“It’s Just What I Do”

Sawyer has developed a new “tic”, or stim. I’ve noticed that the blinking I mentioned a while back is now pretty much gone, but now he’s doing this thing where he looks like he’s chewing after he talks. He kind of “chews” or smacks his lips a little on the left side now, and that’s new. I asked him why he does that, and replied “Um, I don’t know. It’s just what I do.”

Stimming is very common in individuals with autism. To some extent, we all stim, even if we don’t realize it. This article from The Place for Children With Autism says:

“Nail biting, twirling your hair, drumming your fingers on the table, or cracking your knuckles are all forms of stimming. For a child with autism, stimming might involve motor tics like rocking back and forth, licking lips, flapping hands, or repetitive blinking. It may also verbal tics like grunting, or repeating words or phrases, a behavior known as scripting or echolalia.”

Stimming isn’t usually harmful, but if it gets in the way of normal daily activities or is harmful to those around, then it becomes a problem. So far, Sawyer’s stims haven’t really hurt anyone or gotten in the way of his everyday life, thankfully. When he cleared his throat constantly, it was pretty annoying for those around him, but he stopped doing that a while back. 

Sawyer has always found ways to stim. When Sawyer was a baby, he was a classic autistic hand flapper. If you’ve ever seen a child get excited about something and start flapping their hands and maybe jumping up and down along with it, they are probably on the autism spectrum; hand flapping is one of the “trademark” signs of autism in babies and toddlers. Since he was old enough to walk, Sawyer has paced or ran around the house. To this day, he will walk up and down the hallway at the house and through the kitchen and living room, over and over again in the same exact pattern. When I ask what he’s doing, he will say “Just walking”. To others who aren’t used to it, it may seem very odd for a child to continuously pace or walk around the house in the same pattern for extended periods of time. There have been times when I’ve had company at the house, and when Sawyer paces they will watch him with a confused or concerned look on their face. For us, it’s normal and I don’t usually notice unless he chooses to walk in front of me. The fascinating part of it to me is that he doesn’t know why he does it.

When I see Sawyer stimming, I’ll often point it out and ask him why he’s doing it- whether it’s the new little chewing thing with his mouth, pacing the floorplan of the house, or tapping a pencil on the desk while he’s doing his homework. We were told a long time ago when Sawyer was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder that he was consider a “seeker”, which means that he seeks out sensory stimulation. When he stims, I don’t know if it’s because he’s upset, stressed, overly excited, or if he’s simply seeking out some sort of sensation that he enjoys. Most of the time, he’ll say he doesn’t know. If I can clearly see that he’s upset, I will continue to ask questions until we get to the root of the issue, but if he seems content, I will let it go. There’s no sense in pressing for an answer because he’ll only get confused and frustrated, and my curiosity as to how his mind works isn’t worth upsetting him. As Sawyer himself told me recently, it’s just what he does.

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