Stimming: A Puppet Show for One?

by J

When I was a kid, my mom was friends with a woman whose son has autism. Until recently, this child was my only real life example of what autism “looks like”. Looking back, and knowing what I know now, chances are that this child had some additional challenges that extended outside of autism. However, we knew he had autism, and it was obvious… to everyone that encountered him.

Why was it so obvious?.. because out of all of his autistic behaviors, the one that was the most pronounced, the one that made him stand out in every crowd, was the fact that he was almost always flapping his hands in front of his face. It was as if he had two hand-puppets on and he was putting on a puppet show… for himself. Everyone was invited to the viewing, but only he knew the story line. At the time, I just knew that this never-ending puppet show was how he was, pretty much all of the time, and I knew he did it because he was autistic. I now know that this is a self coping mechanism and it is called stimming.

To me, stimming was what autism “looked like”.

When concerns first started to arise that S may have autism, stimming was one of my worst fears. I feared that S would become like the kid I grew up with and that he would be lost in his own world with just his hand puppets flapping in front of him. I worried that a behavior like this would cause my son to stand out and be made fun of and I worried that it would push him deeper into his own world. So, it was much to my relief when S seemed to not develop this behavior.

Until now.

Last week, S started flapping his hands when he is angry or upset. It seems that he no longer takes off his shoes for that sensory release and he has now moved on to hand flapping. Over the past few days, it has progressed and he now also flaps when he is excited. His teacher noticed it yesterday and confirmed that that is what I am seeing. So, now the fear is back. I guess this is just one more uncertainty that we will have to work through. One more thing about autism that I need to accept and hope that I am able to help my son deal with appropriately. And quite frankly, it is one more thing that I will worry about.

Will this behavior progress further?  Will this cause him to stand out and, in turn, be singled out and made fun of? And will that, in turn, cause him to further retreat into himself?

Will he become the ‘puppet show kid’?