My son stims. He used to flap his arms and hands in a more obvious way of stimming, but as he grew older that stopped. We never told him to stop or discouraged it, he just grew beyond that need.
You might be asking “what is stimming?” The short answer – it’s a way to provide sensory stimulation in a variety of ways. The most obvious is hand flapping or jumping and squealing. Other methods include repetitive hand motions, jiggling a knee up and down, or pacing. We all stim to some degree, but individuals with sensory issues use stimming as a coping mechanism.
My son has figured out a lot of his own coping mechanisms. Today his vision therapist commented “he’s going to be a beat-boxer when he grows up!” I quizzically smiled – he was talking a mile a minute as always. She stopped and quirked an eyebrow at me: “he says it helps him focus?” He jumped in, “it does help me focus!” and then raced down the hallway.
I’ve explained multiple times that for him, sitting still and listening requires an immense amount of focus. He NEEDS to move. If quietly beat boxing helps him cope, I’m all for it.
What’s beat boxing? Making percussion sounds using your mouth, voice, lips, and tongue.
In hindsight this is funny
I joke about this – when the Engineer was an infant he didn’t talk much. In fact, as he grew closer to the grand age of 2, we worried. We asked his doctors if he needed speech therapy, and his pediatrician recommended that we get him evaluated. Once 2 hit – the floodgates opened. And now, he never shuts up!
It took me a while to understand that he’s a complex mix of psychomotor overexcitabilities and sensory processing disorder combined with stimming. Whatever you want to call it, he’s loud, he’s “ON,” and the only “OFF” switch is sleep.
We never said no
We’ve never told him to stop – not really. I’ll admit to an occasional grouchy “please shut up!” moment here and there when he’s at his loudest and my head hurts. I’ve never told him he has to stop. He just has to do it quietly. Apparently that’s as difficult as not doing it at all, unfortunately.
He’s actually really good at beat boxing. Surprising, given my complete lack of rhythm! He can keep a complex beat going while doing math problems, and absent-mindedly bops his way through his copy work.
He hums or quietly sings to himself as he reads graphic novels, and his feet tap, hands move, and body bounces. He’s stimming literally every second of his life! This child is physically incapable of sitting still.
Sure, being around a constantly moving, extremely noisy human version of the Energizer Bunny is irritating. Especially to someone like me, who requires silence to focus and struggles to understand if multiple people are talking. He’s especially irritating to those who feel that children should be silent and invisible in public.
Our goal as parents isn’t to get him to stop stimming. He needs to stim; to have that coping mechanism. Our goal is to dampen it down, turn the volume lower, and redirect to behaviors that don’t trigger other people. If I’m having a bad day and I explain to him that his loud voice is hurting my head, he’ll try to be quiet or move away from me.
He tries to be considerate, but he literally cannot understand why his loud, bouncy, and energetic behavior would bother anyone. After all, this is his normal. This is how his brain functions – isn’t everyone like that?
Do you stim? (hint: yes, you do)
Nope, we don’t all function like the Engineer. In fact, the majority of people don’t stim in these amounts. Because most people don’t understand it, stimming is seen as weird, undesirable, even scary. It’s one of those things that needs more awareness so that people understand that stimming is like their jiggling a foot or pacing on a phone call. It just looks a little different.
So for the kids and grown-up kids out there who need to stim – go for it! Be considerate of others, be kind, and be you.
For the parents – don’t stop the stimming. Your kid needs sensory input. They’ll figure out a coping mechanism one way or another, and some coping mechanisms can be harmful. Stimming isn’t. It just doesn’t look “normal.”
Normal is a setting on my washing machine. It’s overrated.