Monday, February 25, 2013

Article # 322. Understanding and Embracing Diversity

He flaps his hands and screams a lot, but he doesn’t mean to annoy you:

Many people with Autism, both young and old, may flap their hands, rock their body and scream with no obvious reason. These behaviours are examples of ‘Self-Stimulatory Behaviours’, also known as STIMMING. These behaviours are very common with people who have Autism Spectrum Conditions/ Disorders (ASC/  ASD) and they happen in most social settings. It comes to no surprise (yet to me, unacceptable) that when non-autistic people witness these behaviours, they either laugh or get irritated, particularly if the social setting they are in requires silence such as in the classrooms.

It is important for us and others around those people with ASD to understand why these behaviours occur. One theory suggests that people with Autism ‘stim’ in order to manage anxiety-provoking situations, such as when they enter a new room/ building, encounter a new person for the first time or when they are about to take an exam. Another theory posits that ‘stimming’ is a way of dealing with overwhelming sensory inputs such as sudden changes in lighting for example, when a teacher turns off the lights before watching a film in the classroom or more commonly, when the fire alarm rings. Sometimes, people with Autism ‘stims’ when they are excited.

People who work with individuals with Autism, i.e. teachers, classroom assistants or carers should recognise the pattern of an individual’s stim. Through observation, they will (at least) have an idea of what may cause the person in their care to stim. Once they know what the trigger is, they would be able to manage the situation. For instance, if a child stims when he/ she meets a new person, let them know in advance if someone is coming to observe a lesson/ visit for tea/ teach a lesson, etc.

We also need to make others aware of these behaviours and tell them what they need to do. I believe that making others aware, particularly in classrooms and playgrounds, stimming and the individuals with Autism will be better understood. At the same time, there may be less chance that others will exhibit negative behaviours towards children with Autism who stims.