The Velcro Strip

Emma’s balloon string has been officially replaced.  She now carries a long plastic strip, the kind you peel off a self adhesive velcro strip.  How such a bizarre and unlikely item came into her possession is anyone’s guess.

Emma with her plastic velcro strip this morning before going to school.

Over the past year or more Emma has become attached to an assortment of long, thin objects.  The first was a stick she picked up on a playground near the Bronx Zoo.  One can never know when an object will become a coveted one.  But I remember that stick because she wouldn’t let go of it, even when she swung on the monkey bars at the playground.  It was an odd thing to watch her movements so clearly hindered by her refusal to let go of that long stick.  When we made our way to the subway for the long ride home, we told her she could not bring the stick with her.  She didn’t put up a fight and I thought nothing more of it until I saw her, upon our return home, reach down to pick up another stick from the planter outside our building’s front door.

” No Em.  The stick stays outside,” I told her and she complied.

But it became a habit, each and every time we left the house she would find a stick and carry it with her.  A few months later she found a long plastic strip used to bind packages and began carrying, twirling and waving that around while inside our home.

Emma’s assortment of “strings”.

There are a few thoughts on this sort of behavior with autistic children.  Some believe the items should be removed.  The idea being the child should not be allowed to have them as they increase “stimming”.  Stimming – shorthand for self-stimulation is a word, which is much used when speaking of autism.  It is the repetitive behavior the child/person uses to soothe, calm or regulate themselves.  The objects are varied and can be anything from spoons to things like running water.  But some children do not engage an object at all.  These children do things like  hand flapping, twirling, spinning, rocking and even head banging, while others stare at their own fingers that they wave in front of their eyes, others tap their fingers rapidly, hum or grunt, bite or twirl their hair, lick surfaces or smell things.  What marks their behavior from so called neuro-typical behavior such as pacing, doodling and thumb twirling is the child who is autistic may engage in these behavior for hours at a time, often getting in the way of daily living and learning.

Others believe the child should be allowed to stim and feel it is better to allow the child to self regulate.  They believe it is, in fact, cruel to remove the source of comfort for these children/adults who are autistic.  Many people believe learning can take place despite the stimming.

I don’t fall squarely into either camp.  Richard and I have done our best to give her the freedom to have some objects – balloon strings, velcro strips etc. while telling her she cannot bring sharp, pointed or objects we think might accidentally hurt her into the house.  We do not allow her to have her “Coqui” aka scraps of blanket outside her bedroom because she can sit for hours at a time sucking her thumb, which is doing untold damage to her teeth.  When I am working with Emma she may not have anything in her hands as I need her hands free to type, write etc.  But when she has gotten dressed, brushed her teeth, straightened her room, she can race around the house on her scooter, carrying whatever long piece of string/plastic/packaging tape she likes.  It’s difficult to know whether we are doing the right thing, but for the moment this middle ground seems to work or, at the very least, not cause too much damage.

Earlier this morning when I was trying to take a picture of Emma with her velcro strip, she wouldn’t look at the camera.

“Hey Em.  Can you look at the camera?” I asked.

“Say cheeeeese!”  Emma said scrunching her face up into a hapless and obviously forced “smile”.

“No not like that.  Think of something happy.  What makes you happy?” I asked, pointing the camera at her.

“Mommy makes me happy,” she whispered.

And that makes me happier than she can ever know.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism and arbitrary items that hold her interest go to:

7 responses to “The Velcro Strip

  1. This might be reeeeeally inferential (thanks college level Lit class!), but Ariane, YOU are long and thin, and so are Emma’s objects- from the balloon string to the stick to the Velcro strap. I am wondering if there is any sort of spatial/visual comparison going on. Perhaps she self-soothes and engages with these things because they remind her of you in some way???

    Please feel free to tell me I am totally insane.

  2. Okay, as much as I love that you think of me as “thin as a reed” I am NOT that thin! By the way, I’m also not THAT tall. But regardless, I understand your thinking, even though I don’t think this is what draws her to them, but who knows? Em’s favorite self soothing item is what once was a down blanket for her stroller. Sadly what is left are a couple of shreds of the material which she holds in one hand and sometimes strokes her cheek with, while sucking her thumb. If you could smell that thing you might not immediately think of me, (I should hope you wouldn’t!) but it is something from when she was a baby and no doubt it does contain some powerful calming messages for her, despite it’s rather nasty odor regardless of how many times we pry it away to wash. Many, many autistic children and adults have such items. One woman I read about had a thing for spoons, another carried around a handful of marbles, one child couldn’t be without his rock, still another sucked and twirled her hair until it was so snarled and sticky her parents just let it form into a kind of dreadlock. The items are as varied as the children, not sure one can draw any conclusions from the objects chosen. Though if one could, I like your inference the best! XXX

  3. I will continue to refer to your model-like stature in all future commentary. 🙂

  4. Oh yes please! No one will believe you, but do not let that stop you.

  5. Don’t ask me why, but I believe she carries these items because they hold a negative static charge that counters positive static charges, via biological annoyances, physical irritations, microvibrations, and numerous other neuroligcal functions. These charges which are nearly undectectable by todays best known instruments, can be easily detected and debilatating by certain persons. I can’t even think of a more pure act of such innocence and non-destuctive human nature and someone is able to say playing with a string is bad behavior based on no facts or evidence. Unfortunately, sounds exactly like my mom.

  6. Dear Keith,
    Thank you for your comment. I agree with you – it is a completely innocent and harmless activity. My heart broke when I read that the harsher judgements of this type of behavior by some parents reminded you of your mom. That must have been extremely painful for you. We humans do all sorts of things in ignorance or with the belief we are doing the right thing, when in fact we are causing damage. Sometimes the best we can do is listen.

  7. Pingback: Ariane Zurcher: Running With Mermaids | Demete

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