Autistic children and adults do many things that typical children and adults cannot understand, and what is often most important is self-stimulation. Called “stimming” in the world of autism, self-stimulation is a repetitive behavior used solely to engage the senses. Examples include humming, clapping, clapping, manipulating objects (such as tearing paper), or running in circles. While these behaviors may seem inappropriate or unnecessary to others, those with autism are not simply seeking attention or trying to be destructive – stimming is one way to reduce the stress of the world.
Autism is a disorder that causes people to react to sensory stimuli in atypical ways. Stimming is one way to deal with this bodily malfunction. For example, rocking is a common form of stimulation. Some autistic people have claimed that swinging forward a few times helps them refocus when they become overly sensitive to the world around them. We all do this to some degree: Can you remember a time when you repeatedly tapped the pencil because you were nervous about a test or played with your notes before giving a big speech. Often these and other behaviors, such as nail biting or whistling, are involuntary but help calm us down. Some autistic people need this calming effect every day, several times over. Others simply enjoy the sensory sensations that come from stimming. In the same way that you can enjoy the sensations of a back massage, an autistic individual can enjoy the sensations felt by tearing the paper.
Remember, however, that these stimulating behaviors can become obsessions. Divide stimming into two categories: calming and arousing. Calming stimming helps a child refocus, as we all do when we are nervous, while excitatory stimming directs the child’s attention in a negative way. Typical children are said to be “hurt,” for example, and for an autistic child, being injured can mean clapping, screaming, or running. This type of stimming is harmful, as it interferes with attention and reinforces inappropriate behavior.
One branch of stimming includes attachment to certain items. Most babies have a favorite doll or blanket that goes everywhere, but for an autistic child this habit is never broken. The object can be something textually pleasing or something the autistic individual likes to smell, hear, or look at. Along with attachment to a specific object, autistic individuals can also find attachment to the organization of objects. For example, he may repeatedly self-stimulate by aligning objects. This too can become an obsession.
Stimming can be a difficult habit to break because it is so enjoyable for an autistic individual. A little bit of stimming isn’t bad, for the same reasons we all self-stimulate when we’re nervous. However, if a child’s stimming interferes with learning, interrupts others, or becomes an obsession or addiction, steps need to be taken to reduce this action. Discourage stimming if it makes sense: each case is different and therefore it is not possible to establish fixed rules regarding stimming. Stimulation is all about comfort and your child, autistic or not, should feel comfortable with him as long as his activities don’t interfere with others or harm themselves. When it comes to stimming, reducing these behaviors is ideal, but remember that complete elimination is usually not necessary. Autistic individuals perceive the world differently and we must take this into account. Removing the complete stimming stop can lead to sensory overload.
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