To my Son – Your stimming is beautiful.

To my son - Your stimming is beautiful. A small boy flapping excitedly

I hear your voice from the other room:

“Hello H. I am running about in the kitchen! I was running about and then you came!”

It is the longest utterance you have addressed to your sister. In fact, I can’t ever remember you speaking directly to her in this way before. My heart swells.

I creep in to watch you, in case you have more to say, but you turn away shyly; my presence has dispelled the moment.

“Sweetheart, that was lovely. It is wonderful to hear you speaking to H so nicely and being kind to her. Well done. What a good boy.”

Your face contorts with emotion, mouth open, eyes wild. You raise your hands up towards your eyes, twisting finger between fingers, shaking your whole torso. This pose is held for a moment before you move, turning away, your legs carrying you off with a joyful little trot and you twist and flap your hands again.

I know these movements. I know them like I know your face. They tell me how pleased you are with my praise. They tell me that your little body, your little heart, your little soul is filled with feelings and sensations too overwhelming for you – you cannot process them; they must find an outlet some other way.

If you type stimming into Google, it says this:

“Self-stimulatory behaviour, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in people with autistic spectrum disorders.”

’11 People With Autism Explain What Stimming Feels Like’ includes this quote from Katy Kennah:

“Stimming is like breathing… just as natural, just as important.”

Stimming, my love, is like breathing for you; it is necessary. Necessary for you, invaluable for me.

When the world is too bright, too busy, too overwhelming, it tells me what I need to do to help you. You bite your lips and fingers, tug and cover your ears, grind your teeth – sometimes you make noises or repeat words, words that seem to have no relation to what is happening around you. And I know you need a quiet place to be alone, the pressure of your weighted blanket cocooning you in your own little world, way from the painful noise and confusing chaos.

When you are happy, and overwhelmed with pleasure and amusement, it tells me that you love me, that I am doing something right. You raise your legs as you trot along, hands flapping, fingers twisting, mouth forming strange shapes in between your laughs and shouts. I know you are happy.

I have heard the questions – “Does he do that all the time? He looks quite uncomfortable. Is he in pain?”

Yes. You do it all the time. Sometimes the world is painful to you. Sometimes it is a symptom of your unadulterated glee.

When I first realised how much you do these actions, how much they consume you, I admit I was full of fear. They make you stand out. They make others stare. Your youth, at this moment in time, protects you. An inability to control emotions is so common in children of your age. Yet still, already there have been stares. Already, I have tried to make you stop, when I thought someone might see you and judge you unfairly. My gorgeous boy, now I see, stimming is like breathing to you – how could I possibly seek to stop you? Your breathing is my breathing, your comfort my own, your pain unequivocally mine.

But more than that, these actions are part of you; I don’t remember a time when you didn’t do them.

Sweetheart, although I know your stimming may make you seem strange, may make others point or laugh or wonder what is ‘wrong’ with you – I don’t want to take it away. To take it away is to take away part of you. I don’t want to change you; I want to change the world so that when you stim the world sees what I see: your passions, your love, your fears, your soul shining through – and you, all the parts of you, are beautiful.

To learn more about our autism journey, you might wish to read ‘Autism? More like bad parenting.’
To my son - your stimming is beautiful. An explanation of how one parent learned to accept and love her son's stimming.

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55 thoughts on “To my Son – Your stimming is beautiful.

  1. a lovely read (again!), i used to work as a t.a. in a mainstream secondary and we were supposed to “train” our a.s.d. students out of their stimming “habbits”. i (and other colleagues) always felt uncomfortable about this. we could see that many behaviours were natural to them and in response to their emotions, feeling overwhemed or just unable to contain their joy/confusion/worry etc. it always felt a bit wrong to expect our autistic students to change to fit in with what’s “normal” when their own responses are so natural to them.

    i hope that you can change the world. i hope that autistic people will no longer be expected to fit in with everyone else’s idea of normal. i hope that your little boy always feels free to express his feelings naturally. x

    1. Thank you so much 🙂 Although I don’t necessarily always disapprove of helping people to manage stimming in certain situations, (though only because the world is wrong 😑) have no idea why you would want to ‘train’ anyone to stop most of the time. It seems ridiculous to me! x

      1. yes it was the attitude of the school that they were just bad habbits that could be trained out of them that we felt uncomfortable with. a lot of us teaching assistants could see that it was more deep rooted than that. that working with the students to help them actually understand their emotions would be more beneficial to the students. our special needs dept was large and was split between two buildings. the overall senco was more hard lined but the manager of the other building was more understanding. i liked the days when i got to work in her part of the department.

  2. What a lovely & touching post. That’s fantastic that your son spoke such a long & well-spoken sentence! It’s hard when you have to hide as to not ruin the moment, I’ve had the same experience with my kiddies. That’s really touching that your praise meant so much. I haven’t heard of stimming but that makes so much sense! There are so many ways to communicate. x

    1. Thank you. He loves praise so much. It’s something that’s guaranteed to provoke stimming. Although he does it when anxious too, I think that’s part of the reason I feel so positively about it. How could anyone fail to love their little boy expressing so much joy at being praised? Thanks for commenting. x

  3. This is lovely! & I entirely agree – what is needed is for people to understand and be able to interpret these behaviours when they see them so that they can accept them and respond appropriately, it isn’t that the stimming itself needs to be stopped. #anythinggoes

    1. Thank you. It’s amazing how many stories I hear of people being ‘trained’ out of it. I wouldn’t have felt happy with that before but now I see how much it is a part of my son I feel even more strongly. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  4. Awww it definately helps get rid of the overwhelminhness and definately is a coping mechanism to help the individual and person who knows them how they feel through actions rather then words X #spectrumSunday

  5. This is such a lovely post. We are currently going through the process of getting a diagnosis of ASD for my nearly four year old son. He spins round in circles, taps his face with his comforter, rocks his head and drops himself to the floor. I believe this is him stimming. He does these things when he is particularly happy but also when he is out of his comfort zone. I’m ashamed to admit that I used to be a little embarressed when he first started doing this but I have got used to it now and realised that it just makes him unique and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Quite the opposite in fact 🙂

    Visiting from #BloggersClubUK

    1. Thanks so much for commenting. You might want to check out my other post The Day He Wasn’t Neurotypical, as it deals with our diagnosis process. Hope you get some speedy answers. x

  6. I love how you described stimming. I couldn’t have described it any better myself. When my teenager was small, he would smack his ears a lot. He always had a love/hate relationship with music. Certain sounds really seemed to hurt his ears so he would slap them as to try to block out the sound. I used to think he was going to make his ears bleed he would slap them so hard but then I recieved his diagnosis and the stimming behaviors (there were more, as I’m sure you know from you own son) explained. After that, I was focused on helping him. That was the only stimming behavior though, that worried me because I was worried about him hurting himself but the others expressed his excitement and joy and I wasn’t concerned with taking them away. Like you said, at a young age, it’s normal for children to not be in control of their emotions so not too many people stare. My son has very little stimming now but every now and then they will come out, especially when he’s happy. Only now, he’s 5’7″ tall and 150 pounds so he gets more looks now. I want to change the world for him because if that’s all people see when they look at him, they are seriously missing out because he’s so smart, funny, and caring. Thank you for sharing this! #bloggerclubuk

  7. What a beautiful post. Whilst my big lad doesn’t flap he paces and repeats words or phrases like he will give you he Top 10 characters in Smash bros over and over. I must admit that I do sometimes say one last time please to him. But your post has helped me to see his from another perspective. Thank you!

    1. Ahhh it can be a bit much for us, I agree. But I was just struck by this thought when I realised how happy his stimming made me in that moment too – gave me a new perspective. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  8. I find stimming so fascinating and spend hours watching and joining my boys with their stimming. Seeing how they’re so impulsive, uncontrollable, and figuring out what they mean in that moment. The sheer joy that they can get from rocking back and forth, tapping, or bouncing around means you can’t help but smile.

    Beautiful article, thanks for sharing

  9. Beautiful post, absolutely nailed it!

    Early on we feel like we have to force out children not to do these actions as it makes them stand out, makes people stare, and think they’re weird. We want to protect them, we don’t want to feel embarrassed, so we try to find other outlets, or even stop them Stimming. Then we learn, we start to accept, and we realise just how important Stimming is.

    This has been on my list of topics to write about, and you’ve inspired me to make sure I do soon (although gonna be hard to top this!!)

  10. Ok, you have made the hair on my neck stand up with this post. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful! There are no other words! Thank you for joining me on #spectrumsunday lovely. I really hope you join me again this week xx

  11. Pingback: Spectrum Sunday #10 - Sons, Sand & Sauvignon
  12. What a heart felt post, I had ever heard of Stimming before reading this and now I understand a little more. What a proud moment with the spoken sentence and that he was so happy with the praise you gave him. Your words of love stand out very clearly xx Thank you for joining us at #BloggerClubUK hope to see you again next week x

  13. Totally agree with this post. It’s an outlet for our autistic children, if it helps them to cope with a neurotypical life in which others don’t really understand, then so be it.
    I think everyone has some sort of coping mechanism, some are hidden as people grow up, some aren’t.
    Live and let live is what I tell me children, I wish people who are so quick to judge did the same.
    Great sentence from your boy too.
    Thanks for linking up with #SSAmazingAchievements

  14. I can’t read this post without tears. I love how honest it is, I wish I was brave enough to share this with the world. Stimming can be a very scary thing at first but it is part of our amazing children. It does tell us so much x x x

    1. Thank you so much. It came to me pretty much as once as I was watching him with his sister. I still worry, of course, but I did have an epiphany moment that made me realise it’s all part of him. Thanks so much for your kind words. xxx

  15. Oh thank you so much. As a child, my stims were beaten out of me. Sort of. i still stimmed, just I had fear/pain/shame/guilt to go with it. When I was finally correctly diagnosed and started working on healing and growth, my autism doctor helped me let go of the trauma and paim, and now I stim freeling and when and where I need to do so. Apparently we all stim, even an awesome Mom like you. Just for those of us on the aitism spectrum, those stims are often more noticable, like flapping, or rocking or so many others. Those of us whom are adults in the Aitism community, call it #loudshands and embrace our stims as self regulation, expression and so much more in all the different forms they take. Including Echolallia (tepeatimg words or sounds that seem unrelated, but are avtually ver important) as a part of our lives, as a part of the richness of being ourselves.

    Thank you for embracing your son and his ways of being. You are awesome!

  16. THANK YOU for writing your blog, I wish I could copy everything you just wrote and put it on every wall in special needs schools in South Australia. We have a few awesome teachers, but some how we still have the ignorant teacher’s and support worker’s. I am now home schooling my daughter as I could no longer stand by and let my daughter be treated with no respect. Hopefully things change as I worry about the other children in her class who just get treated like naughty/annoying children who are not allowed to use there voice………..

    You really give me hope that better things are coming, maybe not for my daughter and her peers, but hopefully when another 10 years pass special needs children will be treated with the respect they truly deserve.


  17. What a lovely post!

    My son is currently going through the diagnosis for autism.

    I always get comments about how “with the fairies” he is and you know what? I wouldn’t change it for the world either.

    Amazing post. Amazing Mummy xxx

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