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Intro to Stimming: Our Banging Son and His Blankie

By Beth Ann

I married my second husband *Daniel when I was 36. We began trying for a baby immediately. By immediately, I mean BEFORE our wedding night. After a year, I thought it just wasn’t going to happen because my prior pregnancies happened very quickly once we stopped birth control. And then, to my surprise, I was pregnant. Being pregnant at 37 and giving birth at almost 38 was different than my experience at 26. I had put on more weight. I had a lot of issues with my spine and shoulders as the result of an accident I had in my twenties. I never loved being pregnant to begin with. My out-of-control body always seemed strange and awkward to me. I envy the women who love being pregnant. 36 weeks into the pregnancy, I found myself in my obstetrician’s examining room, crying like a lunatic. I had a demanding job. I was uncomfortable, exhausted, and feeling at the end of my rope. For years, I wondered if my mood during my pregnancy had a negative impact on Will’s temperament. Thankfully, Will was born three days after that visit with my doctor. Several weeks early, he was tiny but healthy. He is still tiny. He takes after me and Dan’s father who was about 5’2”.

Will's early years were similar to those of my first two children. He reached milestones like smiling, crawling, walking, and talking at the typical times. What was different was the almost violent rocking that occurred whenever he was in his crib. Once he could speak, he would say, “Mommy, I need to bang.” The force with which he would slam his back into the headboard of his crib was enough to move the crib entirely across the room’s hardwood floor. We became accustomed to the symphonic thud of his nightly banging heard, and sometimes felt, throughout the house. Once he moved to a bed, he modified his technique. He would lay on his side and rock his torso and head back and forth and into the wall his bed rested against. Some mornings, he would come downstairs with a noticeable red mark on his forehead. Now, at 17, he has a small permanent bump. So many years ago, we asked the doctor about this behavior because what did we know? He might give himself a concussion someday! The doctor reassured us, telling us that he would most likely outgrow the behavior. Nope. While we live in a different house, I can still hear him above me every time I’m in my bathroom at night. We didn’t know at the time that he was autistic and that the rocking and banging was stimming. Stimming is a repetitive behavior that is used to self-sooth or manage emotions. Many non-autistic people rely on stimming. But we call them fidgets or nervous habits. Stimming includes nail biting, knuckle cracking and foot tapping. However, certain kinds of stimming seem to occur more with neurodiverse individuals. Head banging, rocking, hand-flapping are examples of common autism-related stimming. Our son still rocks in the passenger’s seat of our car to this day.

When it came to self-soothing as a child, Will also had “Blankie.” Blankie became a critical resource for calming a hyperactive Will before he reached his first birthday. As soon as it was in hand, he would insert his thumb into his mouth and his eyes would literally roll back in his head. It was as if he were drugged. Where did Blankie come from? My mother passed away when I was seventeen. That is perhaps a story for another post. My stepfather, Charlie and I remain close. Years after my mother passed, he remarried. Polly, a welcome addition to the family, knitted Blankie from the softest lavender yarn we had ever felt. Will adored Blankie. Blankie’s powers were miraculous. Hand Will Blankie and his irritability vanished. If our cleaning lady washed it, as anyone would because it was constantly filthy, Will would react with an outburst of tears and wailing because it no longer smelled “right.” And by right, I mean disgusting. The smell was an elegant mixture of snot, tears, sweat, body oils and regular, household dirt. When Will was about 2 years old, our babysitter took the already dwindling Blankie and sewed a backing onto it. This gave it a few more years of life. But eventually, Blankie was reduced to a 14-inch strip of knotted, dingy yarn. Years later, Polly knitted Blankie Jr. for Will. Then 13 years old, Will cried tears of joy when he received Blankie Jr. but, it never became quite the resource the original had been.

I miss Blankie and its wonderous power. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be able to hand my 17-year-old a piece of cloth and watch his demeanor change from cross to calm in an instant. Unfortunately, there are other calming techniques teenagers often leverage: weed vaping and edibles. Since my husband and I have yet to approve of such techniques, Will is still working on other modes of emotional regulation and self-soothing. One thing Will does like is spritzing his shirt cuffs with his favorite scent so he can sniff throughout the day. Of course, he packed said scent in his carry-on bag during a recent trip, not yet familiar with all the air travel rules. It was confiscated at the airport. Fortunately, I was able to buy a new supply on Amazon. Oh, Blankie, we miss you. R.I.P.

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