autism verbal stim

Some Mornings Feel Like 17 Levels of…

The other morning, before I even had a chance to hit snooze at 4:35, I woke up to this:

Click to hear (speakers DOWN!)

It proceeded for four and a half hours, until I left for work.

Trying to get out of bed, my son was standing over me making these very loud, bizarre noises.

Getting the three malamutes leashed up and ready for their morning walk, my son was trying to ride them and screamed the noises in their faces.

While I was preparing his breakfast, he would sneak up behind me and scream the noises so I jumped and spilled his food.

During my entire workout he would jump on my back, grab my leg, stand on my back while I was doing pushups, and fight with the dogs… all while making non-stop noises.

Whilst in the shower he would constantly open the curtain and scream (it echoes! Oh boy… even louder!) the noises.

Applying my makeup.

Getting dressed.

Making coffee.

Packing lunches.

Preparing the dogs’ treats.

Yes, four and a half hours. Of course, I was in rushing deadline mode, not patient parent mode, so I made the situation worse.

As I was leaving for the office, he immediately sat down and began composing beautiful original music on his DSi XL. Huh? Then he had the temerity to say to me, “Mom, it seems like you have your feathers in a bunch today.”


So what was going on?

I wish I knew. I wish I had a distinct checklist or pattern that would solve for “x” (the noises).

It could have been something he ate or drank before I got up (clearly he was awake before my 4:30 alarm) that caused a reaction.

Maybe this was an extension of sensory-seeking behavior.

Maybe it was verbal stimming due to something was worrying him – a change in a pattern or schedule (he recently had some issues with visitation and his father).

Maybe he was bored.

Maybe he wanted attention.

Maybe he was just having an off day – we all have them. Children with Autism (and puberty!) may not intuitively know how to channel “bad day” energy.

What I do know is this: had I stopped for five minutes and employed one of the tools I normally pull out of my “patient parent toolbox”, I’m sure the morning would have gone differently. I’m not saying the behavior would have stopped completely, but here are some ways I could have redirected him:

  • Invited him to join me on any of the physical activities of the morning, like the dog walk or intervals (jumping jacks, jump rope, running in place, squats)
  • Taken a yoga break
  • Engaged him in a one-on-one activity that he loves (Hangman, Picto-chat, Uno)
  • Played a sensory game
  • Had a protein snack
  • Did an EFT tapping session
  • Designated a “screaming” area of the house where it’s okay to let it all out

These are all quick, simple ways to break the pattern of the morning. I, on the other hand, became stressed, got aggravated, and let the panic of being late overtake me. I got to work feeling like I wanted to carve out my intestines and strangle someone with them. Imagine how he felt, having all this energy in his body and not knowing how to get it out without getting in trouble!

Lesson learned. Sometimes we have to experience 17 levels downward before we can “level up”.

What about you? Have you seen a behavior recently that made you pull your hair out? What did you do about it? What could you have done differently? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below or on the SOA Facebook page!

Am I a Helicopter Mom?

Today I took my son with me to the computer repair place to drop off his laptop. Naturally, he was all over the place during the entire process – running around the store, making all the little holiday novelty toys make noise at the same time (repeatedly), slipping behind the counter, and making loud noises.

I am used to getting thrown out of most public places (grocery stores, restaurants, movie theaters, churches… shall I go on?) when this type of behavior emerges, so naturally I was a bit on edge, redirecting him as much as possible. Every two seconds. The store’s owner absolutely took a liking to my son and constantly told me while this was occurring to “let him go”, “let him explore and be a boy”, and “stop being a Mother Hen”.

I could have been insulted, but you and I both know that as a mother of a child on the Autism Spectrum we are frequently forced to be Helicopter Moms. Mostly I am used to hearing the opposite words than today’s experience: “Would you please control your child”, “You need to spank him or something”, and “Why do you let him do that?” So… yes. I hover.

I do know that when our world is immersed in sensory processing, Autism, and disability daily reminders, we can honestly forget that our child is just a child and sometimes they are doing what boys do! Still, people can often make judgments or assumptions based on the behaviors they see at that moment. This gentleman saw some loud noises, mild hyperactivity, and repetitive behavior and it didn’t bother him. What he didn’t know is that my son can have tendencies to:

  • Break items with impulsive movements
  • Hurt himself due to sensory-seeking behaviors like crashing into things
  • Make poor decisions because of the absence of a sense of danger
  • Disturb other people by being a “space invader”
  • Become so overloaded with sensory input that he is no longer able to hear and understand commands
  • Yell inappropriate things
  • Run away, sometimes into traffic

We lucked out this time. But where is that balance between being a Helicopter Mom and leaving some space for my child to show me that he can handle more than I may be letting him? Am I limiting his natural abilities to learn what’s appropriate and work things out? Or am I protecting him in the right way? Is it up to others’ reactions?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the good news is that I can keep asking them and tweaking our experience along the way! I am not insulted by being called a “Mother Hen”, I am actually grateful for the opportunity to take a look at the way I support my child and possibly adjust for a better outcome if I find some truth in it.

What about you? Do you balance between hovering and allowing? Has it burned you or surprised you before? I’d love to see your comments below or on the SOA Facebook page!

My children, Malamute/Husky pack and I wish you and your family a wonderful, abundant and joyful Holiday Season!

Why is My Child Crashing into Me and Screaming?!?

In my house this weekend, my son was a human (LOUD!) bumper car. Despite all of my refined calming and redirecting techniques, the past few days brought loud screams interspersed with crashing into walls, family members, doors, mirrors, and repeated jumping and falling onto the floor. Ironically, light touches and loud noises from any other source but his own mouth send him into immediate meltdown. How can that be? How can crashing and tight squeezes feel great but a hand on his shoulder make him recoil as if he were being branded with a hot iron?

It can actually be very common for children with Sensory Processing issues to be both sensory seekers and sensory avoiders. How confusing and frustrating it can be!

What is sensory seeking?

As I’ve written before, Sensory Integration is the ability of the brain to detect, modulate, discriminate, and integrate the three special sensory systems – tactile (touch), vestibular (movement), and proprioceptive (body awareness).  Although these sensory systems are less familiar than the five senses we all learned about as children, they are critical in order for humans to experience, interpret, and respond to their environment appropriately.

Sensory seeking occurs when a child’s nervous system is under-responsive to the information being received by the brain, so they continually seek intense sensory experiences for an extended time period to compensate. Some typical sensory seeking behaviors include:

  • Hyper-activity
  • Impulsivity
  • Decreased response to pain
  • Crashing and banging into things
  • Craves “tight squeezes” or bear hugs others a lot
  • Screaming
  • Poor body awareness – clumsiness, touching objects or others too hard or too often
  • Staying in a soiled diaper or underpants

What is sensory avoiding?

Children with sensory avoidant behavior commonly have nervous systems that are overly responsive to sensation, which can trigger “fight or flight” responses to sensory stimuli.  They may demonstrate some of these behaviors:

  • Withdrawing from touch
  • Motion sickness, fear of heights
  • Anxious in over-stimulating environments (public places such as malls, playgrounds, etc.)
  • Picky eater – avoidance of certain textured foods, sensitive to food smells or temperatures
  • Doesn’t like being messy and avoids mud, dirt, messy foods
  • Struggles with self-care activities; will only wear certain types of material for clothing and or wear clothing in a particular way; complains about hair brushing, tooth brushing, and hair cutting.

If your child is like mine, we can relate to almost everything in both lists! However, I did have some success alleviating some of the crashing and screaming while we were in public, and I wanted to share what worked with you.

Things that helped

There’s nothing more frightening than standing in line at the grocery store and having your child uncontrollably scream crash into displays, climb on counters, and swing off things that are not meant to be swung from! OY! When this state of sensory seeking is reached, reasoning attempts fly out the window.

While we were out I offered some tight squeezes, head and shoulder pressure, and “contests” (bet you can’t crab walk to that bench and back in 2 minutes!). These did not stop the behaviors entirely but offered some relief to his body and allowed me a few more minutes to finish our errand. It is good to carry a weighted backpack in the car as an emergency sensory-seeking tool to help get you through a situation like that as well!

Once we got home, I was able to isolate him to a quiet room and really pay attention to what his body was craving. We used blanket rolling, full body pressure on a giant yoga ball while he was lying face-down, spinning, and our newest trick: wrapping a rolling pin in large bubble wrap and rolling it over his back! I then gave him some time in his tent with a digital timer. Watching the numbers count down always calms him. It was important that he knew it was not time out for misbehaving, rather a break that would help him.

Other tools I love for sensory avoidance behaviors:

  • Noise-blocking headphones
  • Personal games to keep him focused
  • Favorite healthy snacks
  • Nature sounds on my iPhone
  • Wubbzy music :)
  • An escape plan!

What things help your child cope with sensory input?

Where Am I? Explaining Proprioception and Autism

What is it?

Proprioception , meaning “one’s own” and perception, is the sense of the relative position of parts of the body. Unlike the traditional five senses by which we perceive the outside world, proprioception tells you whether your body is moving or sitting still, as well as where your body parts are located in relation to one another.

Children with Autism frequently show signs of proprioceptive dysfunction. Do these sensory seeking behaviors sound like your child?

  • Loves to crash into walls repeatedly
  • Stomps when walking
  • Kicks the chair or hooks feet around chair when sitting
  • Prefers tight or multiple layers of clothing
  • Chews on fingers, pens, Nintendo DS styluses (I have bought many of these!)
  • Asks for and gives tight squeeze bear hugs
  • Bumps and pushes other children

Does your child also have difficulty with:

  • Regulating pressure when writing – writes too dark or light
  • Breaking toys
  • Using too much force, like slamming doors, squeezing objects, or setting them down forcefully
  • Petting animals too hard

Children with poor spatial orientation often walk with an odd gait, are unusually clumsy, and sometimes even lean to one side. Riding a bicycle is something they simply can’t get the hang of. They do not feel their bodies in relation to space, and as a result do not feel grounded or safe.


According to Dr. Robert Melillo’s Disconnected Kids, a child can function normally without sight or sound, but will struggle immensely with any degree of proprioceptive dysfunction. We resist gravity using our large muscles and joints. In fact, gravity is such a strong stimulus that life cannot survive very long without it. Scientists have tested the effects of the lack of gravity on the brain, concluding that there is a rapid brain cell degeneration that occurs in outer space. NASA noted that some astronauts actually returned from space missions with sensory processing issues similar to children diagnosed with learning disabilities. That’s powerful.

Here’s another amazing test by scientists at the University of California at Berkley: when rats used their muscles and joints in new ways their brain plasticity increased. When sent into space, these same types of rats showed reverse plasticity and marked degeneration of the brain cells.

Help and Hope

So perhaps this illustrates a direct correlation between a sedentary routine (video games, computer use, television) and the continued struggle with proprioceptive dysfunction. Incorporating an Autism Fitness program into your child’s schedule along with specific sensory exercises designed to strengthen brain function can dramatically improve your child’s sensory processing function.

Melillo’s groundbreaking research and results show a disconnection between the left and right sides of the developing brain hemispheres as the underlying cause of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and other PDDs. He has proven that the brain is not hardwired and can change with the right stimulation for the right amount of time, either with exercises done at home or through the Brain Balance Centers he founded.

… and That’s What Little Boys Are Made Of

Boys will be boysSometimes, I get so wrapped up in the classification and response to Autistic or sensory-seeking behavior that I forget my son is also just a little boy. Boys! They are traditionally single-focused by nature, mechanically curious, and frankly, they do a LOT of things without thinking of consequences. In fact, people love to ask me, “When did you know he was Autistic?” If I had a nickel… Honestly, I didn’t know there was a need to explore his mind until disruptive situations in pre-school began to present themselves. Why?

I had a girl first.

There are so many quirky behaviors that I absolutely can see now in hindsight; at the time I dismissed them as classic boy tendencies. After all, I have brothers. The difference being that mine were downright evil during childhood ; ) Doggie-doo down the back of my shirt, rocks at the core of well-packed snowballs… yes, pure brotherly evil. But I digress.

There were things I struggled with when my son was a toddler. Constant obsession with light switches, no visible fear from dangerous situations, disassembling an electrical outlet with his bare hands when thought to be in time-out, extreme hyperactivity, and more. Half the people in my life would tell me I should have him tested for something and the other half would say he was just being a typical boy. I had no firm evidence or experience to fall on either side of that fence. So I waited.

Fast Forward

I’ve walked the wondrous Autism road for the past four years – filled with research and questions and tests and observations – and I still struggle with that fence from time to time. My goal is to find that place where I am giving him support for the things he cannot do for himself and creating appropriate boundaries and lessons for the things he can control. What a grey area that is! It’s gotten easier with so much information at my disposal, but every child on the spectrum  is unique.

It is understandable that I turn to a checklist, a practiced response, or even an excuse when there are any waves in my house. When living with Autism day in and day out, when my routine is so labor-intensive, and going out to dinner (and actually completing my meal) makes me feel as accomplished as an Olympic medalist, I see why I am wrapped up in his special needs and odd behaviors.

Sometimes I need to take a step back and realize that he is just being a little boy.