Friday, October 16, 2009

How to handle stimming ?

As our experience in autism land is growing I have stopped thinking of R's challenges in terms of Autism.

I think of these challenges in their component parts.

R has several challenges . But the two that are the most critical are

1. Apraxia ( the mouth muscles not moving right )
2. Sensory Modulation  ( not being able to stay in a sensory stable zone,  showing this by Stimming )

Sensory modulation is the one I am thinking about today

Last week, R has been somewhat stimmy and I have been baffled by his preference of electronics to people for play .

I have been worrying about it - but that is no help at all

As always its critical to press the reset button and start at the beginning

So yesterday on my way to work I have re-listened to Dr Greenspan web radio show on "How to handle Stimming "( free download from itunes ) . Its a stellar lecture!

Here is what I learned

Why does a child stim ?

 Self stimulatory behavior which is R's case is withdrawing into himself through some kind of repetitive activity( repeatedly watching the same scene over and over again on TV )  - have two reasons:

1. is that there is too much stress in life due to which the child withdrawing OR ( in the way we may mindlessly watch TV in order to tune out a stressful day )
2. there is not much going on and so the child is bored ( in the way we may click our pen or shake our leg at a boring meeting )

Is stimming good or bad

Stimming can be good or bad. We all stim by twirling our hair, clicking our ballpoint pens etc.
1. The child uses the stimmy activity to organise themselves . The activity is calming  and good-(  example if we take a walk around the park and feel calmer afterwards  )

2. The child's stimmy activity disorders and disorganises  them further and turns adddictive ( bad ! -  in the way sometimes when we are watching TV we know we are tired and bored but are unable to switch the TV off, in the way the internet can sometimes get addictive )

Third, what should a parent do to help a stimmy child?

1. Reduce the stress ( to a  parent who calls in with a question  on stimming , he suggests,  having the child take a mental health day, cutting down the school day to a half - day )

2.  Satisfy the need for stimming by REPLACING  the stim . ( He quotes his college professor "dont take something away - replace it with something better ") For example, if your child is craving visual sensation - play flashlight games

3.  Most Importantly. go back to the basics of floortime - joyful engagement, shared attention, back and forth interaction

In our case the answers are:
He is stimming because he is stressed and slightly bored
His stimming is addictive
We need to  woo him back into a shared world  and provide some loving structure !

So I shut off the computer after returning from work and also I use very high affect -
When I see him in the evening. I tell him how thrilled I am to see him and whirl him around and around ( dont try this if you have a sensory avoider - R is a sensory seeker )
After some energetic rolling around on a matress
We run to the trampoline ( he suggests it ) . And even through its gross outside ( our part of the world is all dreary grey and   rain this year )
And have a really great Floortime session - we play games he loved as  a baby - 1...2.....3... Tickle

I have not seen him laugh so much in a week and it feels really great !

In the evening we go to Target - we need to buy a  kitchen gadget becasue its Dhanteras ( which precedes Diwali the festival of lights - kind of like a  Hindu Christmas ) and even there he seems more engaged -
DH has done all the grocery shopping in the day and has been very firm about him not wandering off

Its funny that he seems more tuned in with the strict structure-And suddenly I realize that structure begets security !

I am writing down the rules so I remember in the next stimmy period

Rule 1 Find out why R is stimmy  and eliminate the stress or satisfy the sensory need

Rule 2 Dont be afraid to provide the strict structure and turn off the screens

Rule 3 Go back to Floortime Basics

Amen !

PS Just wanted to add a great article that Niksmom showed me last time about setting limits  Thanks Niksmom


Niksmom said...

You are a wise and wonderful mama.

Territory Mom said...

I love this, it is so helpful. My guy doesn't stim, but this is still helpful. When I know he is stressed out we read books. My little guy has tremors. I give him peanut butter and bananas. It seems to help. I'm going to learn more about Dhanteras.

Mike Fields said...

This could be considered a semantic point, but not all stims are actually stimulating. Sometimes a "stim" is calming. Stim makes nice shorthand (we all know what we're talking about) but only thinking of them as stimulation may complicate uncovering the purpose of the behavior.

All About the Bailey's said...

thanks for sharing K!

TJ said...


Anonymous said...

Coming off an incredibly stimmy weekend, this is right on time. And I think you just gave me the ounce of patience I needed. Thank you.

danette said...

What a great overview! We get a lot of stimming at our house, and your tips are right on point. Sometimes it's calming (for the boys anyway) in which case we generally don't intervene. In the other cases, coming up with alternatives that they will find appealing can be a challenge sometimes :).

Unknown said...

I needed this post today, K! THANKS!

Anonymous said...

Yes. I need to reread this from time to time too. We struggle with the same exact thing and find that the answers are the same. You are absolutely right (at least in our case) that structure = security. Now, WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR ME TO REMEMBER?!?! =)

Shirin's Art said...

i think this is the article i have been looking for..Stimming as u know is a terribly big issue for me..

Queenbuv3 said...

My son is 11 and we have never stopped his stimming. He has sensory integration disorder and needs stimulation to feel where he is in space. I have always felt that stimming serves a purpose for people with sensory issues and Autism.

His stimming by flipping through books and watching movie clips over and over has helped him learn how to read and how to speak. We are seeing the benefits of all that time he has spent "stimming" now that he is using a communication device.

He stops when he needs to do work at school or go to the bathroom or go to sleep, etc. He has a sensory schedule at school and has unlimited access to sensory objects. He wears a necklace that he fidgets with constantly.
He makes a lot of eye contact now, which we have never forced, and when he wants to hang out with us it is because he wants to.

My son has become a very well behaved, sweet, intelligent boy and I really believe it is because we never tried to stop his stimming. I see no negatives to his stimming. But than again, I have come to terms with the fact that he will always stim and always be Autistic.

Unknown said...

Just found your blog. Can't wait to read more. :)

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