By Dr. Claire Miller
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many families are experiencing high levels of stress trying to manage their personal lives, work responsibilities, and hybrid schooling from the confines of their homes. Children have also experienced increased stress during COVID-19 due to significant lifestyle changes, and some parents are noticing the stress manifesting in their children in unusual ways.
During the past few months, as a pediatric neurologist and movement disorders specialist at NYU Langone Medical Associates—Washington Square, I have seen families particularly concerned about abnormal repetitive rhythmic movements called stereotypies (like hand-slapping, arm- swinging, or rocking) being displayed by their children.
In many cases, when parents witness these unusual movement patterns their initial concern is that their child has autism, but the symptoms are often the result of stress or anxiety.
According to a 2015 study in the medical journal Pediatric Neurology, most participants with stereotypies also experienced parent or patient-reported anxiety (73 percent). The condition also commonly occurs when children are unable to articulate their feelings or are challenged by a developmental hurdle.
For the most part, children with stereotypies do not hurt themselves; it’s a habit or phase that will pass. As long as a child is not causing visible harm to him or herself, it’s actually best to ignore the behavior or try to distract from it.
Of course, any parent who has concerns about early development, autism, attention difficulties while learning, or conditions like headache should speak with their pediatrician about getting a referral to see a specialist. I work collaboratively with the pediatricians at NYU Langone Medical Associates—Washington Square and a team of specialists at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone to optimize diagnosis and treatment plans and to provide social support.
We understand that this is a challenging time, especially for parents navigating health issues, and our team is available to help patients and families manage medical conditions in a way that allows them to live in the healthiest and happiest way possible.
Claire Miller, MD, PhD. is a pediatric neurologist and movement disorders specialist at NYU Langone Medical Associates—Washington Square, and is also a member of the Fresco Institute for Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders at NYU Langone Health.For more information about Dr. Miller and the conditions she treats, please visit: nyulangone.org/doctors/1861806515/claire-miller.