Stimming isn't About the Parent

"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.

"Just remember that children with autism are human; often, they stim because it makes them feel good."--so says this ehow writer
 The ehow writer then provides five tips to get your autistic child to stop doing what makes him feel good. First,  he suggests you stim with the kid to show you're connecting with him and that will magically stop the stimming.  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. 

Author of piece has apologized for writing it:


Bongo Speech said...

This is excellent . Thanks for writing it.

farmwifetwo said...

Since ABA doesn't believe in Speech nor OT they actually created my most harmful stim... the hard hand wring/vocal noise. So, now I have twisted fingers. See, the refused to do the brushing, the refused to do a sensory program even though BOTH were recommended by the OT. Who we were banned - by the Ont gov't - from seeing once we were in ABA. We could have paid for it but trust me we would have PAID more - and we "paid" plenty - from the ABA therapists if we had.

I won't allow the hand wringing. The moment it starts I say "no fingers" and he stops. I won't allow the floor deep pressure/vocal noise. The moment it starts I say "sit up Russ". The humming bird flap I allow until I find out if he's having trouble stopping. Then I usually put my hands on his and it slows it down. The constant singing and chatting is easy to tune out plus the kid sings in tune with perfect pitch so it's not irritating. He chews on all things metal... that includes some scary sharp things but usually large paperclips are his fav. I call him my magpie for his love of all things shiny. The paperclips we ignore and let him chew on... the nails, screws etc we take away from him.

We had a mini-tramp and this year it hung on the fireplace outside as a wreath - legs were stripped. Debating if I want another mini-tramp or a full size one with the net sides. Swinging helps too, although he's getting to big for our set so I've started sitting on the sides or the other swing.

I view stims as something necessary but they need to be 'appropriate' (the floor thing... he's 10 now and it's not appropriate), can't interrupt other people (very loud vocal noises - no, the singing most people compliment him on it doesn't bother them so it's fine), and should not harm (flapping vs finger twisting).

Anonymous said...

Yeah. That article got a lot of traction from our community. It is really puzzling to me how, like you stated perfectly, he can talk about how purposful (spelling? I'm tired...) the stims can be - and then he brings up shaming your kid. Besides being potentialy damaging to autistic children of people who do not critically think before they implement rules/suggestions, the article is damn confusing! Here are the reasons people stim - now STOP them from stimming. *smh*

MI Dawn said...

This rather hit a nerve. My eldest, not ever diagnosed as aspie or anything - had a hair-pulling period where she pulled out enough of her hair to cause a fist-sized bald spot. She pulled to relieve stress. I managed to get her to transfer the behavior to a yarn-haired doll - who was bald within a few weeks - but she finally stopped that habit.

kathleen said...

Absolutely! Stimming does serve a purpose. Everyone in my family stims to some extent. I know for me-when I need to concentrate on a project or I have a dead line and feel overwhelmed..I can sit in my rocking chair and rock-or go out and swing on a swing..I am not on the spectrum. Most of the time for me it is a conscious choice...I also tap my feet and swing my legs-that isn't always conscious..When I look at my son Oscar-sometimes his stimming behaviors like arm flapping wiggling his fingers in front of his eyes..they aren't conscious...meaning, kind of like my foot tapping...they just happen. He certainly doesn't announce-"Hey! I've got to do math homework-I'm going to stim so I can concentrate!" He has told me that it helps him to think...other times he has said "I am just being me" The only time I will say anything is when it gets very intense-he can flap and eeeeee so hard (it hurts his elbow joints) that I will just check in with him.."Hey-Oscar...you are "eeeeing" up a storm-everything o.k.?"( Because-sometimes his stimming is caused by extreme anxiety) My checking in can ground him..calm him..