Autism Unexpected: Repetition


So much of autism, in my experience, involves repetition. There is rigidity, stimming, preseveration, and scripting. The familiar seems to be comforting, so the familiar gets repeated. There are other reasons for these types of reptitions, but at my house the repetitions seem to serve the function of sensory input and soothing.

I know that I have a couple of stims—the autistic apple doesn’t always fall very far from the tree, right? For instance, when I go to sleep, I twitch my toes in a repeating pattern. That’s part of the reason my husband sleeps waaay over on his side of the bed. It drives him nuts.

Fortunately for both my autistic son, Jack, and me, this type of repetitive behavior in Jack doesn’t bother me like the toe twitching bothers my husband. Jack definitely has several repetitive behaviors, but they seem to make him happy and they’re not self-injurious or overly problematic. For the most part I really don’t mind. I figure that if it helps him cope, then good for him.

Except for the burping.

A few months ago Jack started burping. All. The. Time. It was so bad that I half-jokingly threatened to get him “de-burped” at the doctor. (This totally backfired on me because he decided that he wanted to be de-burped and then started asking for it. When I finally broke down and told him I’d made it up, he cried and cried and cried. Don’t lie to your kids, people.)

The burp turned into something of a stim for him, I think, meaning he used it as a repetitive, self-stimulating behavior. But whereas Jack is a sensory-seeking kind of person, I am most definitely sensory averse. And the burping got on every one of my sensory-avoiding nerves.

After telling him to stop didn’t work, and the de-burping threat misfired so spectacularly, we waged a war of ignoring. And we eventually won. He stopped burping every four to eight seconds. Although I think it may have had less to do with the ignoring and more to do with the distraction of starting first grade. Since school started in September, we have had four lovely months with nary a burp. (Except for your run of the mill six-year-old-boy gross-out burps.)

That brings us to this week. Winter break. Day upon day of far less stimulation than Jack is used to. And guess what’s back? Yes. The burping. Only this time it is accompanied by a nasal snort. I don’t think he’s sick either. I think he’s just snorting.

I’m hoping that when Jack returns to school in January that his burping goes away again. And I wouldn’t mind if the snorting went with it. I’ll take most any other repetitive behavior in its place.

Jean blogs about life with her family at Stimeyland, where she was too ashamed to write the story about the de-burping fiasco. She also runs an autism-related events website at AutMont.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on December 28, 2009.

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