This is another symptom or behavior that goes hand-in-hand with autism much of the time.
I don’t know why he does it. People ask me why he stims, and I guess I don’t really need to know. It does something for him, and falls in the category of “If it doesn’t kill him or hurt him, well…okay then”. You’ve got to pick your battles. It keeps him happy while we are out shopping. It keeps him happy during church. On the other hand, we do have to make him stop in order to attend to a task, to listen to instructions, and to participate in an activity. He is capable of that.
I sometimes join him flipping bracelets. He’s really quite talented at it – I cannot possibly duplicate what he does. But when I try, he peers at me, fascinated, with those big brown eyes of his, and I know he knows I’m connecting with him on his terms.
As Rob & I have thought about this, we realize how much we ourselves “stim”. I twirl my hair and crack my knuckles. I like the way my hair feels and I don’t even realize I’m going it when I’m twirling it. And I’ve caught myself doing a little verbal stimming (scripting!) lately…can’t seem to stop saying under my breath “Ship my pants? I can ship my pants right here?” (If you haven’t seen the K-Mart commercial yet, go to YouTube and search “Ship my pants”.) Rob twirls his socks in the evening while watching TV. Everyone stims in some way: tapping a pencil, doodling. It does something for us. So flipping his plastic bracelets does something for him.
Some people work very hard to rid a person who is autistic of their stimming. My thought is: when they need to attend to something and the stimming is getting in the way, then yes, it would be good to be able to stop and attend. Otherwise, I have to believe that somehow it is organizing thoughts, or helping make sense of a situation, or calming, or a mental escape from a situation that is over-stimulating…something. And who am I to take that away from him? It’s part of who he is.
Instead of stopping him from stimming when we are out in public, I ignore the looks and concentrate on how happy he is, and tell him out loud how happy he and how good he’s being while mommy shops. At the very least, I am always smiling at him. And here’s the clincher: people’s reaction to him seems based on how I’m reacting to him. So if I’m okay with it, they are okay with it. And most importantly, he has moments during the day when he is not being fixed or messed with or redirected…he’s just being THOMAS, and that’s a pretty darn cool person to be.