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Increased Stimming in New Classroom Situation

My son recently started in a new classroom situation, and his stims have increased when they were practically non-existent before. Does anyone know why this is, and what I can do to help him? We are considering OT and AIT.

My Opinion:
I do not know much about AIT, but I will say that I personally do not see that OT is a good option for these concerns, at least from my perspective, but if the OT can give you good recommendations, then that is a good thing. But if what I say here sounds like AIT, then personally that would be my recommendation for you.

All AS individuals are different, so I will describe only myself, but if you see your son in my description, perhaps it will help you.

What you describe sounds pretty much exactly like me. I am a very visual person, and I have a lot of difficulty with auditory input. If I want to learn something that is being presented to me orally, as a lecture, there will also have to be visuals or I will have to take written notes to have any hope of learning the material. However, I have vision and hearing difficulties as well, so perhaps your son is not quite the same as I am.

Anyway, I have great difficulty with mental focus when there is a lot of distraction, especially auditory distraction. I also have several difficulties found under the CAPD label, so you can look into that if you would like to also. But generally, all sounds are of equal intensity to me, and I do not understand at first which ones I should pay attention to, and which ones I can safely ignore. So if I hear a coffee pot, I will focus on it for a while, until I determine that it can be safely ignored. And then I can ignore it even if it explodes.

If I was in the situation you describe for your son, with additional children and teachers or a new classroom situation, and especially when I was younger, I would have a tremendous amount of difficulty at first, to determine which sounds are important and which are not. Teachers will talk louder when there are more children, which means I will have to pay attention more, to determine whether the teacher is talking to me, because all the voices will be louder, not just the ones who are talking to me. Also, more children making noise, or even walking around, will distract me until I learn to tune it out. And then when I tune it out, it is very hard to redirect my focus back to them again. Lastly, more children may mean a change in the "rules", different expectations etc, which I would have to relearn. All of these things require a tremendous amount of mental energy, and I would not know which things I should focus on first, so I would get frustrated and appear to regress, when actually I was just overwhelmed.

If your son is tuning out, I would guess he is trying to learn which things are now important to focus on, in this new environment. He will selectively tune out things while figuring out other things. Then once he figures out something is safely tuned out, it will take effort for the teachers to redirect him to those things.

Also sleep disturbances, because his brain is still working on figuring out all this information, and will continue to do so, even when he is supposed to be asleep, or even when he is asleep and dreaming. It is a relatively good sign though, that he is working on learning these new things, but if it interferes too much with him being properly rested, then he needs some help to settle down and get the rest he needs.

Also, increased stims help me with focus. Aimless wandering (pacing or otherwise) is a stim. Short attention span and trouble focusing are generally because of boredom or distraction, and boredom can be either that he already knows the material being taught, or he does not understand and therefore he is not interested in focusing on it. For the latter situation, a new approach is required to help him learn.

One thing about "visual clutter", if there are a lot of things hanging from the ceiling or posted on the bulletin board or etc, that can also be very distracting and upsetting for a person who is visually oriented, so you can consider working with the teacher to reduce the number of those types of things too.

My suggestion, besides AIT or whatever else may be beneficial for your son, would be to have a teacher or aide spend one-on-one time with your son for a few weeks, directing his attention to the things on which he needs to focus. That way, he will not have to try to figure out for himself those things which need his attention, that step will be done for him. He can focus on only those things and feel safe that he is not missing other important things. But trying to figure out what is important, as well as also trying to figure out how to adjust to those new things, is too much I think to ask a very young child to do. And there are so many things that require so much attention, much more so than with NT kids I think (altho I do not have personal experience with that). So I think if the teachers can help him focus his attention, it would be good for him.

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