Autism and the Night of the Living Stim

My son’s on the autism spectrum. He’s considered high functioning, but not quite Asperger’s. (Though I guess with the new DSM V, he might technically be removed from officially being ‘autistic,’ but who cares.)

One of the many things that people with autism do is self-stimulate, or stim, though I almost think ‘self-distract’ would be a better description. Stims are activities that a person does to help regulate sensory information. Importantly, I think it’s a response to being overwhelmed by inputs from the senses. Hand flapping and rocking are common stims.

My son, while appearing mostly ‘normal,’ occasionally flaps his hands and hops, but more often screeches when the inputs get to be too much.

A loud dinner conversation results in screeching and peeping. He gets quiet once everyone else stops talking. Sometimes if he gets really agitated, he’ll start hitting (himself or others).

I’ve known him for so long (his whole life *chuckle*) that I don’t even see these things as unusual anymore. I’m always a little stunned to hang out with a ‘normal’ nine-year-old and see that they don’t do any of these things.

Stims vary from person to person. I’d guess that all people engage in them at some level. (Right now I’m wiggling my legs like crazy, for example.) Those on the spectrum need stims to function.

People who don’t deal with autism every day don’t understand stims. Many don’t understand why they can’t just stop. Even I struggle with that sometimes and get very frustrated with my son.

We would all benefit from learning more.

On Thursday, October 17, 2013 (7pm – 9pm EST), there will be a Twitter event celebrating what stims are to those who need them.

Night of the Living Stim

Join in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #LvngStm.

There will also be a Twitter live chat at #LIASChat.

Go here to learn more and please share this around!

0 thoughts on “Autism and the Night of the Living Stim

  1. I’m asking this out of genuine curiousity/ignorance, and hope it doesn’t come across offensive(?)…

    Is it possible to help an autistic person substitute a more ‘socially acceptable’ (or less attention-garnering) self-stim technique for one that they use that is less socially acceptable? I was thinking something like hand-flapping might be less noticeable in a setting like a public restaurant than something like screeching and wondered about the possibility.

    Or perhaps the better thing to ask: how does one help an autistic person manage self-stim techniques so as to be able to get along better with an ignorant public, but still respect the autistic person’s need to deal with their sensory overload? If there’s any online writing on the subject, I’d love a link.

  2. I imagine this totally depends on the cognitive abilities of the person with autism.
    I know we’ve tried to help the boy substitute something for the screeching, but to no avail. He just can’t control it (though he does acknowledge and apologise now at least).
    I read an account today of a person with Asperger’s who managed to essentially stop hand flapping. The person said that they wished they could still flap. In their case, they stopped flapping because of negative social pressure.
    So I guess that for a person on the spectrum to change stims requires some negative pressure and/or strong social and cognitive abilities in order for it to be possible.

  3. Very interesting. I have a limited understanding of autism but am always interested in learning more as my bff son is high functioning … Thank you for sharing.

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