Shhh…Quiet Please! Reducing Verbal Stimming and Scripting in Children with Autism

Hi, I’m Dr. Mary Barbara, autism mom, behavior analyst, and best-selling author. A common question I get is how to teach children to be quiet during activities where verbal stimming or scripting is disruptive. Have you ever been in a lecture where the material is way too easy or completely over your head? If you get into these situations, what do you normally do? I bet you might doodle, play with your hair, or scroll through Facebook news feed on your phone. This is the equivalent of a child with autism engaging in self stimulatory behavior, otherwise known as stimming. We all stim. In fact, all of our solitary leisure activities, such as shooting a basketball into a hoop for a few minutes, playing the violin until you get the notes just right, or watching TV, are actually stimming. These self stimulatory behaviors keep our neurons in our brain firing while we’re not meaningfully engaged with others or working on a task where we need to concentrate. Since our children with autism usually have poor language, social, and leisure skills, some kids with autism engage in stim behavior for hours each day and these stim behaviors are often very disruptive across variety of settings, especially in quiet settings like inclusion in school or a church. Stimming can take very different forms. Some kids might engage in stimming by rocking their bodies, flapping their fingers, or arms, or by making loud vocalizations, while kids with higher language abilities might script lines from movies, or fill the same things over and over again, or want to watch the same YouTube clips for hours. As both a behavior analyst and a mom of a son with autism, you might be surprised to learn that unless a stim behavior is dangerous, I almost never work on decreasing minor self stim behavior directly and I rarely tell kids to be quiet or to stop scripting. Instead of focusing on decreasing the stimming, I work on improving language and learning skills and eventually replacing very odd and immature stim behaviors with more socially appropriate leisure activities. I also suggest that if there are activities or parts of the day that verbal stimming or scripting is high and disruptive, such as during a lengthy church service or an inclusion in math class, these activities may need to be stopped or additional supports or services added so that the child can be more appropriately engaged. For more information on how to reduce stimming, click the link right below to get a free cheat with six steps I take to reduce minor self stim behavior in children with autism. I hope to see you next week! Bye bye.

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