"These behaviors can be irritating for family members." --on stimming in autistic children
My children stim. I stim--come on, for Pete's sake--every one of us--autistic or not-- STIMS. We all engage in self-regulatory behaviors to calm ourselves. Some of us have small, discrete behaviors that are not necessarily obvious. I swing one of my feet beneath my desk at work. I rub my thumb over my index finger repeatedly. My fingers slide back and forth over the steering wheel while I drive. They're small stims. But they are there, and they are used to regulate myself.
I have students who twirl their hair, chew on pencils, tap their fingers, swing their legs, crack their knuckles. They're stimming. They're regulating themselves--keeping themselves in check during the 90 minute classes. At this point in the game, I'd even describe their incessant need to text while in class as a stimming behavior.
My Lily is in constant motion, swinging her feet, bouncing. Skin Jumpy we call it here and I have it. Lily has it. Rosie has it. Bobby has it. My husband sits here rubbing his feet together, back and forth, as I write this. He has it, too.
We all stim and it's time the stigma attached to autistic people's stims were removed. I'm sure some of my stims are annoying...and yes, even my children's are...but it isn't about me when it comes to how they self-regulate.
If the stims aren't harmful, aren't self-injurious, then we ought to be careful in whether we address it. Chewing hair, like my Rosie does, is potentially a life-threatening behavior--so her hair is short. She sucks on clothes--potentially harmful, so we got her a chewelry necklace for her need to suck and chew on things. It isn't about shaming her or changing her, but redirecting her self-regulatory behaviors to something that will be soothing without being harmful.
If stimming with the kid doesn't make him stop, then put the kid in an ABA program in order to stop the kid from engaging in stimming behavior. Yes, because that's all ABA is about. No wonder people hate ABA; if that's what's being done, who wouldn't?
The writer then suggests asking the child why he's doing it and then, "Tell him how it makes you feel when he stims in front of you or in public." Shame the child--remind the child that it's about your comfort level, not his. The writer's number 4 tip is essentially a repeat of his third: "Show disappointment in your child's stimming behavior."
And if the previous four suggestions don't make your child stop embarrassing you or annoying you: "Stimming behavior is wired into the child's brain, and it will take some time to stop it. Don't expect your child to be cured overnight." Cured of what?
Yes, we should absolutely try to help our children replace dangerous and harmful stimming behavior with safer behaviors. Yes, we should absolutely work with all our children, autistic or not, to teach them appropriate behavior--we don't masturbate in public--we don't touch our private parts in public. That goes without saying.
But, this isn't about us--it isn't about how our children's behavior makes us feel. It should be about helping our children navigate the wider world. If a stimming behavior is preventing the child from doing that, then we should help him find a way to self-regulate that serves the same function without interfering with what he wants or needs to do.
And for heaven's sake--we need to stop thinking that stimming is something only autistic individuals do.
Hand-flapping isn't restricted to autistic individuals.
Hair-twirling isn't, either.
Spinning in circles.
Pulling at one's ear.
Any repetitive body movement is a stim. And we all do it. And we all undoubtedly annoy someone in the process of that. The issue isn't the stimming behavior. The issue should be whether it interferes in the child's life and whether it's intrinsically harmful behavior.