Does Your Child Stim?

ceiling fan stimmingOkay, let's talk about stimming.

"Stimming" for those of you who might be all, "uh, what?" is a nickname for repetitive body movements that "self-stimulate" one or more senses. Even a "typical" child can engage in them, be it thumb-sucking or hair twirling or rocking themselves in bed. But "real" stimming (holy air quotes, Batman) in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders or sensory integration/processing challenges is a little...different. They rock their bodies, flap their hands. line up toys, blink at lights, stare at ceiling fans, chew on their fingers or objects, hum the same notes over and over and over again -- the list goes on and on.


Stimming is not always a bad thing -- a lot of children use the movements and tics as self-soothing or coping tactics when they're overwhelmed or out of sync or just in need of some extra processing time.

Stimming, though, can be...embarrassing, at least for parents. Noah has a handful of quirky stimming behaviors that probably look pretty strange to people who don't know him.  And some stimming behaviors can move into self-harming territory -- head banging, biting, leaping from unsafe heights, etc. 

But most of the time, we...let Noah do what he has to do (as long as it's not dangerous or approaching an uber-compulsive level). We redirect if he's stimming to the point of zoning out and disconnecting -- usually by joining in with the behavior, or finding some other way to give him the sensory input he's craving (brushing, gentle horseplay, offering small toys or fidgets).

We're currently on a mission to curb his oral motor stimming, which involves excessive biting/sucking/chewing on his hands and fingers. His OT recommended gum or hard lemon candies; we're opting for fruit-juice lollipops and the OCCASIONAL therapy chewie. Sometimes we gently request that he simply STOP after awhile, but try to never shame or scold about it. (Though I sometimes fail at this, I'm sure, particularly if the behavior is inappropriate for where we are or just...oh my God, ENOUGH ALREADY.)

Some parents take a different approach -- I recently met a mother who had a zero tolerance for her child's stimming behaviors, ever, no matter what. If the child did ANYTHING repetitive with a toy or object, the mother simply...took it away, even if it was a lovey like a Taggies blanket. No more. Stop it.

That seemed really harsh to me, but then again, you can absolutely find "experts" arguing for both approaches to stimming. Do you offer accommodations like chewies or bouncy chairs or weighted vests...or do you simply draw a hard line and focus on getting the child to function without them?

Does your child stim? Do you ignore, curb, redirect, accommodate? A combination of all of the above, depending on the behavior or place? Have you been able to eliminate or reduce any stimming quirks, either big or small?


Image via jeffk/Flickr

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