Primary complex motor stereotypies in older children and adolescents: clinical features and longitudinal follow-up

Pediatr Neurol. 2015 Apr;52(4):398-403.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2014.11.002. Epub 2014 Dec 19.


Background: Complex motor stereotypies are rhythmic, repetitive, fixed, and purposeless movements that stop with distraction. Once believed to occur only in children with autism spectrum or other developmental disorders, their presence in otherwise typically developing children (primary) has been well-established. In primary complex motor stereotypies, little information is available about the long-term outcome of these movements or existing comorbidities.

Methods: Forty-nine healthy participants (31 boys), ages 9 to 20 years with primary complex motor stereotypies who were previously diagnosed at a pediatric movements disorder clinic, were identified from medical records. Parents or the young adult (if older than age 18), completed a telephone interview evaluating family history, outcome, and comorbidities including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, and tics/Tourette syndrome. Standardized questionnaires assessing attention-deficit hyperactivity, obsessive compulsive disorder, and anxiety were used to validate parent report of comorbidities.

Results: Stereotypy onset occurred before age 3 years in 98%. In all but one individual, stereotypies persisted at the time of phone follow-up (follow-up range: 6.8-20.3 years). Positive family history of complex motor stereotypies was identified in 39%. Most participants (92%) had concern for at least one comorbid disorder, including parent-/patient-reported clinically elevated levels of anxiety (73%), attention-deficit hyperactivity (63%), obsessive compulsive disorder (35%), and tics/Tourette syndrome (22%).

Conclusion: Primary motor stereotypies typically begin in early childhood and, although reduced in frequency and duration, persist at least through the teenage years. Repetitive movements are associated with a variety of comorbidities that often have a greater functional impact than the stereotypic behavior.

Keywords: ADHD; Tourette syndrome; executive function; movement disorder; obsessive compulsive disorder; pediatric; stereotypies.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Comorbidity
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stereotypic Movement Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Stereotypic Movement Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult