Spirit of autism stim

Why Do They Stim?

Spirit of autism stimAs a caregiver, educator, or even parent of a child with Autism, you’re most likely accustomed to witnessing some repetitive behaviors on a regular basis that seem odd… and even make you feel a little uncomfortable.

Whether or not you are familiar with the term “stimming” (short for “self-stimulation”), you’ve probably seen it in the form of hand or arm flapping, spinning, rocking back and forth, or self-injurious versions like hitting or biting oneself.

Stimming can also be verbal. It’s not uncommon to hear repetitive squealing, screaming, or sound effects coming from a child with Autism. In fact, one of my son’s favorite noises can be heard here (speakers DOWN, trust me!)   The neighbors have actually called the police in response to hearing that one on a summer day when his bedroom windows happened to be open. They thought he was in a life-threatening situation!

Yes, some days my son’s stimming can be enough to turn my hair grey. But then I think, if it’s this hard for me to deal with his noises and repetitive behaviors… what is HE going through? How hard is it for HIM to deal with his environment?

Why do they stim?

One of the biggest reasons is to counteract an overwhelming sensory environment. 

We don’t just have five senses, like we were taught in school. We actually receive sensory input through sights, sounds, touch, tastes, smells, movement and balance, body position and muscle control.

Difficulty interpreting the input leads to devastating consequences with:

  • Interactions with others
  • Daily functioning
  • Behavior
  • Regulating emotions
  • Learning
  • Social relationships

Stimming is a way to retreat and relieve the pain and overwhelm of your surroundings.

It also alleviates high levels of anxiety felt daily. If you had to spend most of your energy trying to process and block out painful noises, lights, smells, and textures how much focus would you have left for daily tasks, learning and growth?

Stimming helps to refocus and realign. The ability to create order and routine from the chaos of your surroundings is sometimes as easy as spinning in an office chair or rocking back and forth.

It’s soothing. I always found it strange that my son hears things ten times louder than I do and noises like the school bell are painful, yet when he screams or squeals it somehow calms him. But it’s true. Many adults with Autism have told me the same – it feels good.

It’s like a steam pressure valve. What happens when a valve stays closed and the pressure builds up with no release? Yup! Nuclear meltdown…

One of the biggest points I like to make when I train Emergency Responders – who certainly can mistake stimming for drug use, mental illness or non-compliance – is that they should NEVER try to stop someone from stimming unless they are hurting themselves or others.

Imagine telling a blind person not to put their arms out to find their way around a room, just because it looked “weird” or made us uncomfortable. That’s how I view stimming – it’s necessary for my son to function at this time. Now that I’m able to better understand his experience, I’m not nearly as stressed by it – but we DO work on redirection and (sometimes) going to a designated place to stim freely. It helps him identify with his own body’s needs, which ultimately gives him more confidence and self awareness.

When you think about it – how many of you bite your nails, tap your foot, drum with a pen, scratch or even pick at things when you’re stressed? I know I do some of those! Isn’t that a form of stimming? Yeah, we all kinda stim in our own way, don’t we?

Do you struggle with your child or student’s stimming behaviors? Share by commenting below or posting on the SOA Facebook page!

[Guest Post] I See What You Are Saying

“I see”, he said, “I see exactly what you mean.”

“No you don’t”, she answered, “you haven’t listened to anything I’ve been saying and you have no idea what I am talking about.”

And in just a few short sentences, you have the beginnings or perhaps, the continuation of a disagreement. Could be about something easy like where to go for dinner, or something of more import like getting married.

But whatever sort of subject it is, when the conversation starts going in this direction, you know it is not going to be long before there’s a real problem in communications.

So what’s the big deal with communications between people anyway? How come my friend, my BFF, my bro, my significant other doesn’t get me? Why doesn’t anyone understand me, I look at my lips in the mirror and I know I am talking but nobody is getting me.

We All Understand This

These are thoughts most of us have had at one time or other. Maybe not everyday, maybe our daily lives don’t revolve so much around communicating with other people so we might not run into this situation on a daily basis. But sooner or later, it’s going to come up. And it’s going to be a real issue in our lives.

But why? Why is this sort of issue so prevalent in our world? You would think that with so many different ways to communicate with each other, between every sort of mobile device imaginable, a hundred different social media websites and apps and snail mail and texting and phone calls, how come this issue of understanding is still happening?

We’re Exactly the Same – Except We’re Different

The answer is simple and complex at the same time. Like so many of the great truths of our world are. But here it is in a nutshell, each of us has our own private communication system that we have spent years developing and none of those systems is the same as any other.

We have each developed our own view of what the world is like to us. We have each attached a meaning to a particular piece of communication and each of us is positive that our way of seeing things, our way of understanding things, our way of organizing the world sensory input we get from the world around us is the right way.

And because each of us is operating from inside our own system of communication, using the set of symbols we have developed for ourselves, that is how we understand the world to be.

All Is Not Lost

Now this is how it is in the most primary sense. There is often a lot of overlap between our individualized communication systems and we can share understanding and ideas and dreams and color schemes and lots of other things with lots of other people. But truthfully, individualized communication systems are like fingerprints or snowflakes, no two of them are exactly alike.

Take the example from the first couple of sentences where he is saying ‘I see what you mean” and she is saying “You aren’t hearing what I am saying” and when you think about how each of them has their own individualized communication system which they use on a regular basis, you can understand right away where at least one of the issues is.

He is thinking about seeing and she is thinking about listening.

Kind of like one of them is watching the TV with the sound off and the other listening to the sound but not watching the screen. And then trying to describe to the other what their individual experience is.

An almost impossible task.

But if they were to simply go into the room where the TV is and watch and listen together, their experience would be a lot different. Maybe not perfect because we each focus our attention differently, but certainly a whole lot easier than the other way.

Each person has their own way of interpreting the world around them. Each of us has developed our own organizational scheme for what we pay attention to and how we show that we are paying attention. Whether, we are male, female, teenagerish, a baby boomer, autistic, American, German, or any other way of deciding who we are, we each have our own way of communicating with the world.

When we interact with other people and understand that we are right in what we are saying and understanding and that they are also right, our days become much easier and our hearts become filled with a lot more kindness and tolerance and love. Not just for other people, but for ourselves as well. And that would make our days totally fantastic.

Michael Shook is a personal development coach specializing in success and authenticity. He offers daily messages of light and love for everyone via ALifeOfLight.com. But for readers of the Spirit of Autism, he is also offering a free personal coaching session.  Click here to read more and sign up for your free session!