A Question About Stimming
Joan Orr: Seany, I think it would be very interesting for everybody to hear what you’ve been doing with your daughter, Tink, and how Tink is starting to do her own thing. Recently she said, “No,” and a lot of parents would not be happy with their three-year old saying no to them, but Seany and Natalie were thrilled with this because this is Tink showing her personality and showing that she can be creative and is allowed to. They’ve set up the environment to be encouraging for her to do that.
Karen Pryor: I’d love to hear what Seany did.
Seany (Father of three-year old Tink): Karen, I’ve got a question for you. One of my biggest problems is my daughter’s stimming, and sometimes when we watch, I’m not strong enough to overcome my daughter’s stimming. How could I use my daughter’s stimming as a reward to counteract her other stimming, so I’m getting a powerful reinforcer?
Karen Pryor: One of the things you can do with this behavior is to put it on cue, so that it occurs when you give the cue. Then she gets to do that and gets reinforced. Stimming, like barking, is self-reinforcing. I’m certain that you can reinforce the more acceptable ones, and reinforce them not just with tag and a treat, but with a tag and a chance to do something really high value – whatever that might be. Then develop a time when you can ask for this simpler stim, and hope that they will in fact replace some of the more difficult ones. What comes to my mind is that I would be looking for the antecedents to the stimming. What sets if off? Is there a circumstance, or is there a level of stress where the stims you really don’t like come out? Is there anything that tends to trigger the stimming in the first place? Is it idleness? Is it doubt, worry, or security? Is it, “I don’t know what to do now?” Is it fatigue? I’d look at these factors. I usually don’t like to see people worrying about antecedents, because we can change things so quickly with the post-cedents. In this case, I wonder if there aren’t some set-off things where you could insert a cue to do the simpler thing, and get that and relieve the stress, whatever that is.
Seany: Karen, I’ll give you an example. I taught my daughter to put a ball into a bowl. Now when I was giving her the reinforcement, a crisp (potato chip), she was more interested in stimming off the ball than the reinforcement. Sometimes her stimming gets in the way a lot because the stimming is more powerful than a lot of reinforcers I can give her.
Martha: This is a question that I’ve heard asked so many times at meetings I’ve attended where behavior analysts are speaking to a group of autism parents. It’s a common question. The answer is not simple because these self-stimulatory behaviors, as Seany says, can be really powerful. It’s a tricky business to deal with them because you may run the risk of accidentally creating more self-stimulatory behaviors. So, what we always say in the behavior analysis world, that I think is the best advice is, keep building new behaviors. I would say, don’t worry that much about the stims. Some of the stims, I’ve seen some Tink videos, and she is so cute. For example, when she bangs her feet, you may want to tag Foot On Floor, because most kids, when they sit on the floor, they have their feet on the floor and not up in the air. For kids who move around or wave their hands, you could tag Hand Down.
I really think, Seany, everything that you are doing with Tink, with teaching her new skills will, with time, cause the stims to go down. She’s very young, she has a lot to learn, and you are teaching her so effectively. You are impatient, like I was and still am. You want to move her along faster; that’s completely natural. Everything you are doing is right. Just keep working on building the new behaviors, and she will enjoy those new behaviors, and eventually she will be seeking out more and more behaviors. I would think that is the way to go because it’s tricky to deal with those self-stimulatory behaviors. So that would be my recommendation from having heard this question and heard this answer from the behavior analysts in many meetings.
The more positive behaviors she can do, the fewer negative behaviors she will have. That does take time. You are dealing with a child with a significant disability. I’ve been dealing with a child with severe autism. It takes time and you just have to keep at it. It’s a slow slog, but eventually you will see that she will have many more positive behaviors.
Karen: Wonderful advice.
Martha: Thank you! That’s what I did with my son Douglas. You can’t fight some things so don’t fight them. Build something else. Eventually it’s more fun for the child to get involved with the family activities. My son has very little stimming now compared with the old days because we are so busy doing fun things. It does happen, and I didn’t even have TAGteach in those early years. So I think just keep doing what you are doing, Seany, because you are great at it. You are a brilliant behavior shaper and Tink has come a long way. Of course we want her to go even further, and I’m sure she will.
Introduction to Module 2
The Focus Funnel
Tagging and Observation Practice
Transitions: School to Home
Video - Swimming Lesson
Q & A With Karen Pryor