stimming

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For many years, Geordie used to intermittently stop what he was doing and start pacing forwards and backwards over a distance of 4-5 metres. Along with the pacing he would do little skip-jumps, move his hands and arms up and down, clench and unclench his fists and sometimes talk to himself in a very low voice.

When he first started doing this, we would try to stop him or talk to him to distract him out of it. We soon came to realise that when he was in this zone, he was unreachable. If we physically stopped him in his tracks, he would become agitated. So we would leave him to it, knowing he would be ‘back to normal’ again in anywhere up to fifteen minutes.

This ‘pacing’ activity started, I think, when Geordie was about four years old. It wasn’t until he was in Year 1 (at the age of 6) that I found out exactly what it was — a stim.

‘Stimming,’ explained the psychologist we were seeing at the time ‘is like an itch.’

If you are itchy, you can end up being super uncomfortable until you scratch it. For people on the spectrum, the need to engage in whatever movement their stim involves has to be met, or they become uncomfortable and agitated, increasing the possibility of a meltdown.

So, Geordie’s ‘stim’ was this pacing activity. Suddenly it all made sense.

For Geordie, the need to stim can occur anywhere: at home, at the shop, in a playground, at school, on public transport, at someone else’s house …

And, the stim can occur at any time: during dinner, in the middle of watching a TV show, waiting to go out, during a lesson … morning, midday, evening.

Over the years we have noticed that Geordie stims more when he is:

♦ stressed, anxious or worried about something. This includes times when he has had a bad day at school, is having trouble completing or understanding something (or losing on the Wii) or when we are going somewhere he hasn’t been before (or has not liked previously).

♦ bored or waiting for something to happen. This is particularly evident during transition times at school, or when he is waiting for something to start.

He is often able to control the physical stimming itself, but not the urge to do it. In his words, ‘My body tells me I need to jump … if I don’t jump it hurts.’

At some point last year, we noticed the ‘pacing’ stim had stopped … completely. We haven’t seen him do this for well over a year now. For a while it was replaced by an alternative stim. This only happened at home and involved Geordie going outside and walking around the yard bouncing a tennis ball. He has stopped doing this now too.

At the moment we are seeing no stimming behaviours at all. The only thing I can think of, that may be a stim, is his compulsive nail-picking. He has been doing this for years, usually when he is bored.

I doubt the need to stim has ‘gone away.’ I suspect as he has become older, he has also become more aware and self-conscious, and has actively sought alternatives which are not as obvious.

Whatever the stim, the important point to realise is that it is a necessary activity for people on the spectrum.

Before we knew what Geordie’s ‘pacing’ actually was, we worried about taking him out, and about what people would say. People do stare. They make insensitive comments. Some look at you with those ‘oh you poor thing’ faces.

You may think that I would be wishing his stimming would stop. But knowing what this would do to his wellbeing, my thinking is actually quite the opposite.

My one wish is for tolerance.

Stimming is not something Geordie does to be disrespectful; nor is it a reflection on how he feels about individual people around him.

To Geordie’s teacher (many years ago) who referred to his stimming as ‘flapping around’ and told me he was doing it on purpose to disrupt the class — bugger you!

But to his teachers in the following years who accepted Geordie’s behaviours and were supportive — thank you. You have really helped to make him the boy he is today. He has come a long way … stims or no stims.

thank-you-animated-zxigBq6cA

If you want to know more about stimming from the perspective of someone who does it … or just want an excellent blog written by an adult, female with Asperger’s, click on this link. Laina Eartharcher is a brilliant writer who is absolutely down-to-earth about her Asperger’s and does not beat around the bush when talking about her experiences.

 

 

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don’t ask me to change

ID-10095372 one friend
One friend who accepts you and doesn’t try to change you is better than a dozen friends who pull you in every direction. (image courtesy of sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

 

Friendships can be elusive when you are on the spectrum.

As a parent, one of the key things you want for your child is for him to ‘have friends’. At the end of day 1 at school the first question we are likely to ask is, ‘Did you make lots of friends?’ Then there is, ‘Who did you play with today?’, ‘Do you want to invite your friends over for a playdate?’ and ‘How many friends do you want to invite to your party?’

A parent’s world revolves around our children ‘having friends’.

Why?

Because friendship equals happiness. Doesn’t it?

The more friends you have, the happier you are. Aren’t you?

It has taken me many years to realise that pushing Geordie into friendships actually has the opposite effect.

For the first few years of his ‘social’ life (i.e. preschool, Kindergarten and, to a lesser extent, the ‘toddler room’ at childcare) Geordie played alongside other kids. He didn’t really ‘engage’ with them, even when, on the odd occasion, other children tried to get him to engage.

In toddlers, this is referred to as ‘parallel play’ — small groups of children playing next to each other, maybe with the same equipment, but each one is involved in their own game; playing ‘next to’ each other, not ‘with’ each other.

As they get older, certainly by the first year of school, children generally progress into more social play — sharing not only equipment and spaces, but ideas and scenarios. This is when things start getting noisy. Disagreements can erupt. There is lots of stuff going on in all directions.

Stimulus overload!!

Of course, when Geordie was at this age, I didn’t know what was going on. All I saw was my little boy not playing with other children and sometimes having meltdowns over something as simple as another child trying to get him involved in his or her game.

It was devastating to watch.

Equally as distressing were the times playdates were being organised (around us, not involving us) and party invitations handed out. Some parents invited every single child to their kid’s party. Others made a great show of having their child personally hand the invitations to ‘their friends’.

In my mind, Geordie was lonely. He had no friends to play with so had to be by himself. In reality I was seeing things that weren’t there at all.

The thing is this … it was devastating and distressing to me … not to Geordie. He either didn’t realise what was going on, or he didn’t care. When he was old enough to respond himself to playdate and party invites … he often declined (and still does). In hindsight, he knew more about himself than I did — social occasions in an unknown location equals sensory overload, and sensory overload is not good.

Even when I finally realised this, I still struggled with the notion that other kids had lots of friends and Geordie pretty much played by himself. I had to watch him and convince myself he was happy … and he was. More importantly, this alone time was also his downtime — a time when he could be himself and not have to worry about all the confusing rules of social play. His stuffed dog, Fifi, filled this gap perfectly. Geordie knew Fifi’s rules and Fifi had no expectations.

At the end of his Kindergarten year, Geordie changed schools. The students in his new Year 1 cohort were, and continue to be, an amazing group of children. They rallied around the ‘new kid’, inviting him to join their games and sit with them in class. When he ‘ignored’ them, they didn’t ignore him back or make him a pariah — they just kept trying. It was persistent, but not obtrusive.

I have to emphasise here that I have never, in over 20 years of teaching, seen a whole group of children respond this way to another child. Geordie was welcomed and accepted for who he was; this reaction has persisted for six years.

So when I saw a quote on Facebook about Eeyore, I knew I just had to write about it, because (apart from the depression bit) this quote sums up Geordie and his cohort to a tee:

One awesome thing about Eeyore is that even though he is basically clinically depressed, he still gets invited to participate in adventures and shenanigans with all of his friends. And they never expect him to pretend to feel happy, they just love him anyway, and they never leave him behind or ask him to change.   (from Facebook post : Elephant Health and Wellness)

While I cannot justifiably say this group are Geordie’s ‘friends’, he certainly doesn’t refer to them that way, they all engage in the epitome of ‘friendship-like behaviour’. The best part of this behaviour is the fact they have never asked or expected him to change. This is huge because I cannot say the same thing for the majority of adults and other associates (including so-called professionals) we have come across.

As for friends — Geordie has one friend.

The two of them are like chalk and cheese, and they complement each other beautifully. This friend was part of the Year 1 cohort who did not give up on Geordie … and this friend was the sole child who broke through into Geordie’s world. It took him over six months, but he did it. They have had their spats, their ups and downs (as happens in all friendships) but at the bottom of it all lies the fact they both accept each other for who they are.

I would rather Geordie have one friend like this, than dozens who want him to move with flow and conform to ‘their way’.