Rocking. It’s one of the ‘classic’ signs that a child may have autism. Professionals in the field may refer to this as ‘stimming.’ We all stim, to a certain degree. Stim is a short word for behaviors that are self-stimulating or soothing. I had a good friend in Middle and High School that would twirl her hair. Some people may tap a pencil or bounce their leg. These are all ‘stimming‘ behaviors – but the difference between a NT (Day 35 – I’m a Neurotypical) stimming and a person with Autism stimming is the acceptability factor.
One common behavior for people on the spectrum is rocking. Other types of stimming that are popular with children on the spectrum include flapping, spinning themselves (or items), hitting themselves, or repeating words. I was reminded of this during worship this morning. Why do these folks rock? Well…it’s calming. It allows the child to focus on something without having to interact with the environment. Tucker used to rock in overwhelming places, especially when he was sitting down and couldn’t crash or run.
He has since stopped rocking – at least most of the time. Every once in awhile I will find him rocking, but only if he is incredibly sleep-deprived or has sensory overload. I never really cared that he rocked – but I also knew that it, in itself, would draw looks. He would have enough to deal with…the last thing I wanted for him were ‘looks.’
So…how did I get him to stop? First, I tried to identify trigger spots. When was he rocking? In what places? What was going on? All of a sudden, I became very thankful for those research classes in college. Thankful for my Professors who made me question again and again and again. Professors who challenged me to notice and consider a variety of factors in reasoning human behavior.
In the past, we went to a contemporary worship at church…he would usually rock there. So much noise, so many lights, so many people…we’ve changed to a different church and attend a more traditional service. It works much better for him.
In the past, I knew I wasn’t going to stop taking him to worship…so I tried providing an alternative. That alternative? Me. He needed input. I gave it to him. I sat beside him, close. My arm around him. Continually stroking his neck and shoulders. Hugging him. Holding his hand. Squeezing his leg. The rocking lessened-until it all but disappeared. He was getting his stimulation in other ways.
The thing about Autism is that just when you think you have something figured out, any progress can disappear and disappear quickly-without warning. Tucker didn’t sleep well last night. He’s getting some type of cold and woke up with a sore throat in the middle of the night. I heard him coughing, several times. When we left for worship I noticed the red eyebrows (see Day #28 – Sleeping Handsome). I knew we would be in a for a rough hour.
So, this morning in worship I was sitting beside Tucker. All of a sudden he started bobbing his head. He has since stopped rocking his entire body…but was rocking his head. Up and down, up and down quickly. I put my arm around him, I ran my hand up and down his back. He quickly put his head on my shoulder and stopped.
He doesn’t rock much anymore – he replaced rocking with me. So – when it appears my young boy…who looks like he is a grown man (standing at nearly 6’1, 200 lbs.) is trying to knock me over during a prayer, please know that he is simply trying not to rock back and forth.
Please don’t make him feel ashamed or embarrassed– this will only make it worse. If you ‘catch him’ stimming, provide some grounding for him.
Provide some input.
Reach for him.