Saturday, November 8, 2008

(Insert hop here)

When I was little, I had pet rabbits. Notice the plural. It started with one, then one more, and then... a deluge of baby rabbits. They were coming out of my ears. They pillaged the backyard of anything green up to 24" high. My parents were very patient, and that poor backyard has never quite recovered.

One of the things I loved about the rabbits was their random movements. They had bizarre little twitches that would hit out of the blue. Sometimes it was while they were stationary-- a random popcorn jump that would make me giggle. Sometimes it was while they were in motion. In midair, they would change direction 180 degrees and head back the other way. Those moments would send me, laughing, to the floor. I loved those fuzzy little puffballs all the more for it.

One of the conditions that some autistic children have is difficulty with sensory processing. It's like their brain struggles with properly digesting all the input that they receive from the world around them. One example is tickling.

You and I know that tickling is a form of socialization and friendly physical contact. But the nerve pathway that transmits tickling input also transmits pain input. In people who have sensory processing difficulties, their brains might tell them that the person who is playing with them is actually trying to hurt them. You can imagine the social and relational problems that would follow a pain- rather than a tickle-reaction.

My five-year-old struggles with sensory under-stimulation. He doesn't get the same input from everyday actions like you and I do. Walking, for example. To get the same amount of stimulation as a typical person, he would need to stomp, stomp, STOMP along. This sensory need leads to uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing situations when we leave the house. He has created some coping mechanisms, some of which are socially unacceptable, and some of which are downright cute.

A recent addition to his repertoire is random hopping. Nothing elaborate, just a tiny hop. Sometimes he'll be standing nearby and I'll see him elevate for a moment. And sometimes it will be in the middle of a conversation.

"Mom, at school today, I used paints ^hop^
and made a pumpkin ^hop^
and it GOT ALL OVER MY ELBOW ^hop^ ^hop^."

This new habit of his is quite endearing. I hope he keeps it up for a while. It makes me want to hold him close and squeeze him tightly, a sensory experience that we both enjoy.


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