Jake has a number of favourite things that he likes to do to burn off energy and refocus himself when life is crowding in on him.
Self-stimulating behaviour, or stimming, isn’t specific to autistic people but it’s very common with those on the spectrum. It’s typically repeated behaviour that is used to calm and regulate the person doing it.
Some specialists think it should be minimised and discouraged. There was that time when Jake was charging about, repeatedly shouting a line from Monsters University – ‘and this is my Mum’s new boyfriend’ – in a crowded room of our friends, so maybe they have a point. Generally though, Jake will stim when he might be anxious or nervous or tired, so what he doesn’t need then is the extra pressure of being told to stop doing what might be helping him. Unless he’s trashing the place, we don’t tend to stop him as there’s typically a good reason why he’s doing it, and it’s better to work out why he’s feeling the way he’s feeling.
Jake likes to charge up and down the room periodically, normally shouting out lines from his favourite programmes. If you’ve ever seen the old ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ film with Uncle Teddy leading the charge through the house, that’ll give you an idea.
He does it at school too. Not too big a problem in the Reception class, but from September, when he’s expected to sit at a desk, it could get interesting…
He likes to throw in a bit of hand-flapping too, flickering his hands in front of his face so they catch the light.
The repeated lines from Toy Story, Monsters University and a dash of the Gruffalo or Paw Patrol, are also part of the mix and serve as a familiar and well-trodden path for him if life is getting confusing or too much.
One of his favourites is bouncing. On his bed, mostly. Then on our bed. Then on the sofa and, at a push, the chest of drawers next to the sofa before a giant bounce takes him flying on to the sofa.
Like most four-year-old boys (and puppies), he likes burning off excess energy and it certainly does that. At the end of a hard day of navigating a confusing world with a different set of coping mechanisms, maybe he just wants to let it all hang out.
It also makes him happy. Like really happy. The look of joy on his face as he hurls himself around the place is fantastic. Especially with a chorus of ‘Seven little monkeys jumping on the bed’ sung at 270 decibels.
There’s a film called Snow Cake about an autistic woman (we do watch films that have no autistic people in, honest) played by Sigourney Weaver, and starring Alan Rickman. They’re both brilliant as you’d expect, and the main character has a trampoline in her yard that she uses to calm herself down and get through a very stressful and difficult experience.
Jake also has a trampoline in the garden which will go back up as soon as the weather gets better and we guarantee that a gust of wind won’t take him sailing down the street in it. The combination of the trampoline, 1200 of Jake’s plastic animals and himself bouncing like a rubber ball is a joyful work of physics to behold.
It’s not just bouncing or running though. All kids do that. It’s a compulsion and a real need. Like those superheroes who absorb all the power from a nuclear reactor and save the city. If Jake didn’t burn off that energy and reset himself when the world gets too much, our house would implode with the pressure.