Jacob’s Stimming Story

There were a couple of mannerisms or quirks that Jacob’s parents often asked him to stop. One of them was hitting his head, and the other was rubbing his fingers.

Head Pounding

Jacob realized that he often pounded on his head, but he didn’t know why that should be any of their concern. He didn’t do it hard enough to hurt. He took a closer look at why he might be doing it. What did it feel like to pound on his own head? He could hear a dull thump when he did it, and a pleasant feeling of pressure that sort of bounced off. The way it felt best was to use the heel of his hand against the corner of his forehead above his temple. Was there a pattern to when he did it? To find out, he kept track of what was going on each time he hit his head.

Over the next few days, whenever his parents asked him to stop hitting his head, he made a note about what was going on. Usually it was when he was thinking hard about a homework problem, or when his game was taking a long time to load, or when he was just plain bored.

Should he Stop?

Should he try to stop pounding his head when he was thinking or bored? He wanted more information. At school, Jacob wrote a note asking his special education case manager if any of his teachers had ever complained about him hitting his head. She replied that at the beginning of the year a new teacher had commented that she thought Jacob was engaging in self-injurious behaviors (SIB). His case manager told the teacher that this was not considered injurious, since he only used the soft part of his palm against a firm part of his head, not near his temples or his eyes, and never with force. At school it was not considered to be a problem.

It wasn’t hurting anyone.

Jacob told his parents that gently pounding his head made him feel better, like his “propes,” or proprioceptive input, such as jumping or doing wall push-ups. Since it wasn’t hurting anyone, he politely asked them to try to get used to it or look the other way if they didn’t like to see it. He assured them that he would never actually harm himself but now that he was an adult, he would appreciate it if they accepted him as he was, quirks and all. They agreed to try.

Finger Rubbing

The other habit or mannerism they noticed was that he sometimes rubbed his thumb pads against his fingertips in a circular motion, usually getting faster and more agitated over time. At first it was always mild and not really noticeable, so most people would ignore it, but sometimes he kept rubbing his fingers faster and harder, eventually ending up with his hands in front of his face and his eyes squeezed shut while his fingers kept on rolling.

Why was it happening?

Again, Jacob took notes about the behavior. He realized that this usually happened when he was under stress, and the stress was increasing. The speed of rubbing his fingers was directly related to how anxious he was at the time. It felt like his emotions were rolling and bouncing around inside of him and he didn’t know what to do with them. When it was at its peak, he realized this must look weird to other people, and he didn’t like the idea of everyone seeing how stressed he was by his mannerism. At the same time, if he tried to stop doing it, he wasn’t sure what would happen to all the stress.

Address the Stress

Rather than ignoring it, or trying to just stop rubbing his fingers, Jacob decided to address the issue of the stress and see if there were other ways for him to meet his need for self-regulation. He did an online search for “how to relieve stress” and found a lot of suggestions. The ones that felt most useful to him were to notice which body parts were tensed up and do relaxation stretches, to get more exercise, and to laugh more. The next time he noticed himself rubbing his fingers rapidly, he stopped and checked out how his body was feeling. He realized his shoulders were extremely tense and pulled up almost to his ears. Jacob consciously relaxed them, bringing them down to their normal position, then he slowly rolled his head and rotated his shoulders while slowing his breathing. It really helped him calm down. He also did jumping-jacks or wall push-ups. If he was still upset about something he couldn’t change, he found something funny to watch online, such as memes about his mining-crafting game or funny dog and cat videos. That usually got him laughing, and he felt much more relaxed afterwards.

Jacob’s Stimming Solutions

For Jacob, asking his parents to be more tolerant of his mild head-pounding mannerism, and finding better ways to meet his own need to reduce stress instead of the rapid finger rubbing, were two good solutions.

Jacob’s stories originally appeared in the first edition of Wendela Whitcomb Marsh’s book, Independent Living with Autism: Your Roadmap to Success. (Revised as Independent Living While Autistic: Your Roadmap to Success, Book One of the Adulting While Autistic series.) Jacob is a fictional character, not based on anyone, so any similarities to real people are coincidental.


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