Thursday, March 7, 2013

Hand Flapping!

 I read this on Facebook on an Autism Discussion Board and thought I would share it with my readers.  It is very useful information.  
Hand Flapping!

Hand flapping is a common self stimulatory behavior in autism. Stimming is a way for the child to help regulate his nervous system. We all have an optimum level of arousal for our nervous system. When the child is under-aroused, he will stimulate to increase his arousal level. Also, when he is over-aroused (excited, anxious, scared) he will also stimulate to calm his nervous system. Whenever their nervous system is excited, startled, bored, or overloaded, their nervous system seeks out the stimming to regulate it. Stimming works well because it provides rhythmic sensory input that they can control. You will find that the stimming looks a little different depending on the function it is serving (calming, organizing, alerting, etc.). In addition, many children need to feel their body in action in order to feel connected to it. Because their internal sensory cues do not provide good feedback they often need to stem to feel aware of their body.

Children with autism tend to seek out stimulation that feels good to their nervous system, as well as regulates it. We all engage in self stimulation (foot rocking, nail biting, gum chewing, hair twisting, smoking, cracking knuckles, etc.), but usually hide it under more socially acceptable behavior.

If you notice a big increase in stimming, the child's nervous system may be more disorganized for some reason. A strong sensory diet of jumping, lifting, pushing, carrying, any major gross motor activity, can help organize the nervous system. Hand flapping is very common because it provides very strong proprioceptive input into the wrists and joints of the fingers. The fast flapping provides strong rhythmic, pulsating input into the wrists, that feels good. The faster you flap the more intense the input. Occasionally, if the child does it a lot, the stimulation almost becomes addicting, because it is "feel good" chemistry. In addition some children will hand flap in front of their eyes because they are attracted to visual repetitive patterns. This is also soothing to the nervous system.

For many children on the spectrum, stimming is the one tool they have that they can control the stream of stimulation coming in from the world around them. It allows them to control the surge of emotions that often overwhelm them, and to maintain a sense of connectiveness to their body. When we restrain the child from stimming, you leave him without the one tool they have to protect their sense of safety and security. We can help the child by recognizing what their nervous system needs and providing it a good sensory diet that helps the nervous system stay calm and relaxed. We can recognize and reduce the environmental demands that tend to overwhelm the child. We can also listen to what the stimming is telling us that the child needs at that movement, and help provide it. But, please respect the need for stimming and do not punish the child for doing it. It is a lifeline for many of these children. As they get older their nervous system matures and often self stimming decreases. They also learn to provide less obvious and more socially acceptable forms of stimulation (like we do). However, they will almost always need to use it occasionally throughout their lives, when their nervous system becomes disorganized. Next time you are anxious and disorganized, and alone, try it, you may like it! 


Susanna House said...

Thank you for sharing this information, it's very helpful. My son aged 7 with fxs and autism has been doing a lot of stimming lately, usually ends with him throwing whatever he can get his hands on!!