Stimming Away – a view from a parent
Recently I posted a list of signs that your child may be experiencing sensory overload and one of the factors listed is stimming.
For those who may not be full aware of what stimming is, this link to Wikipedia is a helpful start - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stimming
From a personal standpoint, I have witnessed more stimming in my daughter than I cared to remember! But it also got me thinking about where there are multiple crossovers into other ASD related symptoms, and how the lines can be so easily blurred.
In the early days one of my child’s non stop stims was to check the undersides of her shoes to make sure nothing was on it. This always happened when walking anywhere so of course that would lead to others colliding with her and creating a bit of a traffic jam, especially at the supermarket. Over time, and with the introduction of medication this has faded somewhat, though it does it pop up from time to time which causes more amusement than anything – not just from me but also from her. She knows she’s doing it, and just shrugs her shoulders and says “well Dad, I AM Aspie” :D
There was a lot of talk at the time about discouraging stimming but I found the opposite approach was a better pathway for my situation. It is clearly a release of some sort, a source of comfort in repetition when the outside world is getting a little too full on, and ultimately, it’s not hurting anyone, so why stamp it out? Seems I’m not the only one to think this - https://kirstenlindsmith.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/stimming-101-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-stim/
Where the lines blurred however posed more of an interesting challenge.
Vocal Fry is in its own way, a form of stimming for some ASD people. Read the definition here - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocal_fry_register
Someone brilliantly described it this week on the radio as sounding like bacon frying (bad pun) in the pan. Not far off it!! In my case, my daughter made the same sort of raspy, grunty type noises when under pressure, so it became a vocal stim. It got to the point where it was so loud that it sounded like a grunt crossed with a laugh – in fact, if you remember the 1980s MTV cartoon Beavis and Butthead, their laugh (if you could call it that) sounded EXACTLY the same – listen to the lower one of the two laughs in this clip and you will hear pretty much what I heard for two years - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDqsgbtpDLk
Sadly though, there was one other type of what I would call stimming that affected her badly, and continues to do so. Trichotillomania is the involuntary pulling out of hair, and is triggered – like all the above examples – by anxiety. In this instance, it started when she transitioned into high school, and reached a serious peak following the breakup of my marriage. While the definition - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trichotillomania - mentions broken hairs may be seen, my daughter became extreme in that she pulled the hair out at the follicle and then ate the follicle – because she liked that sensation. She also ended up pulling out all her pubic hair and many leg hairs.
It’s shattering as a parent to see this, a child going from having wonderful shoulder length hair, to looking like she is undergoing heavy chemo treatment. Fortunately the school was excellent and encouraged her to wear a hat so others would not single her out – in fact the other students have been awesome about it.
This was a turning point – how to stop it? In the end she developed a way to solve it but putting on heavy duty bandaids across all fingers which prevented her from pulling the hair.
Now her hair is growing again – but it’s short, curly and very dense!!! Nothing like the long locks she had. Not to worry, I’m proud she found a way for herself that works, and this is and important step moving forward in life.
There are hundreds of types of stims out there, mine is just from experience, and while some may challenge my daughters as stims, I believe they fall into this category but feel free to add your own ..