As much as I joke about my kids being “bat-sh!t crazy,” which they get from their Dad, I am amazed by them. They
may talk too much, which I admit they get from me, but they are smart and funny and that sometimes compensates for the lack of quiet in our home. They are generally awesome kids, despite who they have as parents.
One of the characteristics our children have that I find most fascinating is the self stimulating behaviors, also known as “stims.” At one point I called them “nervous twitches” or “nervous ticks,” but now that I am more versed on the topic, I use this term. The stims vary from person to person and are not limited to those with special needs, although are very common. While I don’t normally peruse Urban Dictionary as my “go to,” let alone in place of Webster, in this case, I find their definition of stimming simply more authentic:
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, headbanging (not the music kind), finger flicking/rippling, spinning, humming, repeating words or sounds and complex body contortions.
Stimming shouldn’t be discouraged, it’s a means for me to understand my environment.
I mentioned Sam’s flapping and his obsession with rubbing tags in a past blog. Amy stims in a different way. She loves to spin. (Please note the image of Amy at Diggerland, on a spinner ride by herself because I get motion sick). She orbits, hence her nickname Sputnik, given by Dan. She puts her thumb in her mouth, twirls her hair around her one finger and pushes her head into our midsection. Then, she spins. Around and around our bodies, generally until we stop her. It makes me dizzy to even watch, but to each his/her own.
Learning to self soothe is an important part of emotional regulation, which Sam and Amy are still learning. We all are for that matter. (FYI – yelling at people is not considered an effective self soothing technique as often as I may try). Another self soothing technique my kids resort to is thumb sucking. Yes, my kids at ages 7 and 5 still suck their thumb. I, too, did this till I was 9, when the dentist put this permanent, archaic “rake” in mouth that stabbed the roof of my mouth any time I attempted to suck my thumb…or ate anything that required my tongue to push up, which was most foods at the time. I quit sucking my thumb in a matter of days, but that darn rake stayed in for months!
Most of their stims don’t phase me anymore. I barely notice them. If the stim can help them, especially when the ASD and ADHD symptoms kicks into high gear, have at it. I find myself spinning, however, on the thumb sucking. I want my kids to stop, but not at the expense of their ability to self-regulate. I worry about their teeth and jaw development. I also worry about the social aspect. Thumb sucking provides yet another opportunity for others to judge, parents and kids alike. They don’t know what my kids are thinking and feeling. I wish everyone would simply mind his/her own business, unless of course you are a dentist or a therapist. Speak up, please, I need your guidance.
In the interim, I guess I will simply keep spinning on this one.