Stimming


Some parents get very upset when their child "stims," either because it "looks funny" (e.g., when the child flaps her hands or bobs her head or rocks) or because other children tease the stimming child. In some cases, the parents seem as upset about the "embarrassment" of having an "odd looking" child as they do about the fact that a child is being teased.

In response to one parent's message along these lines I wrote:

Children who stim do so because they need to. For many, it is the only way to feel anchored, to have some point of control in a sensorially (or attentionally) overwhelming situation. It is a way to cope with stress. It is a way to focus the attention (I never could pay attention in class unless I was "doodling," where doodling served the same function as stimming).

Therefore, the aim should be not to eliminate the behavior (because the behavior is necessary; it is serving a useful function), but to find a more socially-acceptable substitute, if possible.

If a substitute cannot be found immediately, it is important not to deprive the child of the stim. Again, that stim is serving a useful function. Don't kick away the crutch until you've found a substitute -- unless you want to see the kid fall on her/his face again and again.

Some children (and adults) learn to get the same results by manipulating a "worry stone" (small, smooth) in a pocket, unobtrusively. In some cases, it's possible to "take notes" (doodle) as an anchoring stim to enable the attention to function. My mother used to knit in meetings.

Above all, adults should take responsibility for making it clear that it is the children who "make fun" who are behaving badly, not the child who is made fun of.



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