Excessive blinking is a repetitive behavior where a child blinks their eyes repeatedly and frequently. This behavior can be voluntary or involuntary and can occur in both eyes or just one. It can be a symptom of several different conditions, ranging from minor eye irritations to more serious neurological disorders.
While excessive blinking can be a common occurrence in children, it is particularly common in children with autism. This is because children with autism often have difficulty processing sensory information, which can result in a range of sensory sensitivities and repetitive behaviors. Other conditions that can cause excessive blinking include Tourette's syndrome, anxiety, and certain medications.
Why Do Children with Autism Blink Excessively?
The exact cause of excessive blinking in children with autism is not fully understood, but there are several theories:
One theory is that excessive blinking is a way for children with autism to self-regulate. It is thought that the repetitive motion of blinking may provide sensory input that helps to calm and soothe the child. This theory is based on the idea that children with autism have difficulty processing sensory information in a typical way, and may seek out repetitive motions as a way to regulate their sensory experiences. For example:
- A child with autism who is feeling overwhelmed by a noisy environment may start blinking rapidly to help block out the noise and focus on their own body sensations.
- A child with autism who is experiencing tactile hypersensitivity may start blinking excessively when they feel an uncomfortable sensation on their skin.
Another theory is that excessive blinking is related to anxiety. Children with autism often experience high levels of anxiety, and excessive blinking may be a coping mechanism to help them deal with this anxiety. This theory suggests that the repetitive motion of blinking may serve as a way for the child to distract themselves from their anxious thoughts or feelings. For instance:
- A child with autism who is anxious about social interactions may start blinking excessively when faced with a new social situation as a way to manage their anxiety.
- A child with autism who is anxious about transitions or changes in routine may start blinking excessively when they anticipate such changes.
It's important to note that while excessive blinking can be distressing for parents and caregivers, it's not harmful to the child. However, if you're concerned about your child's blinking behavior, it's always best to seek advice from a healthcare professional who can provide guidance on strategies that may be effective for your child's specific needs.
Possible Medical Conditions that May Cause Excessive Blinking in Children
While excessive blinking can be a common occurrence in children, it can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Here are some possible medical conditions that may cause excessive blinking:
Dry Eye Syndrome
Dry eye syndrome occurs when the eyes do not produce enough tears or when the tears evaporate too quickly. This can cause irritation and discomfort, leading to excessive blinking.
Allergies can cause itching and irritation in the eyes, which may lead to excessive blinking.
Tics and Tourette's Syndrome
Tics are sudden, repetitive movements or sounds that occur repeatedly. Tourette's syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by multiple tics that occur over time. Both tics and Tourette's syndrome can cause excessive blinking.
Certain neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease or Huntington's disease, can cause involuntary movements of the eyes, including excessive blinking.
If you notice your child is experiencing excessive blinking along with other symptoms such as redness or swelling of the eyes, it is important to seek medical attention. A doctor will be able to perform a thorough evaluation and determine if there is an underlying medical condition causing the excessive blinking.
Excessive Blinking vs. Eye Tics or Spasms
While excessive blinking may look similar to eye tics or spasms, there are some key differences between these behaviors.
- Excessive blinking is a repetitive behavior where a child blinks their eyes repeatedly and frequently.
- This behavior can be voluntary or involuntary and can occur in both eyes or just one.
- It is often associated with sensory processing difficulties and anxiety in children with autism.
Eye Tics or Spasms
- On the other hand, eye tics or spasms are sudden, rapid movements of the eye muscles that may involve blinking, squinting, or rolling the eyes.
- These movements are usually involuntary and may occur randomly throughout the day.
- Unlike excessive blinking, eye tics or spasms are not typically associated with sensory processing difficulties or anxiety.
It is important to distinguish between excessive blinking and eye tics or spasms because they have different causes and treatments. If you suspect your child is experiencing either behavior, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment options.
How Can Excessive Blinking be Managed?
If your child with autism is exhibiting excessive blinking, there are several things you can do to help manage the behavior. Some strategies that may be helpful include:
Providing a calm and predictable environment for the child
Children with autism often benefit from routine and structure, so creating a consistent and predictable environment can help reduce anxiety and stress that may contribute to excessive blinking.
Using visual schedules and social stories to help the child understand what to expect
Visual aids can be helpful for children with autism who may struggle with verbal communication or understanding abstract concepts. By using pictures or other visual cues, you can help your child anticipate what will happen next and feel more in control of their environment.
Encouraging the child to engage in other self-regulating behaviors, such as deep breathing or stretching
There are many different techniques that can help children with autism regulate their sensory experiences. Encouraging your child to engage in activities that promote relaxation and calmness can be a helpful way to manage excessive blinking.
Seeking support from a healthcare professional to address any underlying anxiety or sensory issues that may be contributing to the behavior
If your child's excessive blinking is causing significant distress or interfering with their daily activities, it may be helpful to seek advice from a healthcare professional. They can provide guidance on strategies that may be effective for your child's specific needs.
It is important to note that while excessive blinking can be distressing for parents and caregivers, it is not harmful to the child. However, if you are concerned about your child's blinking behavior, it is always best to seek advice from a healthcare professional.
Medication and Excessive Blinking in Children with Autism
In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage excessive blinking in children with autism. However, it is important to note that medication should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional, and should not be the first line of treatment.
There are several types of medications that may be used to help manage excessive blinking in children with autism:
Antipsychotic medications are sometimes used to help manage repetitive behaviors in children with autism. These medications can help reduce anxiety and improve mood, which may in turn reduce excessive blinking behavior.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
SSRIs are a type of antidepressant medication that can also be used to treat anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. They work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, which can help regulate mood and behavior.
Stimulant medications are sometimes used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children with autism. These medications can help improve focus and attention, which may in turn reduce excessive blinking behavior.
It is important to note that while medication may be helpful for some children with autism who exhibit excessive blinking behavior, it is not always necessary or appropriate. It is important to work closely with a healthcare professional to determine if medication is an appropriate option for your child's specific needs.
Additionally, it's important to weigh the potential benefits of medication against any potential side effects or risks. Some medications may cause side effects such as drowsiness, weight gain, or increased risk of seizures. As such, it's crucial that parents and caregivers stay informed about their child's treatment plan and continue to monitor their child's behavior closely even after starting medication.
In conclusion, while medication may be an effective tool for managing excessive blinking behavior in some children with autism, it should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional and after other strategies have been tried and evaluated.
The Role of Occupational Therapy in Managing Sensory Processing Difficulties
Occupational therapy (OT) can be an effective tool for helping children with autism manage sensory processing difficulties that may contribute to excessive blinking. OT focuses on helping individuals develop the skills they need to participate in everyday activities and engage with their environment in a meaningful way.
Some ways that occupational therapists can help children with autism manage sensory processing difficulties include:
Sensory Integration Therapy
Sensory integration therapy is a type of OT that focuses on helping individuals process and integrate sensory information from their environment. This therapy involves activities designed to provide the child with different types of sensory input, such as touch, sound, and movement. By gradually exposing the child to different types of sensory input in a controlled and structured way, they can learn to better understand and respond to their environment.
Occupational therapists may also recommend modifications to the child's environment to help reduce sensory overload or discomfort. For example, they may suggest using noise-cancelling headphones or a weighted blanket to help the child feel more comfortable and secure.
Developing Coping Strategies
Occupational therapists can also help children with autism develop coping strategies for managing sensory overload or discomfort. This may involve teaching them relaxation techniques like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, or encouraging them to engage in other self-regulating behaviors like stretching or taking a break from overstimulating environments.
By working closely with an occupational therapist, parents and caregivers can develop an individualized plan for addressing their child's specific needs related to sensory processing difficulties. This plan may involve a combination of different strategies tailored specifically to the child's needs and preferences.
In summary, excessive blinking is a common behavior in children with autism. While the exact cause is not fully understood, it is thought to be related to self-regulation and anxiety. There are several strategies that can be used to manage excessive blinking, including providing a calm environment and seeking support from a healthcare professional. If you are concerned about your child's blinking behavior, it is important to seek advice from a healthcare professional.
- Autism Speaks. (n.d.). Repetitive Behaviors. Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-symptoms/repetitive-behaviors
- Autism Speaks. (n.d.). Sensory Issues. Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/sensory-issues
- The National Autistic Society. (n.d.). Repetitive behaviours, interests and activities. Retrieved from https://www.autism.org.uk/about/behaviour/repetitive.aspx