Stimming and Special Needs: The Good, The Bad and the Flappy

Last updated on November 10th, 2014 at 11:14 pm

child making stimming motions

How do you react when when your dog greets you at the door with a wagging tail or your cat cuddles up to you and purrs loudly? You might think it’s cute or that the animal is just expressing its feelings. Do you ever get angry? do you ever think your pet is acting weird? Of course not, it’s just the natural way they use body language or their voice box.

Now think about how most people react to a child having a tantrum, kicking and screaming. How do people respond when a child with special needs is flapping their hands,  spinning a toy car’s wheels or banging their head against a wall. Some people get downright angry about these behaviors, especially when they happen in public. But the child is just expressing his or herself, using the body language and sound that come naturally. While some of these may be harmless, many of these behaviors may be considered annoying or distracting and others can be downright dangerous.

Let’s go back to our beloved pets. A puppy naturally needs to chew, so it finds a shoe and chews it to bits. The puppy isn’t trying to destroy your property or do anything to harm you personally, it is just a teething baby that needs to chew. A good pet owner will simply hide all the shoes and introduce chew toys, substituting a more appropriate way to fulfill the puppy’s need to chew. A cat needs to scratch, it is simply instinct as well as a way to mark territory and sharpen claws. Unless the human wants shredded furniture it’s a good idea to provide a scratching post and train the cat to use it instead of the couch to satisfy its need to scratch.

So how can we allow our special needs kids to express themselves without getting injured or doing damage to themselves or to property? Just like with our animal companions, we substitute a more appropriate behavior that satisfies the same need.  If a child seems to need to jump, a small trampoline might be just the ticket. If a child needs to chew, fashionable chew-able accessories are available. Read this article on substituting stimming behaviors and download the worksheet.

As for hand-flapping, if it is an expression of happiness or excitement and it is not injuring the child, anyone else or anyone’s property then why change it?

Photo provided by Kfagan6;  CC license

About the Author

Rosie Reeves is a writer and mother of three; including one with special needs. She works side-by-side with her daughter’s therapists, teachers and doctors. Rosie has also served as the Los Angeles Special Needs Kids Examiner. She can be reached at rosie327@aol.com.Rosie is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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