Wednesday, February 12, 2014

To stim, or not to stim? ..... there should never be any question

When I am stressed I count my fingers in pairs by tapping them against each other in a pattern from pinkie to thumb over and over and over again. I do it subtly, so no one sees, because I don't want them to know I am stressed .... or nervous... or worried. I sometimes do it when I am bored too.  If I am alone and no one is watching I sometimes trace a pattern around my lips with my fingers. Usually doing these things helps calm me. It occupies my mind and gives me a soothing feeling. If they don't work I might start bouncing my legs a bit or get up and pace. 

All those things are stims.  And I bet you stim too sometimes.  A lot of people assume that stimming is something only Autistic people do, but this is just not true. We might notice an Autistic persons unfiltered stimming more than we notice other peoples, but we all stim.  

I have written a little about stimming before on my blog Different kinds of normal, and some of what I quoted there I will repeat here:

Nick Walker defines stimming this way-
"To stim is to engage in movement and/or in other activity that stimulates one or more of one's senses, for the purpose (whether intentional or purely instinctive) of regulating one's own sensorimotor experience and/or state of consciousness. Examples of stims include (but are certainly not limited to) such activities as rocking, hand movements, humming, drumming, touching a surface, or gazing at running water. Functions of stimming include (but are certainly not limited to) self-calming and self-soothing; inducing, enhancing, or responding to experiences of sensory pleasure; regulating sensory input; integration of information; and accessing specific capacities and/or states of consciousness."

The Caffinated Autistic says
"It is a message that says that I have so much to express and cannot hold it all inside and I must show you right now.
It is joy.
It is an all-encompassing feeling that touches every part of me, from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet.
What it isn’t is shameful."

FY Stimming! gives definitions and examples of stimming, including this quote from About Autism-
"Stimming is almost always a symptom of autism, but it’s important to note that stimming is almost always a part of every human being’s behavior pattern. If you’ve ever tapped your pencil, bitten your nails, twirled your hair or paced, you’ve engaged in stimming.
"The biggest differences between autistic and typical stimming are (1) the choice of stim and (2) the quantity of stim. While it’s at least moderately acceptable to bite one’s nails, for example, it’s absolutely unacceptable to wander around flapping one’s hands.
"There’s really no good reason why flapping should be less acceptable than nail biting (it’s certainly more hygienic!). But in our world, the hand flappers receive negative attention while the nail biters are tolerated.
"Like anyone else, people with autism stim to help themselves to manage anxiety, fear, anger, and other negative emotions. Like many people, people with autism may stim to help themselves handle overwhelming sensory input (too much noise, light, heat, etc.)."

So, if we acknowledge that stimming is a form of sensory regulation that everyone engages in and that it serves a useful purpose.....................

the question should never be whether or not we let our Autistic children stim,
but rather how will we support them and encourage others to accept their stimming?

To figure out the best way to help others accept stimming as normal, we need to look at what purpose it serves for our individual children. For me stimming is a stress release. For my MissG stimming is both a stress release and an expression of excitement. Watch your child and see what is happening when they are stimming. See if you can figure out what is going on for them. If they can talk ask them to tell you!!

Then tell your childs teachers and therapists/ your relatives/ your friends/ whoever-is-saying-your-child-shouldn't-stim that stimming serves a purpose and that you do not want them to tell your child to stop! And don't forget to point out that everyone does it!

As our children grow older they might notice other peoples reactions to their noticeable stimming. This has happened recently for my boy, and so we discussed his options. He decided to try for a quieter stim at school, and to do his noisy vocal stims only at home if possible. He decided this because he noticed he felt more stressed when people looked at him and so the stim wasn't "worth it" in that context. We talked about other things he could do that were more subtle and he chose a few alternatives to try. I'm cool with that for the most part. I do think it's sad that he had to consider these things, but he was ready to, and the decision to change what he was doing was all his. And that is how it should be.

Our children should have control over the decisions about their body and how they behave.

If they want to stim, they should stim- however they want to.

There should never be any question about stopping a stim because it is "socially inappropriate" or "makes others uncomfortable".

Cynthia from "Musings of an Aspie" has written some very helpful things about this, which I'm going to quote because 1. she's Autistic and her voice is more important than mine on this topic and 2. she says it so well!! and 3. If you need to talk to teachers/therapists or relatives/friends about stimming Cynthia is an excellent person to quote.

Cynthia wrote a whole article called "Socially Appropriate", in which she says,
"Oh, wait, I know: socially inappropriate stims are ones that draw attention to us. If you rock in public, people will stare.
And whose problem is that?
Try out these sentences instead:
If you sign in public, people will stare.
If you use your wheelchair in public, people will stare.
If you limp in public, people will stare.
If you use your assistance dog in public, people will stare.
And if people do stare, other people will think they’re rude. Who would tell a Deaf person not to sign in public or a paraplegic not to use their wheelchair in public?
But people tell autistic kids not to stim in public all the time. Again and again I see conversations and articles insisting that stimming–or if they’re trying to be politically correct, certain types of stimming– isn’t appropriate public behavior.
Really? And why is that? Who exactly does stimming embarrass? Not the autistic person who’s doing it. (emphasis mine)"

And from "A Cognitive Defense of Stimming (or Why "Quiet Hands" Makes Math Harder)" ,
"There is another argument against stimming at school or in other public places: we need to teach autistic kids socially acceptable behavior so other kids/people don’t think they’re weird. Well, I have two things to say about that.
"Yes, autistic children should be taught the same social rules as typical children. They should be taught to respect others and all of the rules of politeness and civility that go along with it. But here’s the thing: I was an autistic kid and I can tell you for certain, stimming or not, the other kids already think we’re weird.
"Instead of insisting that autistic children adopt unnatural behaviors for the sake of social acceptance, how about working toward changing what is socially acceptable?"

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