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Why Should I Redirect Perseveration?
Perseveration is the repetition of a specific action over and over again, and many children on the autistic spectrum perseverate on a regular basis. Perseveration only needs to be addressed if the action interferes with important parts of the child's life, such as social skills, interpersonal relationships, or school success. This includes actions that may be considered "weird" by the child's peers. Although there are several answers to how to manage perseveration, one of the techniques that parents and teachers use is redirection.
Some parents may feel that redirection is unnecessary, and may simply choose to ignore the perseverations. This would be a valid technique if the behavior were willful, motivated by the desire to attract attention from others. For most children with autism, however, the behavior is neurological and will only increase if it is ignored. Therefore, some parental interference is usually necessary to extinguish perseverative autistic behaviors, just like it is necessary in dealing with other severe autistic behaviors.
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Methods of Redirection
There are three main methods of redirecting a child who is perseverating. The first method entails an abrupt redirection, in which the adult introduces an entirely new action or thought to try to break the pattern of perseveration. For example, the adult may change the subject of conversation, begin an entirely new game, or introduce a different toy that might catch the child's attention. This method of redirection may pull the child out of her perseveration and into a new activity.
The second method entails a more gentle form of redirection, in which the adult joins the child in the perseveration and then modifies it slightly. For example, if the child is rocking back and forth, the parent may join in and say "I'm riding on a horse. Are you? My horse is bright purple! What color is yours?" If the child is repeating a phrase over and over again, the parent may make up a song that uses the repeated phrase and encourage the child to sing along. There are two goals to this method. One is to change a nonsensical perseverative behavior into a meaningful game, and the second is to change an isolated activity into a social one.
The third method of redirection entails using an unrelated object or sign to pull the child out of the perseveration. For example, the parent might put a ball into the child's hand as a concrete message to the child that the perseveration should end. This method may be followed by the first method of redirection if necessary.
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Disadvantage of Redirection
Although redirection can be an important technique for parents and teachers to use with autistic children who perseverate, it does have one major disadvantage. If children enjoy the activity that they are redirected to each time they perseverate, it may encourage them to perseverate even more. Therefore, parents and teacher must think deeply about how to redirect perseveration, as the method of redirection should not be too highly desirable, and yet it must still encourage them to "switch gears" from their original perseveration.
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Ylvisaker, M. at LearnNet: Perseveration, retrieved at http://www.projectlearnet.org/tutorials/perseveration.html
Crow, K. at Families.com. Perseveration, retrieved at http://special-needs.families.com/blog/perseveration-perseveration-perseveration
Image Credit: sxc.hu, Berenika
Perseverating in Autistic Children: How to Redirect Perseveration
Does your child or student with autism perseverate? If so, this series contains articles that can help you. They focus on dealing with perseveration in autistic children, and include descriptions of perseverative behavior and how to respond to them.