Monday, February 09, 2009

The Price of the Stim

BA- Before Autism if you would have asked me the meanings and concepts behind dozens of phrases, I would have not had a clue. Among them was the idea of stimming. I guess it's not such a foreign idea to many of us on the NT side. The idea that you need to repeat things and do things to calm yourself down, to 'center' yourself, it's not such an alien idea. From spinning something mindlessly on your finger, to needing a cup of coffee and 1/2 hour in front of a TV to wind up or down, it's a pretty universal idea across the entire realm of human existence. Even the ideas of destructive stims: addictions; bad behaviors; I guess you could liken many of the world’s ‘vices’ to a negative ‘stim’.

Which brings me to my girls. Gracie’s stim behaviors I can almost relate as an OCD-type of behavior. Wanting certain thing certain ways; repeating sections of videos over and over and then echoing them back nearly as much. Nothing kills conversation more than hearing a 4 year old giving you the Baby Einstein sales schpiel from the end of the tape with all the same words and inflections. The only time her stims become truly negative is when they need to be repeated to the exclusion of all else and tantrums ensue if they are not ‘honored’. In short, Grace’s ‘stims’, if you can call them that, are not normally negatively impacting her or our life.

Livie, on the other hand, has a number of stims that can easily get out of hand and prove to be harmful to person and/or property. Let’s start with the oral fixations. We have really battled, over the past 4 years, over what’s going into her mouth and trying to find non-dangerous (read non-toxic; non disgusting; hopefully non offensive) alternatives to her chewing ‘stims’. We’ve had wipes replaced by gum; toys replaced by chewie tubes; socks replaced by…by…what was it, wipes? Anyway, the oral need to chew and grind always seems to wane and wax; lately we’ve been in full blown, chew everything in sight, mode. We need to get her back on some minerals we’ve been lacking lately and we think pica has begun to rear its ugly head, even with Gracie.

Now finally we get to the reason for this post, Livie’s all time favorite stim: kicking. This one goes back all the way to the beginning of her regression, pre 2 year old, when she first started kicking in front of the television. We thought it was neat, because when she first started this stim (before we know what a stim was), she would get excited at the start of a Dora tape and lay on the ground and kick her heals to the beat of the song. We laughed for a few weeks until it also was being done in anticipation of, to request additional viewings and eventually as just a need in general.

This kicking stim has gradually morphed into an all purpose communication tool, relaxation technique, sensory seeker, attention seeker and even sometimes, affection seeker. Having Livie come sit next to you and stick her feet in your face is indeed an honor, as you are privileged enough that she sees foot that you massage hers! If she is not liking your position or her lack of being the center of attention, she will give a bang on hopefully an inanimate object. On occasion, a living breathing being will be the object to kick. Most often she is very precise with her blows and they will be as a touch on the shoulder. I look at her feet almost like another set of arms and hands as they are quite exacting and almost gentle (it’s like the trunk of an elephant if you can grasp that concept). Nevertheless, we have had some scary kick moments with both human and feline when Livie becomes less than focused on what her feet are doing.

Ah, yes, feet not in control. Let’s see what Livie has done over the last 2 years or so. She has taken out all three doors on our entertainment center. She has rendered the remote on our living room TV unusable (she must have hit the infrared receiver on the TV itself. She has taken the sliding doors of her bedroom closet off their hinges and exposed the nails on the plasterboard walls next to her bed. She has destroyed the blinds in her room. And last but not least, the pièce de résistance, last week she put a hole in the wall of our bedroom. Linda had only clocked her in the room a couple of minutes; she had pounded on that wall for hours over the past two years. She must have hit it just right.

Like it or not, we have now labeled the kicking stim public enemy #1. It's not that we are stopping it at all costs; we just have stopped 'ignoring' it. She can't go back to our room until we can figure out how to repair the damage. Re-wallpapering our bedroom was not on the agenda.

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