Explain hand flapping and other behaviours

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Mani
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05 Jun 2013, 1:32 pm

Hi,

I'm new to this site. My son was recently diagnosed with ASD so I am still in the process of understanding what it all means. I am very insterested in this discussion about the hand flapping, bouncing and other behaviours. My son does the hand flapping and he has this head nodding thing that he does as well. I still don't fully understand what it means. I have come here to get some insight into this. Can someone explain this to me? Do these types of behaviours bring a sense of calmness? What is the purpose of doing this? I see there has been alot of discussion around doing this in public places. Originally I thought that I should tell him to stop doing this but now after having read these posts I am second guessing myself. If I tell him to stop will the behaviour turn into another behaviour or a form of anxiety?

I appreciate any advice or insights you can provide.
Thanks



vixx
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05 Jun 2013, 2:41 pm

Welcome to WP. It is great to see a parent showing interest in their child and trying to understand rather than just throwing them in a straight-jacket.

Hand-flapping and other stimming behaviors are involuntary, kind of like breathing. They don't really "mean" anything. Nobody sits around and thinks, "I'm gonna start flapping my hands like a crazy person to freak out my family and classmates."

Stimming does bring a sense of relief and calming comfort. Being in my early twenties, one of my more prominent stimming behaviors is hand flapping when I am very happy or excited about something. Just an example scenario: if I got accepted into my university of choice, along with other expressions of joy that people can exhibit like squealing or jumping for joy, I would probably be running around in circles flapping my hands. Weird, but I'm not hurting anyone. Unfortunately, some kids do have harmful stims like banging their head on hard surfaces. I used to chow down on pens/pencils and my nails which was less harmful, but pretty gross.

Other variations of stimming may occur when a person is nervous or angry. Often, different stims can accompany different states of mind. Everyone is unique. Click here for a blog about it -> The Purpose of Stimming

Stims can usually be "controlled" when you get older and more aware, but it's not preferable to do so because then you would be suppressing your own being. Kind of like an itch that needs to be scratched and won't just go away. If you don't scratch it, you would probably go nuts. If you do scratch it, you'll feel better. I'm a huge "stimmer", so in order to not draw so much attention to myself, you will usually see me bouncing my leg away at work. With leg bouncing, sure it can be annoying, but at least people like you aren't wondering "why the heck is she flapping her hands and rocking back and forth?"

If you tell him to stop he will probably develop some anxiety and self-consciousness about it and probably stimming will manifest in other forms if he does try to make himself stop the behavior you don't like him doing. I think most people grew up being told that whatever they were doing isn't appropriate in public because of society's judgmental nature, and have found ways around it.

I also think some people have suffered from a build up of these instances where people (especially parents) make no effort to accept who they are. Imagine growing up with the internalization that you are not normal and you will never be accepted. Of course parents usually don't mean to impart this message to their children but sometimes they can reinforce it, along with teachers and peers who may not understand the reasons for stimming.

Maybe a good compromise would be having the kid do it in their room if there is company, or just raising awareness in his community about the behaviors and maybe having people learn to accept it as part of who he is. I think that would be a positive ideal, but it's probably easier said than done. Esp. in a school setting where some of these behaviors could be considered distracting to the learning environment. It can be tough, but I think you would have to go through explaining it to the teachers (who in this day and age really should have more awareness about autism as a whole, but that's another issue) and the teachers in turn would then explain to the student's classmates that the behaviors are not something to worry about or harass the child about. A lot of parents have a field day trying to fight for what is best for their child in the public education system. More parents I think just give up because it's not really easy for people to understand.

You didn't say how old your son is, but hopefully in a few years time, a lot of progress will have been made across all generations regarding neurological diversity.



nebrets
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05 Jun 2013, 2:47 pm

Sometimes it is a way to deal with exsess energy, or anxiety, or happiness. Sometimes it is just a state of being thing: when I study I rock, and I am almost always shaking my leg. I advise not trying to make him stop unless he is self harming with the behavior. When I try to stop the movement it takes all of my concentration to do so and is very stressful as most of it happens on an unconscious level.


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Tuttle
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05 Jun 2013, 3:29 pm

I disagree that they don't mean anything. They mean a lot. They're things you can learn how to read, and can learn how to understand people better from.

Watch, and figure out patterns. What else is going on.

For me, if I'm handflapping, that means I want to communicate, and can't for some reason, either internal (because I can't find the words, or can't find ones strong enough emotionally), or external (the people who the message needs to get to aren't around).

Now, going and trying to make me communicate if you see me handflapping, won't help. But understanding that I'm in that sort of state, gives you a better idea of where I am. And there are different flaps for more excited, and more frustrated, or such. My handflaps give information that I can't at times.

Now, other stims, do the same thing. Rocking, you might think its all just rocking, but there is different types of rocking for needing to be left alone, or for not needing to be left alone. Learning to read that would be helpful. The stims give information.



vixx
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05 Jun 2013, 10:06 pm

Tuttle, you're totally right about stimming patterns and how they do mean things, but usually it's things we don't have the words for at the time. I read the OP saying she "doesn't understand what it means" and my literal mind wanted to say that there are no strict or singular definitions corresponding to stims, as they are unique to each. That is to say that stims have varying meanings, based on the moment and the individual.

It's true, you can eventually know how your son is feeling if you get to know his stims, even if he doesn't say anything.. That would be very helpful indeed.

Also agree about stims as an outlet for excess energy. actually i get bursts of running around randomly (kind of like a cat lol) and sometimes I take that energy and channel it into a set of pushups or pull-ups, whatever. At these times, I would also usually like to holler but I don't want to bother anyone so I usually make some quieter, weirder sounds in my room haha. :oops:



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06 Jun 2013, 7:57 am

I thought hand flapping was the reaction to being excited.



Ettina
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06 Jun 2013, 9:14 am

Quote:
Hand-flapping and other stimming behaviors are involuntary, kind of like breathing.


Not for me. I do a few stims automatically as a habit, but many I chose to do. I find when I'm getting overloaded, certain stims make me less overloaded. And when I'm bored, other stims make me less bored. It's all about regulating my arousal level.

I also have a few stims that are more like an equivalent to laughing - an automatic reaction to strong emotion. I can suppress them, but I really don't like to because it causes emotional issues.



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06 Jun 2013, 4:43 pm

I have become very predictable In the eyes of my Missus. I swear she could do amazing as done sort of autistic support worker. She knows how I feel just by looking quite often. Note that this is with very little facial expression.



ASdogGeek
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06 Jun 2013, 5:08 pm

Tuttle wrote:
I disagree that they don't mean anything. They mean a lot. They're things you can learn how to read, and can learn how to understand people better from.

Watch, and figure out patterns. What else is going on.

For me, if I'm handflapping, that means I want to communicate, and can't for some reason, either internal (because I can't find the words, or can't find ones strong enough emotionally), or external (the people who the message needs to get to aren't around).

Now, going and trying to make me communicate if you see me handflapping, won't help. But understanding that I'm in that sort of state, gives you a better idea of where I am. And there are different flaps for more excited, and more frustrated, or such. My handflaps give information that I can't at times.

Now, other stims, do the same thing. Rocking, you might think its all just rocking, but there is different types of rocking for needing to be left alone, or for not needing to be left alone. Learning to read that would be helpful. The stims give information.



Exactly! Ad for everyone it is different and some stims can and will change over time. Stim in also helps filter information for me. I have to stim when I am thinking and processing stuff.


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06 Jun 2013, 7:46 pm

My hand flapping is usually because I'm excited about something I am seeing in my mind and about my creativity and favourite shows.

My hand twisting is nervous stuff

I have an angry thing of hitting my head which isn't a good thing and I try to not do it or press my head instead.



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06 Jun 2013, 7:50 pm

Other stuff I do is silly walks and flappy running and stretching positions and shouting and echolalia and spinning things and tearing bottle labels and ripping paper and folding paper.



girly_aspie
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06 Jun 2013, 8:02 pm

It is, as others have said above, different for everyone. In my case I rock when I need comfort of some kind, I flap my hands when I'm bubbling over with positive energy, and my foot-tapping is something I do without even knowing I'm doing it, I think it's just an outlet for energy, like a kettle whistling.


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Mani
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07 Jun 2013, 6:24 pm

Thank you so much for sharing and explaining what these behaviours mean. I will be more aware of what my son is doing and how he is feeling.

I will definitely be back with more question.