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!

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?

Sensory Processing Disorder or Behavior Problems?

I could write several articles on EACH of the senses when it comes to this topic. There are so many variances and combinations of what each child with Sensory Processing Disorder experiences, and that’s WITHOUT Autism in the mix.

We tend to see a child that misbehaves and acts quirky and defiant. I often get told that my child lacks discipline. Folks, this is a neurological dysfunction. These children have no control over the way their nervous system processes sensory input.

I have a fantastic project in the works to share with you about Sensory Processing Disorder. But today, we’ll keep it short and sweet. Today we’re going to put ourselves in the shoes of a child with sensory integration issues.

What if:

  • Parts of your body were numb regularly, and you couldn’t tell if you were sitting in the middle or on the edge of your chair. Then you fell off the chair and got in trouble for it.
  • Your clothes felt as if they were made of steel wool and insulation.
  • The humming of the lights in your office sounded louder than your boss’ voice and you couldn’t pay attention to what he or she was instructing you to do for the meeting.
  • You walked into a restaurant to eat and could smell the cleaning supplies as if they were right beneath your nose. It made you too nauseous to eat.
  • Every little sound and movement competed equally for your attention – from bird sounds to footsteps down the hall to someone showing a co-worker how to change the copier paper across the office.
  • You broke things frequently because you couldn’t tell how hard you were squeezing or holding them. Then similar items fell through your hands the next time you tried to “do it better”.
  • You couldn’t tell when your bladder was full until the moment it was about to burst, but you weren’t allowed to take a break once you realized this.
  • The lights made you squint from the brightness every single day, delivering pounding headaches from the strain.
  • Whispers sounded like yells and light, affectionate brushes on your skin felt like sandpaper.
  • You felt assaulted by parts of your clothing – the seams in your socks, the tag in your shirt kept painfully nagging at you.
  • Every 15 or 20 minutes your muscles felt like they were going to burst and your nerve endings were on fire. The only relief would be from doing jumping jacks, running, or crashing into something, but you are not allowed to get up.
  • You know in your mind what you want to write but the message takes so long to get from your brain to your hand that you give up trying.

IMAGINE sitting in your living room and turning up the TV as loud as it will go. Imagine all the lights in the room had been replaced with 100-watt bulbs. Your chair is wobbly, you’re wearing your younger sister’s clothes that don’t quite fit, and your spouse is yelling for you to sit still and listen to him recount his day. All you can smell is the garbage that desperately needs to go out and the dog is scratching at the door urgently. When you try to tend to any of these things or seek refuge from them, you get yelled at; yet you don’t know why.

What if you couldn’t stop any of this? What if every single moment of every single day was like this for you?

What if you were just a child and didn’t know that it wasn’t like this for everyone? I challenge you to shake up your perspective a bit. It may not make your experience as a parent less exhausting or frustrating, but it WILL change your level of compassion and understanding. That’s when change really starts.

Consequences, Consequences

There was a time when two to three days of the week I’d receive a phone call from the school demanding I come pick up my son for behavior they could not control. As a single parent working full time, you can imagine how well this went over. Aside from job concerns, I also began to suspect that my very intelligent child learned that if he “kicked it up a notch” he got to go home with and spend the day with Mom. What may have started as behavior he couldn’t help soon fused into a nice culmination of sensory and social issues with a dash of escapism.

Some of the behavior described to me included loud, disrupting noises in the classroom and quickly elevated to collapsing on the hallway floor refusing to move, screaming, and literally bouncing off the walls. This resulted in multiple visits to the Principal’s office, being passed off between free teachers, and ultimately a phone call to Mom with the desperate plea that he couldn’t be “reeled in”.

Eventually I called another IEP meeting to see what we could do differently. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, right? Upon a detailed description of these days where Pandora’s Box was repeatedly opened, I discovered two things:

1)   If Justin appropriately asked for a sensory break or self-corrected, they let him go to the Math lab, which was his favorite small group activity.

2) If Justin spun out of control and the staff went through the usual list of attempts to calm him, they would let him go to the Math lab, which was his favorite small group activity.

That’s right, there was no delineation between reward and consequence. They were one in the same.

(to illustrate that I’m also learning along the way, I have been known to demonstrate the same behavior with video games in lieu of Math lab… see the picture?)

The solution: a result of two hours of brainstorming

Rewards are for appropriate behavior, or for the ability to recognize and ask for help if he can’t self-correct.

When a red flag is established, in his case it was blurting out noises in the classroom, he had one opportunity to reel himself in or ask for assistance. If he did not, he received a warning, and then was to be taken calmly to a previously established consequence. No parading up and down the halls screaming, no being passed off from teacher to teacher, no pleading or bargaining… straight to the consequence. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

I found that this eliminated the excess drama and need to get attention from all our reactions. Learning that he no longer got to go home for behavior issues quickly stripped away the formerly blended lines between what he could help and what he could not.

It’s a learning experience for all of us: parents, teachers, and school administration. It’s worth it to take the time to get on the same page with all players and accept that each solution may be perpetually evolving.