Today I wanted to just do a quick post on something I often get asked about, and that is stimming. If you’re not familiar with “stimming” it’s a way that children with developmental disabilities (usually those with autism) self-stimulate in order to soothe their anxieties or sensory overload. To put it in perspective, there is never a day that passes that my son isn’t stimming in some way.
Here are some of the ways Elijah stims- he will rock back and forth, grind his teeth, squeeze his eyes closed tight, flap his arms, cover his ears, line up his toys, spin in circles, moan loudly, say “no” over and over, and look out of the corners of his eyes. It was one of the first things we noticed that clued us in that he wasn’t a typical 2 year old. Now at almost 4, he seems to be self-stimulating more often.
Believe it or not, there are benefits to stimming. At first, we were concerned every time he would react in any of the ways listed above but now we use it to our advantage. Having a nonverbal child with special needs is stressful. We don’t always know his wants or needs which creates a lot of frustration. However, because he stims when he feels anxious or overwhelmed, we at least know when he is feeling stressed. If we are at home when he begins to do this, I assess the environment and try to pinpoint what could be causing it. If we are in public, I know to rush and get him out of that situation. It’s not always possible to drop what I’m doing and fix the issue, but at least it clues us in to how he’s feeling in that moment.
It can be a little intimidating when you witness it happening. But if you feel overwhelmed by it, just imagine how overwhelmed they feel. Try using it to your advantage and stay as calm as possible. If there is a concern over too much stimming or they are harming themselves, look into ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy. You want your child to be comfortable and not in a constant state of anxiety. Look into ways you may be able to replace the behavior with something else. For example, if they are hitting the wall over and over, try diverting their attention. Ask if they want to bounce a ball instead or draw a picture.
Well, that’s all I have for today! I hope this provides a little insight into stimming and why people with autism do it. If not, there is a lot of information out there and don’t be afraid to ask questions.