If you’ve spent any time around group sports, dance, or other movement classes for young children, chances are you’ve seen that kid.
That kid who is “attention seeking.”
The one who “can’t get with the program.”
The one over there on the side of the soccer field, away from the group.
This kid might be rolling around. Pacing back and forth. Spinning in circles and crashing on the ground. Flicking their fingers in front of their eyes. Shouting phrases from an action movie while jumping and kicking the air.
This kid might have an autism diagnosis, or maybe ADHD. Maybe they’ve been labeled with oppositional defiant disorder. Maybe they’re just known as “that kid.”
One important thing I’ve learned from the neurodivergent community is that stimming is functional.
Sometimes this function is self-regulation, when the world becomes too overwhelming. Sometimes this function relates to initiating, switching, or maintaining focus.
Sometimes this function is motor development.
Almost all autistic people have motor developmental differences of one kind or another. The exact movement differences vary from person to person.
It’s not an uncommon autistic experience to find oneself having learned a particular movement skill on a much different time frame than most people. Somewhere recently, an eleven year-old has had a moment when everything clicked, and they were able to start riding a bike. A thirty-eight year-old somewhere out there recently realized that their feet feel better if they narrow their stance and speed up the cadence of their steps while jogging.
Rolling is a motor activity that helps the brain to feel and coordinate the two sides of the body (among other things).
Some spinning can increase the ability to sense “yes, my body is indeed moving” for a nervous system that needs more input to understand where it is in space. Crashing on the ground gives even more feedback about where you are.
Pacing can be a great opportunity to feel movement around the feet.
When your eyes have a bit of trouble judging how far away the ball is as it’s hurtling towards you, taking some time to feel the sensation of moving your fingers towards and away from your eyes can give an opportunity to practice that skill.
Loud vocalization can increase core muscle engagement, coordination, speed, and amplitude of movement – which we need for jumping and directional changes.
That kid over there is naturally practicing what their body needs in order to develop the skills needed for that sport.
That kid encountered a complex motor activity for which they need to develop certain prerequisite skills, and their brain was able to select useful skills for them to practice.
That kid was encouraged to “just try it” and found that they couldn’t, so they’re doing the best they can.
That’s what that kid is doing over there.
To that kid, I’m sorry I misjudged you so many times in the past.
To that kid who grew up into an adult and is now rediscovering what it means to intuitively move and listen to what your body needs, I’m ready to join you on that journey.