Like most autistics, my stims (repetitive self-calming actions) have changed over the years. I was fascinated to find out that some special education professionals in New Zealand still think that children’s stims should be eliminated. Now, I think that if a stim is self-harming then there is value to this viewpoint, but otherwise eliminating the stim can in itself be harmful. Running along playground fences or painted lines, rocking, flapping, sucking fingers – these are all stims that are quite common and I absolutely cannot fathom why on earth anyone would suggest they be eliminated.
In further inquiry, it seems that neurotypical adults feel that these stims mark the autistic child (or adult) out as different, and so in the firing line. However, many of these same adults are quite comfortable with the idea of fiddle toys, and even whole boxes of fiddle toys for a child to have during mat time (this is a time when the whole class sits on the mat and the teacher is talking or reading to them etc). I have no understanding of how playing with a luminous green squishy ball is less of a stand out activity than flapping. For the record – I love my fiddle toys.
I was so proud to hear a teacher say that she did not want to eliminate a child’s stims, and even prouder when she asked if we could provide information about why she should not do so. She felt the stims helped the student function, calm and centre themself. And, I have to say this was one of the happiest autistic kids I have seen in a long time.
On the other hand, people have got all caught up about kids walking or running along the fence line at break time…. Why? Are there any safety issues? (no) Is it hurting anyone? (no) Does it have the potential to hurt anyone? (no) So what’s the issue? Often parents and teachers will explain that the issue is that the child is not being social, and I get this, but break time is for having a break. For neurotypical kids, break time is the time to be social, but for autie and aspie kids its the time to have a break from having to be social. Classrooms are social environments, there is hardly any alone, quiet time, its all group work, paired chat or class discussion (especially now)… all this socialising and then the kids are being asked to play with others (a social activity) when all they want is some down time to recuperate before the next round of social classroom learning.
So if you have a child or student who stims, ask yourself if it hurts them or others, and if not, leave them be, please. When harmless stims are forbidden, they are replaced with other stims. We need to self-calm, we need to centre ourselves after social or emotional interactions, so if you take away our preferred method, we will find another, and another…
And if you are thinking about trying to stop your child or student from looking different, well – would you tell someone not to wear glasses or use their walking stick because it made them look different?