This blog post was originally posted on the saiconnection’s blog post page. You can read the original here.
Mohit had a hand flapping stim when he was younger.
He would flap his hands in excitement, jump around and then stop after a few seconds. This happened several times a day.
At a get together, a well meaning acquaintance stared at him and asked, “What is he doing?
I didn’t know where to look. I didn’t know what to say. People didn’t know about his autism diagnosis. I mumbled “nothing” and fled.
I wished Mohit wouldn’t stim. I hated all those uncomfortable questions about his odd behaviors. If only he didn’t stim, he would look normal.
I was ashamed of his stimming.
It took me years to realize that Mohit’s stimming wasn’t a behavior to be modified. Stimming helped him to regulate himself.
Dear Parent, your child may be engaging in different kinds of self stimulatory behaviors, or stimming.
There are many types of stimming. These include hand flapping, spinning, rocking, making repetitive sounds.
It’s a myth that only people with autism stim.
If you doodle, tap your feet, play with your hair (like I do), or rock back and forth,you stim too. These are examples of non autistic stimming.
Stimming in children with autism serves an internal need.
It could signify hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sensory input. It could be a substitute for expressing pain, frustration or joy.
Stimming helps some children focus and navigate their environment. It helps them to regulate themselves emotionally.
This is how people with autism say stimming helps them. (source)
“It helps my body regulate the sensory information of the world.” – Laura Ivanova Smith
“You know how when you’re cooking something on a stove, you sometimes move the lid slightly off the pot to let the steam out? How you put pressure on a bleeding wound to get the blood flow to stop, or at least lessen? For me, stimming is that relief and release – the preventing of inward things exploding or running out by doing things outwardly to soothe the inward.” – Paul Gomez
Stimming is not the enemy. The enemy is how we view it.
Take a step back and think about this.
Stimming serves a function.
By trying to stop the stimming, you’re blocking a symptom that often carries a message for you. You’re definitely not addressing the core issue.
In that case, once you stop one stim – another one takes over.
There is one exception: If the stim is harmful to the individual or others around him, it must be stopped.
For instance, one of my students would pull out his body hair. Another would slap himself repeatedly till his skin reddened. In both cases, we worked on behavior reduction plans. Those plans stopped those harmful stimming behaviors.
Where the stim is not harmful to self or others, let it be. Instead, take a step back and work on overall health and wellness.
Here are seven steps to focus on wellness and health for your child. They will address many deeper aspects and eventually stop many unnecessary stimming actions.
1. Medical Overview
Get in touch with a neurologist or a DAN Practitioner.
Instead of focusing on the stimming, focus on overall health and well being. Examine your child’s sleeping and eating habits. Rule out tics or PANDAS. These cause self stimulatory behaviors too.
Kathy Darrow is a mom of 2 kids on the Spectrum, besides being an RDI Consultant.
Working with diet and supplements helped her child reduce self stimulatory behaviors further.
2. Physical Fitness
Good health is imperative for your child’s well being.
S/he requires at least 30 minutes of strenuous physical activity. Walking, jogging, cycling, swimming are excellent options.
Ensure you do this religiously – as religiously as taking a shower.
3. Build a Relationship
Build a relationship with your child. Do things together.
Your job doesn’t end with taking your child to various therapies. It begins after the therapies are done. It involves spending quality time with your child.
Watch television programs you enjoy, listen to music, go for a walk, paint and sing with each other – the list is endless.
Enjoy each other’s company. This will stop your child’s stims for attention and help him become more self regulated.
4. Experiential Learning
Learning becomes knowledge when your child experiences it.
After the flashcards and worksheets are completed, put them away and work on providing an enriched environment.
Ask your child to help you put groceries away or pick up toys together. Let him help you prepare his drink.
Concepts of colors, receptive and expressive labels can be taught through experience too.
5. Create Mental Challenges
By mental challenges, I don’t mean written work that involves mathematical calculations. Challenge your child’s thinking.
For example, while putting groceries away, hand items to your child to put away on shelves.
If the lower shelf gets full, he needs to stack the higher shelf.
For this he requires a stool or a chair. Without an instruction from you about what to bring. Can he solve the problem?
I have noticed many children with autism stop stimming altogether when they relish a challenge and work towards solving it.
6. Help Him Communicate
Give your child a means to communicate, to express himself.
If he is non vocal, try to understand what kind of learner he is and what will help him communicate. Your speech language pathologist can help you with this.
7. Consider His Sensory Needs
Give your child a sensory rich diet that his body requires.
Every child has different requirements. Some require deep compression, others require vestibular stimulation and so on.
Get an evaluation done by an Occupational/Sensory Integration Specialist, to understand what your child needs.
Since long, I have stopped insisting that children with autism stop stimming.
It’s always better to look at issues from a deeper perspective of overall health, rather than stopping a particular stim.
Mohit still rocks when he listens to his favorite songs. But so do several neurotypical folks.
I am no longer ashamed of his stims. I know they are integral to his being.
The good news is that many stims fall off on their own – once the above suggestions are implemented. I have seen this across the board with the families that I work with.
Pay attention to overall health and regulation of your child.
Remember, stimming is not the enemy. Your view of stimming is the enemy.
Try the above suggestions for 1 month. You will see an overall improvement for sure!
Kamini Lakhani is a, RDI® program consultant and the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI Center). She has over 19 years of experience working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and currently serves as the director of our RDI Professional Training Center in Mumbai. She is the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI Center)