What is the best response to rocking? Some individuals with autism rock when they are bored or when waiting. Others rock when they get excited, when watching a movie, or when concentrating on something intensely. Do we need to make them stop? As long as their rocking doesn’t interfere with safety or disrupt class, should we take time and effort to extinguish the behavior?

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The answers to these questions really depend on the situation. Granted, for some people rocking is a trigger for escalating agitation that quickly gets out of hand. For others, hand posturing, rocking, and other “stimming” has a calming influence. Before making a decision about the importance of making a person with autism stop rocking, listen to some wise words “from the inside.”

A friend who is an articulate high school student diagnosed with autism describes rocking as a way to calm down and to focus. She writes, “I just realized something – that the rocking does work for us. Here is my story of my findings. For no particular reason this evening, I started feeling down and out. I don’t think my family noticed anything, but I sure felt it from the inside. It felt like I had spent too much time around other people, and that I needed to take a break and relax so I could focus and finish a paper for school. And, for me, the best way to relax is to just sit in my room and rock without having to worry about what other people think.”

My friend went on to say, “It may be hard for NT’s (neurotypical people) to understand this, but it really helps me to stim when I feel like this. Just after supper, I felt like I was literally having a battle of two different people inside me. One side was the autistic person saying that I needed get myself calmed down and not worry about what mom says or what other people think about my rocking. The other was the NT part of me trying to talk some common sense, saying that it isn’t ‘normal’ to sit and rock. The NT person inside me tells me it is wrong to rock – and it seems like most people in the world agree. Personally, if it doesn’t bother other people, I don’t see how rocking hurts anyone, and it sure helps me settle down so I can get homework done.”

TIP FOR THE DAY. Sometimes we must address rocking because it is very disruptive or because it triggers agitation and escalating behaviors. But, depending on many different factors, it might be best to tolerate rocking because it can have a calming influence, and because we cannot micro-manage every single detail of a person’s life.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified
music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to
providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for
people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your
thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t
forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse
into the world of autism.

One Response to “Rocking”

  1. Casdok 3 April 2009 at 2:24 pm Permalink

    My son does different types of rocking for different situations so is a good idication to how he is feeling.

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