Let’s Talk About Stimming

My son is six year’s old and on the severe end of the autism spectrum. When he was diagnosed, I had heard about stimming. I think we’ve all heard that word.  To be perfectly honest though, I didn’t even know what stimming was.

The definition is interesting:

‘Stim, stims or stimming is short for “self-stimulation”. Almost everyone does it (tapping feet, cracking knuckles, twiddling thumbs), but in autistic people these behaviors are more pronounced and may seem downright strange. Autistic people often engage in stimming when they are stressed, to self-regulate and sometimes to express emotion.’ Common autistic stims are: rocking back and forth, head banging(not the music kind), finger flicking/rippling, spinning, humming, repeating words or sounds and complex body contortions.

Now in saying all of that, reading about stimming is one thing and living it is another.

My son started stimming at five years old. Prior to that he did not. In our house stimming looks like lines of objects. It looks like hoarding. It sounds like a little boy playing the same one second sound over and over again on a Kindle. It sounds like humming. It looks like chairs lined up. It also looks messy and destructive.

If you looked at Jamie and I during a stim more often than not you would see exhausted parents.

But if you look past all of that you see so much more.

My son is the happiest when he stims. He is calm. He is often smiling and laughing. You can see that he is comfortable and relaxed. You can see that each item in his stim is meticulously placed. It’s not chaotic or disorganized. It’s planned. And it makes perfect sense to him.

We want Cooper to be happy. We want him to be safe. We also want to have control of our home. So, what do you do as a parent when the mess or sound of a stim interferes with real life?

Some therapists will tell you to stop all stimming. Some therapists will tell you to let your child stim. It’s very confusing as a parent. And I’ll tell you a little secret…the therapists that are telling you to either stop the stim or live with the stim are not living in your home. They aren’t dealing with it 24 hours a day.

I always felt torn over stopping Cooper but at the same time some of the stims were hard to live with. Then, I stumbled upon this quote by an adult with autism: Stimming shouldn’t be discouraged, it’s a means for me to understand my environment.

Cue more confusion. Do we stop or do we allow?

This is autism in our world. Cooper is a nester and a hoarder. Yes, the behaviors have drastically diminished but every once in a while they will resurface. He will bring ALL of his favorite items to a certain spot in the house and lay them out. They include DVDs, VHS tapes, books, shreds of paper and pictures. Once he settles in he will rest for a few minutes and then decide to move locations. So, he picks them all up and moves them to the next spot. This COULD go on all day if we don't interrupt the behavior. It's a fine line between wanting him to be happy and calm and wanting my house to not be destroyed. It's all exhausting and time consuming to move all the stuff. Or as the parent, watch it happen all day. (Supplements helped suppress this behavior!) One of our tactics has been slowly eliminating the items. Less books and movies helps. #autism

Posted by Finding Cooper's Voice on Wednesday, September 6, 2017

After living this life for a few years and by that I mean, after being controlled by stims for a few years now, we operate under the following three guidelines.

  1. The stim has to be safe.
    Many stims are dangerous. Cooper will often throw items to hear the sounds of the crash. This means books, frames, lamps, toys, etc. This is dangerous. In certain cases, he has even stimmed on head hitting. When the stim gets dangerous we stop it. We redirect. We work through it.  Safety will always be our biggest priority.
  2. The stim cannot be stressful.
    At a few points in Cooper’s life his stims have caused him stress. Like extreme stress. Say he wants 100 items lined up in a certain way. This is stressful. Say his brother or a dog touches one of the hundred items and it causes him so much stress he starts self-injuring. In this case, the stim needs to be stopped.
  3. The stim cannot interfere with our daily living…to a point.
    Cooper went through a period where he loved lining up chairs. In the beginning we just laughed. It was quirky and cute. But then, it got annoying and frustrating. Every chair in our house had to be lined up. We could not sit on the chairs. We could not move the chairs. It made living at home impossible. I had a therapist ask me…do you want the chairs lined up? And I said…oh, it’s cute. And she asked again…do you want the chairs lined up? And I smiled and said…It makes him happy. She came at me one more time and I said…NO, I don’t want chairs lined up in my house. And we talked about how we could stop it.

Remember, the key to this is have a happy child, happy parents and a happy home. Do what works best for your family. If a stim doesn’t bother you than who cares. For example, I love Cooper’s family picture obsession. Some people would hate having photos all over their house. I don’t mind it. The photos are a way to connect with my son. They bring him joy. They are safe, don’t cause him stress and don’t interfere with our daily living. Therefore, we have beautiful photos everywhere.

Have a great stimming photo? Join the conversation on Facebook and share you photo!

Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook and subscribe to our newsletter.

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  • Melissa Millard

    November 15, 2017 at 4:57 pm
    Reply

    Your story could be my story. I have a 12 year old son with autism. We have gone down the road with the […] Read MoreYour story could be my story. I have a 12 year old son with autism. We have gone down the road with the medications and having to stay home and the therapies. We have tried several medications and so far seen less anxiety but it's not a cure all. We still have those meltdowns but fewer of them. My son has been home for the last year due to being removed because of behaviors to the point they considered him to be a threat to others. So my point is I understand. If you have any questions you think I might be able to answer please don't hesitate to ask. Melissa Read Less

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!

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