Stereotypic movement disorder: easily missed

Dev Med Child Neurol. 2010 Aug;52(8):733-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.2010.03627.x. Epub 2010 Feb 24.


Aim: To expand the understanding of stereotypic movement disorder (SMD) and its differentiation from tics and autistic stereotypies.

Method: Forty-two children (31 males, mean age 6y 3mo, SD 2y 8mo; 11 females, mean age 6y 7mo, SD 1y 9mo) consecutively diagnosed with SMD, without-self-injurious behavior, intellectual disability, sensory impairment, or an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), were assessed in a neuropsychiatry clinic. A list of probe questions on the nature of the stereotypy was administered to parents (and to children if developmentally ready). Questionnaires administered included the Stereotypy Severity Scale, Short Sensory Profile, Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, Repetitive Behavior Scale--Revised, and the Developmental Coordination Disorder Questionnaire. The stereotyped movement patterns were directly observed and in some cases further documented by video recordings made by parents. The probe questions were used again on follow-up at a mean age of 10 years 7 months (SD 4y 4mo).

Results: Mean age at onset was 17 months. Males exceeded females by 3:1. Family history of a pattern of SMD was reported in 13 and neuropsychiatric comorbidity in 30 (attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder in 16, tics in 18, and developmental coordination disorder in 16). Obsessive-compulsive disorder occurred in only two. The Short Sensory Profile correlated with comorbidity (p<0.001), the Stereotypy Severity Scale (p=0.009), and the Repetitive Behavior Scale (p<0.001); the last correlated with the Stereotypy Severity Scale (p=0.001). Children (but not their parents) liked their movements, which were usually associated with excitement or imaginative play. Mean length of follow-up was 4 years 8 months (SD 2y 10mo). Of the 39 children followed for longer than 6 months, the behavior stopped or was gradually shaped so as to occur primarily privately in 25. Misdiagnosis was common: 26 were initially referred as tics, 10 as ASD, five as compulsions, and one as epilepsy. Co-occurring facial grimacing in 15 children and vocalization in 22 contributed to diagnostic confusion.

Interpretation: SMD occurs in children without ASD or intellectual disability. The generally favorable clinical course is largely due to a gradual increase in private expression of the movements. Severity of the stereotypy is associated with sensory differences and psychopathology. Differentiation of SMD from tics and ASD is important to avoid misdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age of Onset
  • Autistic Disorder / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnostic Errors / statistics & numerical data
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Sensation Disorders / epidemiology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stereotypic Movement Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Stereotypic Movement Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires