The reasons that children engage in stereotypic and repetitive behaviours are many and varied, and it is thought that heir motivation to do so changes with the context. The researchers in this study set out to test the empirical evidence for this observation. They looked at interventions designed to reduce the behaviours and posited that these might be improved if there was a better understanding of the interaction between motivation and context.
They analysed data from two groups of children, the first, 37 children with learning disabilities and the second, 37 children with learning disability and autism.
They looked at the beahviours in both groups in three contexts: free time, transition and while engaged in tasks. They were looking for distinctions between intrinsic motivators, enhanced sensation and decreased anxiety and extrinsic motivators – seeking attention, objects or escape.
They found significant differences in motivators during free time and transition, but no single motivator predominated while children were engaged in tasks.
In both of the two groups, they found that sensory enhancement was more likely to be a motivator when the context was free time and that anxiety reduction was more likely to be a motivator when the children were in transition.
They found that transition was the context most likely to influence extrinsic motivators, but that this affected the two groups differently.
They conclude that the motivation to engage in stereotypic and repetitive behaviour was influenced by the context in which it occurred, and that transition had a powerful effect.
Context Influences the Motivation for Stereotypic and Repetitive Behaviour in Children Diagnosed with Intellectual Disability with and without Autism, Joosten, A. et al.,in Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 25: 262–271.