Stimming as a Coping Tool for Holiday Stress

This is a short excerpt from an interview posted at Connect, an online social network for autistic people and their families. 


Do you have any advice for parents of autistic children who find the season difficult?

I'm sure most parents already have many strategies, like giving a child plenty of notice about schedule changes and watching for sensory overload during social events or shopping trips.

What I'd add to that is the idea that autistic children have a lot of "built-in" resources. They can be remarkably good at self-regulating if they have the opportunity. For example, a lot of kids will instinctively know when they need to move to a quieter room at family gatherings to prevent an overload-induced meltdown. Parents can help them out by designating a quiet room and explicitly giving the child permission to go there whenever they need to.

This sounds like a small accommodation but it can increase a child's sense of control in unfamiliar or difficult situations and help them build coping skills--like being in tune with their body's signals and advocating for themselves-which they'll use for the rest of their lives. In the immediate term, accommodations also conserve cognitive resources, extending the child's capacity for other activities.

Similarly, most autistic kids will stim more when they're excited or stressed and that's an instinctive therapeutic response that helps them cope with those strong feelings. I remember as a kid always taking along my Silly Putty or Rubik's Cube on outings so I would have something to keep my hands busy. It's very calming and even as an adult, I find that having something close at hand to stim with allows me to enjoy social situations for a longer period of time. In that way, stimming is both a distraction from environmental stressors and a way of focusing internally.

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