Thursday, September 6, 2012

Holding onto a "live wire"

My last post mentioned how hard it was to carry Tate when he was little. Here's the link if you are interested in reading about that: A Sack of Potatoes It was equally as hard to carry Sydney but for totally different reasons. Even holding on to Sydney was challenging. She was so hyperactive I could barely keep her from jumping out of my arms. She had no reaction to pain so she didn’t mind if she fell head-first into the floor either. She would spin around and around in my arms so I had to hang on to one of her legs at all times. Occasionally she would throw herself backward, without warning, so I always had to be prepared for that as well.  

Sydney, One Year Old
I had read that a baby who is neglected learns to find ways to stimulate themselves so I knew we’d probably see these kinds of things in Sydney. When a brain is not stimulated it becomes damaged, thus the rocking and other behaviors are used by a baby to keep themselves “entertained.” It is like self-preservation. Unfortunately, the rocking and other behaviors do not suddenly stop when the baby is removed from the neglect. We had to teach Sydney that she no longer needed those behaviors. I provided her with lots of toys and activities. The house was definitely not boring with six older brothers and sisters. I sat beside her and put my hand on her back and said “no rocking” anytime it began. If I walked through the room she was in and saw her rocking, I touched her on the shoulder, reminding her constantly, “no rocking.” It got old but I was determined. Finally, she seemed to outgrow it or maybe she just didn’t need it anymore and it stopped. Throwing herself down violently from a sitting position also stopped over time. I tried to keep her on a soft surface, in the play pen or with pillows behind her so the crash to the floor wouldn’t hurt as badly in the meantime. Those crashes were so hard to watch. Occasionally, she knocked her head on the floor hard enough to stun herself. 

When Sydney came to us, she also sucked two middle fingers. It was adorable. I read and heard from many people that thumb sucking should be stopped at an early age because an older child was much harder to break of it. It was so cute while she was little but I knew that it would not be cute when she was older. I also figured Sydney would have enough to deal with when she started school and sucking on her fingers would be one more thing to cause her to look different than her peers. So…. I began that battle once the rocking had stopped. I felt mean and rotten asking her to take her fingers out of her mouth constantly. I read all kinds of remedies. I didn’t like any of them. I wasn’t going to put hot sauce on my baby’s fingers! During waking hours I was usually able to keep Sydney busy enough to keep the fingers out of her mouth but naps and night time were much more difficult. I tried pulling a pair of her brother’s long socks onto her hands and pinning them at the shoulders.  That worked usually, although sometimes she was able to wiggle her hands out and find those fingers. She really didn’t seem to miss sucking on them when they were not available though. When I look back on those days I still feel so mean, however I would do it again. There is a child I see a couple of times a week this year when I volunteer at Sydney’s school. The child often had two fingers in the mouth. A seven-year-old looks very immature when they are sucking their thumb or fingers during a spelling test. 

Sydney’s had a few other habits we’ve had to break. When she came to us, she picked at the ends of her fingers and toes until they bled. Can you imagine being so bored in a crib that you had resorted to causing yourself pain just so you would feel SOMETHING? I cannot. Keeping her feet covered and putting the socks on her hands helped keep her digits healed. Because I bite my nails myself, I have not been a good example in this area. I feel like a hypocrite anytime I ask Sydney to leave her fingers alone. She rarely causes them to bleed now. Sometimes when she is stressed I see her fingers suffer though. I have blogged before about Tate’s stims and said when we reduce or eradicate one, he often replaces it with another. Sydney does this too. While trying to eliminate the finger-picking, she began chewing on her hair. She came to us with short hair but it had grown quite long in a short time. Her hair was so pretty when it was clean and combed. I loved it long and tried everything I could think of to help her remember to keep it out of her mouth. She would hide and chew on it and she always sucked on it while she slept. She replaced her finger sucking with hair chewing. I had to cut her hair and we still keep it short. As soon as it gets long enough to reach with her mouth, it starts all over again. Just this morning I had to give her a shower and wash her hair before school because I couldn’t get a comb through the sticky hair. 

There are other bad habits and some of them are awful, while some are sort of endearing. I have blogged before about Sydney’s hoarding and the hiding of food. (See my blog post called HoardingThen there is the love of mulch and the visual stim she has. She brings every toy, block, pencil, or book she picks up, right up to the tip of her nose so she can spin the item right in front of her eyes. Many people have asked me why Sydney smells everything she picks up. It might look like she is sniffing things because her nose is right there but it is actually a visual thing. She picks something up by the edge or corner, using the tips of two fingers, and barely holding on to it at all, she brings it up to her face and spins it back and forth a couple of times. It looks very ritualistic. If she is building with legos, each and every lego comes up to her face. If I ask her to stop then she is quickly done playing legos. She seems to NEED to do this, much like Tate NEEDS to whisper the last few words of his sentence when he is finished talking to me. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder you say? Probably, says the doctor, at the very least, some kind of anxiety disorder. 

In my posts I often refer to Tate and Sydney’s “stimming” or “stims.” “Stimming” is short for self-stimulatory behavior(s) and are almost always present in a child with autism. It is also called stereotypic behavior.  It might be finger wiggling, hand flapping, rocking, spinning something, or any other repetitive movements. It could also be a vocal thing, like repeating words or squealing. People with autism might stim when they are bored, excited, anxious, or uncomfortable. These behaviors are not exclusive to people with autism. Do you tap your pencil, bounce your leg, bite your nails or twirl your hair? Those are also stims. A stim is not always a terrible thing that needs to be extinguished. An infant who sucks his thumb may need the stimulation while he is small. When he gets older, the thumb sucking will get in the way of activities, possibly spread germs, and look odd to his peers, so his mom will work on replacing the thumb sucking with something more appropriate. A child with autism gets caught up in a stim and uses it to shut out everything else. The stim takes away from learning opportunities and social interactions. Most of the stims Tate has had over the years have been things that needed to be minimized or eliminated.

Tate’s stimming began when he was around two years old when he lost his language and regressed. It is a result of autism, while Sydney’s stims are probably a result of neglect and an anxiety disorder.

To learn more about stimming see my post called Echoes from April 19, 2012.

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