Autistic adults’ experience of restricted repetitive behaviours

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Background: Restricted and Repetitive Behaviours (RRB) are a core characteristic of autism, though little is known about autistic people’s lived experience of these phenomena. Research has defined RRB in terms of: 1) a distinction between higher-order and lower-order RRB; as well as 2) a perceived lack of function and 3) a perceived lack of voluntary control.
Method: Twelve autistic adults without intellectual disability were interviewed to elucidate an understanding of these three issues from their lived experience.
Results: Thematic analysis identified four key themes regarding RRB: Self-regulation; positive impacts; negative impacts and suppression. The distinction between higher-order and lower-order RRB was not reflected in the adults’ lived experience. In addition to having both positive and negative impacts, the expression of RRB for some behaviours in certain contexts was largely, though not wholly, under voluntary control. Perceived negative evaluations from others can result in strategies to minimise the expression of RRB to observers, although suppressing RRB can be stressful with a cost to the individual.
Conclusions: These findings provide insight into the important functions of RRB and both its positive and negative impacts. It indicates that future research should look to help maximise the positive impacts and minimize the negative, and consider the impact suppression of RRB has on mental health and functioning.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101895
JournalResearch in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Early online date2 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2022


  • Autism
  • Restrictive Repetitive Behavior
  • Adult
  • Camouflaging
  • Masking
  • Self-regulation


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