On Stimming and Autism

If you you have a child “on the spectrum” then you have probably heard of “stimming” and if you’ve heard of “stimming” you’ve probably also heard of “quiet hands.” First, you should know what stimming is. For someone who is “typical” the best way to understand the concept is to think of when you twirl your hair, tap your pencil, bounce your leg rapidly, etc. We associate these types of behavior with being nervous and do them to calm ourselves down and help us focus. For someone who has Autism, this type of behavior is intensified and pretty easily identified. Some people with Autism stim in several different ways, i.e. spinning, twirling, flapping hands, pacing, running back and forth, jumping up and down in a single area. All of these are done for long periods of time, meaning much longer than a “typical” person would twirl their hair, bounce their leg, etc. My son, for example, spends about 75% of his day jumping or engaged in some other type of stimming behavior. Here is an example of a stimming behavior:

When this video was taken, my son had not yet been diagnosed with Autism. I had no idea why he was behaving this way. I had never heard of “stimming.” A little over a year after this video was taken, he was diagnosed with Autism. Here is one more example of a stimming behavior:

This is actually a good example of two types of stimming behavior (jumping and pacing/running back and forth). And just for good measure, here is one more example of a stimming behavior:

So, now that you know a what “stimming” actually looks like, let’s get to the true purpose of this post. So today, while scrolling through my Facebook news feed, I found a post from the Autism Society of America. The post was a link to another writer’s blog post entitled, “10 Things Every Teacher Should Know About Autism” by their guest blogger Ron Sandison.

Here is a link: 10 Things Every Teacher Should Know About Autism

Let me save you some time. The article is good, except for a couple of questionable “opinions.” Here is the “opinion” that bothers me the most:

“Children with autism may display stimming behavior. When you bite your nails, tap your pencil, or twirl your hair, you are engaging in the behavior pattern called stimming. This behavior with children of autism can include flapping their hands up-and-down, pacing in circles, rocking back-and-forth, or spinning their whole body. Autistic stimming can be a hindrance by prohibiting the child from interacting with peers” (#6).

The problem with this can easily be cleared up with this response from a “random” Facebook commenter named Michael Rock. His comment was as follows:

“Stimming is not a hindrance. It is a necessary comforting tool for many people with autism. Telling an autistic person to not stim is like telling a blind person not to use a cane or a deaf person not to use sign language.”

I have read numerous articles on all sides of the debate about stimming behavior, but you know what I’ve found? It doesn’t matter what articles say should or should not be done when speaking about stimming. What matters the most is what my son needs. My son uses stimming as a method for interacting with a world where he has little to no voice. This is why we don’t dare use “quiet hands” as a method to stop him. If I stop him from stimming, for him, it’s like I’ve stopped him from breathing. He doesn’t stop stimming because I tell him to stop or because I physically stop him. (I actually don’t do that unless I absolutely have to because it’s not good for him). Each time that I have felt the need to stop him from stimming, i.e. the neighbors who live below us complain about his jumping, I am faced with a never ending battle. Why? Because he needs to stim. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Rock because I have seen my son. He’s happy when he’s jumping. He’s content playing in the salt. The alternative is for him to attempt to run away or “wander” from his caretakers or have a complete meltdown because he’s being over or under stimulated and can’t interact with the world around him in a way that is comfortable for him.

Perhaps you have met someone who is completely annoyed by stimming behaviors. These people don’t understand Autism. Consider this: What if everything around you was way too loud and you could hear everything, but you couldn’t tune it out? Would this bother you? This is what it’s like for someone with Autism. They deal with this issue by stimming. If you couldn’t hear, you would find a way to communicate. If you couldn’t see, you would find a way to get around. This is the same concept for people who have Autism and stim, so instead of judging and complaining to your neighbors because their child is “different” in a way that you don’t understand, perhaps educating yourself would be more productive. Currently the CDC says that 1 in 68 children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. That is a very high number and it baffles me that more people aren’t educated as a result, but that’s the fact, so the best way to combat discrimination like this: Autism Speaks Letter on the Reginald Latson Case is to educate ourselves and everyone around us.


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