On Saturday morning, I woke up at 5 a.m., to the self stimulatory sounds of my son. It was a mixture of Nate’s laughing, grunting, and tapping his head, as he tossed and turned while in his bed.
For those that are not familiar with self stimulatory behavior, also called self stimming, it is repetitive body movements that are done by some children and adults with autism or developmental disabilities.
Nate began this behavior when he was a toddler. First he would shake his finger or flick a toy in front of his eyes. As he grew up, it changed to him laughing, grunting, shaking his arms and hands, flailing them in the air, and tapping himself on his head.
At times, when Nate is self stimming, it is difficult to distinguish if he is doing it because he is happy, irritated, or angry. This past Saturday morning, I assumed he was excited because he was home and not at the residential facility, which he knew meant, that it was time for his favorite activity, swimming.
As Nate showered and dressed, he continued self stimming, with his body shaking and his voice giving a deep and loud laugh, until we were out the door and in the car. Once we arrived, Nate rushed me, pulling my arm to the locker room, where I helped him to quickly change into his swim gear, as he continued his self stimming behavior. He did this as he guided me out of the locker room toward the pool, where he walked down the steps, then submerged his body under the water. I smiled as I watched him come up for air, while moving his arms in his repetitive movement and laughing, which echoed through the pool area.
While I sat on the bench watching Nate, I thought about his self stimming behavior and how at one time, I tried to stop it. I read medical journals about children with special needs and their behaviors and how to decrease the movement. I spoke to his psychiatrist, to have a medicine prescribed for him, which I hoped would eliminate them completely. I even prayed, begging God to stop them permanently.
I just knew, that if these behaviors could be stopped, it would make Nate normal. It would calm him down, allowing him to concentrate and complete tasks. However, after years of trying to end Nate’s behaviors, with little or no success, I began to understand that stopping him was not the answer.
The solution was for me to accept my son’s self stimulatory behaviors. They were a part of him. I could not change them. All I could do was help him as much as I could by teaching him to control them, by redirecting or giving alternative activities. And as I went forward with helping him, my attitude about his self stimulatory behaviors changed. I was now at peace with who my son was and able to love him even more.