Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Dealing with Self-Stimulation Behaviors

"What can be done about an Asperger's child who does things repeatedly like hand-flapping, rocking back and forth, spinning and flipping objects, making strange vocal noises over and over again? This constant non-stop behavior can be so annoying (and embarrassing) at times."

Most of our "leisure activities" are nothing more than self-stimulation behaviors that have become highly ritualized over time and made socially acceptable. There is nothing intrinsically valuable or reasonable about leisure pursuits such as bungee jumping, playing cards, dancing, playing video games, listening to music, smoking, etc. People participate in these different activities because they find them to be pleasurable and because the activities alter their physical state. Each activity provides us with a particular type of sensory input.

There is not necessarily a great difference in so-called self-stimulation behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorders and some of these activities, beyond the fact that some are more socially acceptable and "normal" in appearance than others.

Most parents find that their child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism is more likely to participate in self-stimulatory behaviors when he/she is idle or stressed. Interacting with your child in some way may break up the self-stimulation. If the behavior appears in response to stress, finding ways to help him relax (e.g., massage, being wrapped up in a quilt, etc.) may reduce the amount of time spent in the behavior you find inappropriate or harmful. If your child is left alone; however, it is likely he/she will re-engage in this activity as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

Some behaviors may present problems because they are considered socially inappropriate. These behaviors can be used as a way to explore the child's preferred sensory channels for receiving information from the world. With this information, we may identify preferred sensory experiences around which we can develop more "mainstream" leisure activities that our children will also come to view as "leisure." For example, if a child enjoys the visual sensation of lights, we can find age-appropriate toys that might be motivating to him.

Take time to observe the types of self-stimulation that your child participates in and when this behavior occurs. Watch him/her and make notes about what you see and when you see it. Then try to see if there is any pattern to these behaviors that would give you insight to the type or types of stimulation he/she prefers and the purpose it serves. At the same time, note what types of activities he/she finds aversive. When you have a good understanding about his/her preferences, begin to brainstorm ways that you can offer other stimulatory activities, modify or expand on the preferred self-stimulation.

Look at children of the same age, and try to find toys or activities that may make the self-stimulatory behavior appear more "normal." Sometimes your child's favorite self-stimulation activity can be modified or expanded in a way that will make it more socially acceptable.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree, it can be annoying, even embarresing at times, but they cant help themselves. Its part of the acceptance we as parents have to do. Ive even had to go to counsuling myself. My childs father was so ashamed that he left. If u really love ur child, u have to just deal with it minute by minute & second by second. I personally am blessed to have 2 adult children that is always willing to to my son for a few hours to give me a break. Ill be praying for all the other aspie parents out there cuz we understand all too well what that missing puzzle piece means. May God bless & keep u.

Anonymous said...

idk but my son does this to and he is 11 parents suggest getting them to try snapping fingers but honestly thats part of what comforts them it stimulates them when they feel out of structure or routine (ps) my ex childs bio dad also left said i waz crazy but new step dad stayed been more understanding than anyonelse good luck support groups really work

Anonymous said...

This is our world too, but we try to find other points of interest but it gets really heard sometimes when you don't have the support you need.

Anonymous said...

When I realize it's becoming repetitive, I ask Eli to practice deep breathing. He says it doesn't work, but he's getting better at it. Even if it only works for a few minutes, it's a break for me!

Anonymous said...

Mine rocks in the car.Shakes the entire car.Has done some form of rocking from early babyhood.

Anonymous said...

you dont its the way your child is and to be embaressed or annoyed by it I dont get I would never try and change my sons behaviors if you can handel it go into a diff room and give your self a time out but its who they are and its how thye cope with the world and if your out in public dont be embaressed if someone gives you a look be upfront and tell them your child had aspegers it helps educate people

Anonymous said...

This brought back memories for me; I'd forgotten all the bizarre stimmies my son used to do. As he developed he began to realize it was not typical behaviour and that it made other kids uncomfortable and even pull away. He slowly managed to confine it to home and eventually grew out of it. Now, at 15, it seems like it never happened, a very distant memory. Hopefully, your child will mature out of it too.

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