Accepting My Child’s Self Stimulatory Behavior

Accepting My Child's Self Stimulatory Behavior
3 min read

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.Charlene

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  1. 1

    We seem to tolerate foot tapping and general wiggliness in people, but draw a judgmental line at simming. At church, two women near me have a palsy that makes them shake their heads. No one suggests they should sit somewhere else. We have several children with autism and related sims in our church. Yes, some people think they should not be there. But where else should they be? Fortunately, kinder heads prevail. One of these young people now ushers for my husband. His eye contact is unusual, but he loves the chance to serve the church. Thanks for your post.

    • 2

      Amen!!! I’m glad to hear that he serves at church. I think that after a while, people should learn to tune it out. I had to learn that. Sometimes it is hard when I’m trying to concentrate, however, I know it is who Nate is and he can’t control it.

  2. 8

    Well after all this time I had no idea that what my brother Stephen does has a name. Of course when Stephen was born in 1961 and misdiagnosed in 1963 nobody including my parents even knew the word Autism or what it meant much less stimming. In those days kids were labeled “retarded” and put away in institutions like Willowbrook. My parents refused to put Stephen away and did their best with little or no support services or programs. I especially have to give our Mom her props because Dad went to work every day but Mom had to deal with Stephen screaming every day at the top of his lungs. My mother went through a lot as some relatives blamed her for and accused her of doing something to make Stephen “That Way.” Even though our parents have been deceased over 20 years I still have some ignorant family members who believe the woman is at fault if the child is disabled. I finally stopped speaking to them in 2012. They disowned both me and Stephen but I don’t care and am happy to be estranged from these toxic people.

    As for Stephen’s stimming for a while things had gotten out of hand and he shook so badly that he would be soaked in sweat and could not function at all. He could not even eat and began to lose weight. I was scared. After numerous doctor visits the correct medication was found and he became much calmer.

    • 9

      Funny! We learn something new every day. That is why I enjoy reading blogs. I come away with new knowledge to add to my life and share with others.
      I really enjoyed your comment. Thank you or sharing. Wow!! your parents were awesome. Thank you God for them and their dedication to Stephen. Also, thank God for you for being a wonderful sister who is an active member in his life. He is truly blessed.

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