How to handle stimming in autism

Published December 21, 2020, 11:13 AM

by Noel Pabalate

The issue of Manny Gonzalez’ harsh reply to a review about Plantation Bay by a mother to a child with autism may be dying down, and his resignation as the resort’s resident shareholder may have put his case completely close, but misunderstanding autism behavior is still a concern.

First and foremost, we can not just ask Dr. Google about autism and get one paragraph of description, because bare in mind, we can’t generalize their behavior or skills since no two autistic children are the same. 

Although children with autism may exhibit some common self-stimulating behaviors such as flapping of hands, jumping, rocking, swaying, spinning, repeating words or phrases, deviant eyegazing, tapping of fingers and squealing among many others, Dr. Google would say the effect of autism is still different in each person. And what you see with their actions is more than meets the eye.

This photo is just a represenation and not the real boy in the Plantation Bay issue

Take note that they use self-stimulation to communicate non-verbally or for different reasons like when they are stressed and upset or excited and happy, just like the boy who squeals in delight every time he jumped into the pool.   

According to Robyn Chua Rodriguez, a speech and language pathologist, everyone has self-stimulating behaviors to some extent. We tap our fingers, click our pens, bite our nails, bounce our legs and more. The difference is we can stop when we realize we are acting inappropriately and others are getting disturbed. Children with autism have difficulty in this aspect because reading social cues is a challenge for them.

In addition, stimming helps them regulate their bodies so they would feel calm when they are overwhelmed. However, it can also be self-injurious like when they bite their fingers too hard or bang their heads on the wall.

“Determining why they do it is not easy and would really require us to see and even feel things from their perspective. It starts with being aware of their condition, which should be followed by showing empathy,” said Robyn, who authored three books about empathy. 

Author and speech and language pathologist Robyn Chua Rodriguez

So what should we do when we see an autistic child stimming? “We all know how frustrating and isolating it is when we are not understood and our feelings are dismissed. So the next time you see someone with autism stimming, don’t just ask them to stop. Instead, take the time to listen to what they are trying to communicate and acknowledge their emotions,” she advises.

“For us to know how to respond to their stims, we really need to get to know the child. But by just observing their facial expression and body gesture, we might get an idea if their stims show pleasure or frustration. So analyze the situation and notice how their parents or caregivers communicate with them. In most cases, they would know what to do and they would certainly appreciate it if we don’t stare and give rude remarks. We can give them an encouraging word or sincerely offer our assistance if needed.” 

Finger biting is one of the self-stimming behavior of children with autism

Robyn has this last piece of advice: when we realize that those with autism perceive things differently and express themselves differently, we should hold off our judgment and do our best to understand them. We should embrace their differences and show compassion. This allows us to build a genuine and meaningful relationship with them.