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How To Teach Kids About Stimming

How To Teach Kids About Stimming

 

This week we’ve been talking about the ins and outs of stimming:

Today we’re rounding out this little series by talking about why it’s important to teach kids about stimming. 

It’s a topic that we don’t often think to explain to kids. We teach them how to cover a sneeze in public, make healthy food choices and punch a pillow when they’re angry, but stimming is really no different to any of these things. It’s a natural body action that we need to learn to self-manage and do in non-harmful ways. 

So whether or not they stim themselves, it’s really important to educate kids about why it happens, what it all means and how to do it in a healthy way.

 

Why should kids learn about stimming?

Everyone deserves to understand how their body works, without shame or stigma. Imagine the joy of finding out that lots of people do the same things that you do, that there’s a name and explanation for it, and that you finally have words you can use to talk about it.

It’s possible that kids who don’t understand about stimming may be more likely to do it in harmful ways, and to hide their stimming, especially if they’ve never learned about healthy ways to do it. Understanding the need to stim also gives kids a chance to have control over the way they use it, and learning about possible ways to stim helps them figure out how to make healthy stim choices for themselves.

It’s also important for kids to learn that stims can sometimes impact other people, but that there are ways that you can still stim while respecting the people that you share spaces with.

Learning about how and why people stim, especially in a way that all kids can relate to, increases acceptance and helps to reduce the bullying and social exclusion that comes from seeing it as a weird, abnormal or socially unacceptable thing to do.

A lack of understanding and acceptance of stimming can also make people try hard to suppress their need to do it, which as we’ve already seen has a negative impact on learning and productivity. Not only that, it greatly increases stress and meltdowns. And quite simply, it’s cruel to make a person go through that when there’s a way for them to manage and avoid those experiences.

So in short, understanding stimming is empowering for those who do it and increases acceptance and support amongst those who don’t.

 

Who should learn about stimming?

Everyone! This isn’t a discussion just for kids with autism or developmental disabilities, or those who already stim.

Talking about stimming in a wider context helps to increase awareness and social acceptability of what is a natural behaviour. This is incredibly important for kids who need to stim in order to cope with the stressful environment of school, but are often bullied or socially excluded for doing so.

Another reason it's important to talk to all kids about stimming is that you may not be aware that a child is already doing it. They might only be doing it in private, or you may have misinterpreted their stimming as something else like misbehaviour or noncompliance or ‘hyperactivity’. They might be trying really hard to stifle the urge to stim, which is going unnoticed and only increasing their stress and causing them to experience more meltdowns. So don’t wait until after you’ve identified that a child is stimming before you talk to them about it.

So if you’re a parent or teacher or therapist or human, add yourself to the list of ‘people who need to know about stimming’!

 

Things kids should know about stimming

Here are some talking points to cover when explaining stimming to kids, and suggested answers to the kinds of questions they might ask. How you address it will depend on lots of factors like developmental level, how they learn best, whether they currently stim, the kinds of stimming they like to do and whether that’s causing any problems for them.

What is it?

Stimming is a normal, natural biological urge to do the same thing over and over. Some people need to do this more than others, but nearly everyone feels the need to do it sometimes. 

Why do people do it?

There are lots of reasons that your body might make you feel like stimming. Sometimes you have a lot of energy that builds up and needs to be let go, like when you’re really excited or nervous or angry. Sometimes your body wants you to touch, smell, taste, hear or see new and interesting things. Moving around might help you to think better, or give you something to do when you’re bored. Stimming can be a good way to show how you’re feeling. And sometimes your body just really feels like it wants to move and you might not know why.

What kinds of stims are there?

There are lots and lot of ways to stim, hundreds in fact! Because our bodies all need different things, everyone likes to stim in their own way. Some people like to tap their fingers on the table, flap their hands or press their fingertips together. Other people might twirl their hair or spin around, rock back and forth, bounce their legs up and down or rub something bumpy. There are other ways to stim too, like counting things or saying a word lots of times or listening to the same song very loudly.

Is stimming a good or bad thing?

There are lots of reasons why stimming can be a good thing for your body to do. It can make you feel better when you’re upset, calm you down when you’re angry, show people how happy or excited you are or just generally make you feel good. It can even help you to concentrate and do better at solving problems.

Sometimes though stimming can be harmful to your body, especially if the action is causing pain or damage. Sometimes people can do too much stimming and forget to look after themselves or do their school work. So just like how not doing enough exercise or eating the wrong foods can be bad for our bodies, stimming is also something that we need to do carefully.

Sometimes stimming can affect the people around you. It might annoy or distract them from what they’re doing, just like how you sometimes get annoyed by things around you too. That’s why it’s important to have some rules about when it’s okay and not okay to stim. 

When is it okay to stim?

It’s usually okay to stim if it isn’t going to hurt you or someone else, or stop anyone from doing something that they need to do like work or learning (including yourself). Your teachers or parents can help you figure out the okay and not okay times to stim.

What do you do if you need to stim at a not-okay time or place?

If you need to stim when you’re at school or in another place where other people are around, you can choose a stim that’s not going to stop anyone else from what they need to do. You might also be able to go somewhere else to stim, like another part of the classroom or outside or your bedroom. Your parents or teacher can help you to figure out different stims that feel good for you, and where is the best place for you to do them.

 

Resources

If you're looking for ideas of less-distracting and practical ways to stim in the classroom, grab the download 45 Classroom Friendly Stimming Ideas.

It's also important for kids to have a way to let you know that they need to take a stimming break. This set of 'I Need Help' advocacy support cards are a great tool for that, especially for students who struggle to access language when upset or distressed. The cards provide an easy, nonverbal, unobtrusive way for them to express their needs or remember the kinds of help that they can ask for.

 

What's next?

Tomorrow I'm going to wrap up 'stim week' with a bit of a fun look at real-world, practical, portable stimming with everyday objects - 10 Ways to Stim with a Clothes Peg :)

 

This article was first published on 10 February 2017

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