Publication date: Jul 22, 2021
A core feature of autism is the tendency to do the same activity or behaviour repetitively. We wanted to find out if autistic people also experience repetitive thinking, for example, having the same thoughts repeatedly. We thought that there would be a link between repetitive behaviour and repetitive thinking. We asked 54 autistic people and 66 non-autistic people to complete questionnaires measuring repetitive behaviours and obsessive thinking. Next, participants were trained by a researcher to record their thoughts using a structured paper form. They then completed 5 days of thought recording, which they did each time a random alarm sounded on their mobile phone. We found that autistic people had more repetitive thoughts than non-autistic people, but they did not report having more negative or visual thoughts compared with non-autistic people. Autistic people who had more repetitive thoughts during the 5 days of thought recording did not report more repetitive behaviour. However, autistic people who reported more obsessive thinking, for example, more negative and unwanted thoughts, also reported higher levels of repetitive behaviour. We conclude that some repetitive behaviours may be linked to anxiety and that more research is needed to better understand repetitive behaviours in autism.