Wednesday, March 20, 2019

What You Need to Know About Your Autistic Child's Stimming

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What is stimming? Here's what you need to know about stimming in autism.

Stimming, unfortunately like most things in the autism world, is viewed negatively.

But if you really think about it, we all engage in some kind of specific strategy or activity to regulate our bodies when we're overwhelmed or stressed. It might be twirling hair, tapping a pencil, chewing on a pencil, tapping your feet, or biting your fingernails, for instance.

We've all got something.

"We all have specific strategies to stay well regulated emotionally and physiologically. Many children engage in certain behaviors that given them comfort or help them be more alert...There's nothing inherently wrong with any of these." - Barry M. Prizant, Uniquely Human

However, someone somewhere at somepoint decided that some stims are "less acceptable" than others. People think it's weird to flap your hands or line up toys, but it's really not. You just need to change your mindset and your perspective.

"If I could change...how the world sees autism...that the world would stop punishing us for our joy, stop grabbing flapping hands..." - Julia Bascom, The Obsessive Joy of Autism

What you need to know autism stimming

But What is Stimming Exactly?

Stimming refers to self-stimulating behaviors. It's a repetition of movements, sounds, or words that's common in autistic people.

A stimming behavior is often referred to as a stim.

Common Stims in Autistic Children

Here are some common stims in autistic kids:

  • Hand flapping
  • Rocking back and forth
  • Head banging
  • Waving fingers/hands in front of eyes
  • Spinning objects
  • Snapping fingers
  • Chewing
  • Biting hands and arms
  • Repeating noises, words, or phrases
  • Lining up toys

What You Need to Know About Autistic Stimming

So now that we've covered the basics on stimming, let's dig deeper into what I want you to know about your autistic child's stimming. Here are three things you should know.

1. It's Okay to Let Your Child Stim!

Is your child's stimming behavior damaging property or hurting someone?

If yes, then you might need to discourage it. Or better yet, redirect it to something that isn't hurtful or damaging. Some stims can in fact be dangerous and extreme like head banging, for instance.

However, if the answer to the question above is no, then do not discourage the stim.

Yes, really. Do not stop your child from stimming.

Why?

Because stimming helps your child regulate (more on that below). It also makes your child happy. It is how your child communicates their joy.

As mentioned earlier, stimming is defined as self-stimulation, but let's look closer at the word stimulation itself, which can be defined as "the action of arousing interest, enthusiasm, or excitement." So yes, stimming is one way your child communicates their joy.

"Sometimes being autistic means that you get to be incredibly happy. And then you get to flap." - Julia Bascom, The Obsessive Joy of Autism

"I pity anyone who cannot feel the way that flapping your hands just so amplifies everything you feel and thrusts it up into the air." - Julia Bascom, The Obsessive Joy of Autism

"I make funny little sounds. I spin. I rock. I laugh. I am happy." - Julia Bascom, The Obsessive Joy of Autism

The only people bothered by it might be a handful of passersby or gawking onlookers who don't know the first thing about autism or stimming. Who cares what they think! And besides who are they to judge a child for stimming?

All that matters is that your child needs it and loves it. So embrace it.

And most importantly, many autistic adults oppose reducing or eliminating stims. And we really need to listen to what they have to say.

"I pity anyone who cannot feel the way that flapping your hands just so amplifies everything you feel and thrusts it up into the air." - Julia Bascom, The Obsessive Joy of Autism

2. Stimming Helps Your Child Regulate

Stimming is a form of self-regulation and as a result, stims serve to soothe and comfort kids.

It's a way to stimulate the senses.

So it's not surprising that stimming can be used to address sensory processing issues. For example, stimming can provide sensory input when understimulated. It can also be used to block out additional sensory information when overstimulated.

Stimming is also thought to be used to relieve anxiety and other negative emotions.

"We should not view [stimming] merely as behaviors, however. They are most often strategies to cope with dysregulation." - Barry M. Prizant, Uniquely Human

3. Make Sure Others are Respectful of Your Child's Stimming

Your child's stimming brings them joy. It's a sign of being happy.

"Sometimes being autistic means that you get to be incredibly happy. And then you get to flap." - Julia Bascom, The Obsessive Joy of Autism

"I make funny little sounds. I spin. I rock. I laugh. I am happy." - Julia Bascom, The Obsessive Joy of Autism

And by now, I hope you realize that it's okay to encourage your child's stimming.

But, let's face it, you're likely still going to face some adversity and resistance from others around you and your child. Others might be uncomfortable with your child's stimming. They'll be judging you and your child, either silently or quiet loudly.

You need to educate those around you about your child's stimming, especially if those same people are the ones who regularly interact with, play with, and/or help your child. Yes, that includes teachers, aides, and family members.

Be sure to explain stimming to others and why it's important to let your child stim. Provide an explanation so that your child is respected and/or never discouraged (unless, of course, the stim is something dangerous obviously).

You need to help others see the beauty of your child's stimming.

Because, trust me, there's definitely some beauty to be found in stimming, if you're willing to just look and appreciate the reasoning behind it.

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What you need to know autism stimming

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