Sensory Integration – Meeting the Need

Symptoms of autism, hand flapping, unusual sounds, toe walking are just some of them. What are they all about and what are we to do about them? I must once again refer to my previous blogging quote by Temple Grandin,”All behavior springs from a reason, and all behavior is communication.” What are we to do with these behaviors? The answer; feed them.
I could not wait until Friday to write this blog, I had to do it while my last session of the day was fresh in my mind, here’s the story. I have been working with an autistic boy for about three years now. At the time we began, there was no eye contact or language (at about the age of 3) or much of anything but the occasional covering of the ears at loud noises. He is now 6 and in public school spending half his time in regular ed. The other half in an autistic support classroom. We have been working on answering questions in full sentences which was coming along nicely. I started to see some behaviors such as trying to get out of work or flying from on item to another. I wasn’t sure if we should continue the structure we had been doing, which was moving away from the music or if more music was what was needed. His TSS worker had been telling me that his stimming in school was getting worse and he was not listening to her like he was the previous year when stimming occurred. In fact, in the classroom he seemed to be harder and harder to reach lately. This boy is quite bright and understands much more than he can demonstrate he understands on demand.
This afternoon I think I had figured it out. I followed him instinctively and left behind our usual structure. This boy, I will call him C, got to my drum and demonstrated what Nordoff/Robbins has named as “Emotional Force Beating.” In this category of musical response Nordoff/Robbins states;”The drum is not used rhythmically or musically but only as a means of using strength and making noise. The child responds to the music and the drum by taking the opportunity for unchecked activity to bring into expression emotional and physical force. He is engrossed in fulfilling his emotional and muscular impulses in the amount of noise he can generate.” When this response was stopped, he listened to the remnants of sound then began to play very softly in a very controlled manner. As he continued throughout the session alternating these patterns, I sang a description of what he was doing. He automatically looked at me to make sure I was continuing the descriptive singing with each change. This is not typical for this kind of response. Usually the child gets lost in his impulsive beating, but C was still connected, aware and expecting me to hold up my end of this reflective pattern.
When we were finished I told the TSS my thoughts. This response was meeting some kind of sensory need and possibly there were some kind of changes going on in C. This response was more like a runners need to run. (I am not a runner but this was the first analogy that popped into my head). Being the very attentive and responsive TSS she is, she told me he doesn’t get much let down time this year in school, and barely any sensory time.
Stimming can not be stopped with avoidance or statements such as “stop” or “stop stimming” Stim behaviors do serve a purpose. The best way I have found to reduce or extinguish those behaviors is to feed them properly. I do this by meeting them and giving them structure musically. I usually find the child is lending us a bridge to the next step or most urgent point of development with those behaviors. Sometimes these behaviors are a way to temporarily relieve stress or manage excitement.
Here’s the analogy; statistics show that dieters often gain more weight back after dieting (trying to eliminate the stim behavior) however, if fed smartly (low calorie foods,exercise and hydration) weight loss tends to be more permanent (structuring the stim appropriately). After-all, what initially made Temple Grandin famous was her Squeeze Box, an object which met her sensory need when too much stress existed. Once again, stims may be a helpful tool or a temporary means of maintaining regulation. “All behavior springs from a reason and all behavior is communication.”

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