Why Does My Son with Autism Wiggle?

Everything we know about autism we have learned by watching our son over the last twenty-three months.

Sure, I have read my fair share of online articles and books. I have watched countless documentaries. I have connected with other professionals and parents exploring the ins and outs of this advanced sensory processing disorder.

But my son’s autism is like an a la carte version of everything that I have ever read. It is little pieces of this, and little smatterings of that. There is no recipe. No directions.

Take little pieces of all of things you think autism might be, put them together in a bowl. Then mix them around and around again. Mix them up just a little extra for good measure. The result is what our son’s autism looks like. A mix of little and big pieces of everything that autism can be.

Some of the pieces we expected. Other pieces we never saw coming.

Autism is so much wigglier than I ever could have imagined. If you have every spent any time around my son you will know exactly what I mean. There is just a certain electricity that comes from him. I often tell people that if you keep your voice very quiet and get up close enough to him, it is almost as if you can hear him buzzing.

The wiggles are both an emotional and a physical reaction. Sometimes we know the wiggles are coming and other times they catch us by surprise.

I have learned a lot of big words since our son’s diagnosis. In autism treatment we talk a lot about the antecedent. Or, the thing that occurs right before a specific behavior. When it comes to Grayson’s wiggles we are trying to observe the things that are happening right before he becomes wiggly. In theory, if we can identify the antecedent we may be able to identify the root or primary need the behavior is fulfilling. And, once we understand the need, we can help him to adapt his wiggles to more socially appropriate behaviors.

Sometimes his wiggles are small. It can be something as simple as a toe tap. Sometimes his wiggles are really big. He will stand up suddenly from the couch and begin to run in laps around our house. At times the wiggles are just physical movements and other times they are both sounds and movements. His wiggles can be over in an instant or last an entire day.

There is still so much about his wiggles that we do not understand.

We know that Grayson gets wiggly during extreme emotions; when he is really happy or excited or angry. Almost as if sometimes his emotions just get too big for his body. In those moments we can usually see the emotion building and we know that he is getting close to a wiggle burst. When we can see it coming we try to talk calmly to him. But, once Grayson is in a wiggle, there is very little we can say or do to help him snap out of it.

In that moment, for whatever reason, he needs to get that wiggle out. So he wiggles until he does not have any more wiggles to wiggle out.

Sometimes the people around us have a tough time understanding Grayson’s wiggles. After all, for the most part people are pretty good about controlling their bodies and keeping their wiggles in check. So, watching my son lose control of his wiggles is confusing for people. Believe me, it is confusing for me too.

I always tell people not to be afraid of Grayson’s wiggles! His wiggles are just something he needs to do, like going on a break or taking deep breaths. I understand that it may look scary, but his wiggles are all about helping himself, not about hurting anyone else.

Recognizing my son’s wiggles and his need to release them helps me to recognize that I myself have lots of wiggles just waiting to get out! I get my wiggles out by working out or having dinner with my friends. I get my wiggles out during an adult’s only conversation with my husband. Sometimes I get my wiggles out when my sassy two year old leaves the room and I shake my fists behind his back. (Come on, you know you do it too.) I get my wiggles out in lots of ways. Because getting our wiggles out is a good thing.

I learn so many things from my son’s autism. I have learned that being wiggly is just a part of life. And, whether our wiggles last a brief moment or all day, learning ways to self-regulate and keep moving through life is such a valuable skill.

Be unapologetic in your wiggles. It is ok to do things that make you better, especially when they do not hurt anyone else.




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