barrier behavior stimming autism

Not All Stims Are Created Equal (Part 2)

Early Signs of Self-Stimulating Behavior

In my previous post, I discussed our experience with repetitive behaviors, Stims, that help calm and soothe. But Stims can also develop as a means of escape and further prevent development.

Escape/Barrier Stims:

Simon’s first Stim emerged when he was still just a baby. He mouthed objects obsessively. So much more than a teething phase, he chewed on any plastic or foam toys, furniture, and even his clothing. All Day Long. This was the first sign that he was having trouble coping with stimulation. His environment was either too much to deal with or it was a sensory seeking behavior. Either way it became a barrier. Instead of learning about his environment by exploring and playing, he just chewed on everything.

As we helped him reduce the mouthing obsession, he quickly picked up a replacement stim and started spinning objects: car wheels, chairs in restaurants, any round toy, etc. Actually it was amazing how many things he found to spin at home and it in public. Again this was another escape method that kept him from interacting with the world around him.

We also desperately tried to rid our house of any toys with buttons and batteries. He would hit the same button a million times a day and never actually play with the toys. This was another means of controlling his environment and shutting out the world.

As Simon grew, his stims changed too. Around his second birthday, he finally began to engage more with the world around him and consequently his frustration levels increased. As a way to cope when things became too stressful, he would bang his head on a wall or the floor. This by far was the most heartbreaking stim to deal with. Watching him physically try to hurt himself because he couldn’t cope had us all wrecked.

With two years of early intervention, we’ve taught him coping skills to reduce the Stims that were harmful or became barriers. And now we keep note of emerging Stims and how he’s using them.

Check back next week for my follow-up post about redirection methods to reduce barrier Stims.

Previously posted at Hudson Valley Parent Magazine.

*If you have any concerns about your child, please discuss with their pediatrician or contact your local school district or Early Intervention center for an evaluation.*