The Predictability, Pattern and Routine of Stimming

The neurology of a person with autism does not automatically organize the world outside their skin. When we are able to organize the happenings in the world we usually do so differently than neuro majority people.

As a young child I saw over and over how light from the sun interacted with water particles rising from the ground and with water droplets in the air. This repeated experience became useful over time in that I learned the predictability of this occurrence. I also learned the effects of various factors (such as clouds, rain, air temperature, wind, etc.) had on impacting the interaction of sun brightness with air and ground moisture.

By the time I was old enough for kindergarten I had an extensive experiential knowledge of sun sparkles and thus could put myself into the picture of the sunlight in various circumstances. Because I had figured out the predictability and pattern I was able to attain mastery over the situation that once took me by surprise, causing unfavorable behavior reactions! With this newly found mastery I was now able to become part of the world around me, as literally seen in these paintings that now include the little girl of me. (Paintings are at www.judyendow.com Please see Morning-Chirp Sun Girl, Night-Song Sun Girl and Cloud-Breath Sun Girl.)

I especially liked the moon sparkles. They were much less intense. I noticed the moon sparkles mostly by looking through the window as I lay on my bed at night. I learned the predictability of moon sparkles as one season gave way to another. I loved the predictable repeating pattern of sameness that I could see in so many ways as I watched the moon sparkles each night through my window (Paintings are at www.judyendow.com Please see Moon Sparkle Winter, Moon Sparkle Spring, Moon Sparkle Summer and Moon Sparkle Fall).

It was wonderful to have learned so many kinds of order to the world around me – an order I learned as I learned the pattern of sun sparkles and moon sparkles across the seasons.

I had many opportunities to gain mastery over the blinding sun sparkles due to the fact that children growing up in the 1950’s played outdoors for many hours a day. Every day I interacted with what I saw by repeatedly trying to catch the sparkles and tails my eyes could see all around me. Looking back, I am so glad I grew up then and not now because back then children had much more opportunity for imaginative play.

If I was a little girl growing up today and displayed the repetitive behaviors of catching sun sparkles and world tails it would likely be referred to as stimming and adults around me might try to stop the behavior. If that had happened I may never have sorted out the world by learning and using the various predictable patterns of atmospheric interaction between the elements of light and water. The behavioral stims of repeatedly trying to catch the sparkles and tails I could see, but were not seen by others, helped organize the world around me.

“PREDICTABILITY. SAMENESS. ROUTINE.” repeated in background. Bold text reads “The repetitive nature of stims can be highly organizing. Judy Endow on Ollibean. Ollibean logo is a circle made up of equal signs of different shapes and sizes.

This was important because as an autistic I thrived on predictability, sameness and routine. I organized my world in an unusual way using predictable atmospheric interactions of light and water.

Before I had my world organized I experienced lots of confusion, chaos and change each day. It was unsettling and anxiety provoking. It caused me to want to sit still and only look at books for long periods of time when I was indoors. For some children this perception of constant confusion, chaos and change in the world can precipitate meltdown behaviors.

Often time behaviors that don’t work well in the world develop in response to the autistic perception of confusion, chaos and change. This is not intentional, planned or defiant behavior, but instead an unplanned reactive behavior.

The way to provide support to prevent an autistic from a repeat of this felt experience of confusion, chaos and change is to allow for a high degree of predictability, sameness and routine in his world. One of the ways we provide this for ourselves is through stimming. The repetitive nature of stims can be highly organizing. Regardless of the stim, it certainly provides a high degree of predictability, sameness and routine.

Most of the time stims are helpful and allow us to participate in life. For me, it helps to organize the world outside my skin because while stimming I am able to unravel the everyday ordinary barrage of sensory and social information that becomes overwhelming. I am so glad nobody stopped my stims when I was a little girl. It was simply thought of as playing outside when in reality I was busy at organizing the world – finding the predictability, pattern and routine outside my skin.

BOOKS AND DVD BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006). Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013). Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009a). Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009b). The Power of Words: How we think about people with autism spectrum disorders matters! Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009). Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010). Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013). The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

I WRITE ABOUT

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About the Author:

Judy Endow, MSW is an author, artist, and international speaker on a variety of autism-related topics. The award winning Paper Words, Discovering and Living with My Autism ,  Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic AdultPaper Words, and many other wonderful books can be found on her website JudyEndow.com.

One Comment

  1. Connie Wenzel-Jordan March 7, 2016 at 11:23 am - Reply

    Thank you for the great article. This was the first time I’ve read someone else describe the experience of enjoying and acquiring knowledge from “sun sparkles and moon sparkles” as a child. It’s one of my first memories from the crib along with spending a lot of time studying shadows. I kinda thought everyone had this experience. But I should probably know better. I have an adult daughter with significant autism (the deep end of the ASD pool). I completely understand her sensory difficulties. My world has always been too bright, too loud, and often woefully uncomfortable. But I’m glad I am overly sensitive, because I understand my lovely girl’s world much better than the typical person.

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