Are you one of those people who taps their pen whilst deep in thought, or do you twirl your hair whilst daydreaming? Do you doodle, bite your nails, or ever jump up and down to focus yourself before a big moment? If you do – you stim. You engage in self stimulating behaviour as a way of relaxing, centering yourself or relieving stress. I am an occasional nail biter, and at school I used to hum to myself to help concentration. That is, until my biology teacher told me very firmly that I wasn’t in a music lesson and would I please stop…
I had never considered that my singing was a form of stimming, until a couple of months ago when I began to wonder more deeply about some of Smiling Flowers behaviours. Around the house, Smiling flower follows me wherever I go and will often pace quickly around whatever spot I linger in for a while. I used to watch her and think ‘she is like a caged lion pacing round an invisible cage, she must be so bored’ (the inevitable emotion which followed being guilt for somehow not being a 13 hour entertainment system.) She also grinds her teeth on occasion, twirls her hair tightly round her fingers, and likes to wrap things tightly around her wrists. In the car she flaps her arms and hands. I believe all behaviour is a form of communication and up until now I haven’t understood what these behaviours communicate. To be honest, at times, we have worried that these activities seem vaguely autistic.
Thanks to a CHARGE syndrome foundation ‘Webinar’ by David Brown I now have much more understanding and feel much more relaxed. CHARGE syndrome is the most multisensory impaired syndrome. Smiling flower has visual, hearing, and touch impairment – all of which are underpinned by two ‘hidden senses’ of balance (vestibular) and proprioception (how your body knows where it is) which are also severely impaired. 95 % of people with CHARGE also have no sense of smell. Smiling Flower can’t be properly assessed for this yet. Suffice to say, her perception of the world is quite different from ours. So when our child with CHARGE stims, she is doing it to receive stronger sensory information, trying to feel centred, to inhabit her body in a stronger sense. As David Brown says, if a child is doing something, it is because it is enjoyable, necessary or both. It seems that self stimulating behaviour is both necessary and enjoyable for smiling flower. So I have tried to create a ‘sensory diet’ for Smiling flowers day. It is great to be able to help her stim rather than obsess about what it means. Throughout the day, we alternate all the normal stuff of life with bouncing on a trampoline, having a deep pressure cuddle or hanging upside down. It seems to be helpful. She loves it and she’s usually calmer afterwards.
And yet again, my prejudice has been challenged. I hope I will never again watch an autistic child pacing, or rocking and feel uneasy. I hope I will be able to think, there’s a kid who is like me. I was scolded for singing in biology; they may be pacing in Sainsbury’s. But all ‘stimmers’ are just trying to focus, to filter out some of the madness around them and feel centred. Stimming is actually a very adaptive and clever behaviour ( and yes, I hope my biology teacher, Mr D is reading!)
If you are interested in further resources these are highly recommended:
- Sensational kids: hope and help for children with Sensory Processing disorder.’ By Lucy Jane Miller et al.
- The Out of sync child. By Carol Stock Kranwitz
- Too loud. Too bright. Too fast. Too tight. What to do if you are sensory defensive in an overstimulating world. By Sharon Heller.
- Chargesyndrome.org/resources.asp Webinar ‘the forgotten senses’