When Reagan was a baby, he did the cutest things. Whenever he got excited, really happy, or saw his food was coming, he'd flap his hands. We used to joke that when he got married he'd be standing at the front of the church trying to control his hands while anticipating his bride. It never occurred to me that something I thought was adorable, was actually a sign that something was wrong.
Ciaran doesn't hand flap. But he does run around in circles when he's excited. It's all connected to their senses. Rocking, hand flapping, and other behaviors like this are called "stims". Sometimes kids use stims as a way of stimulating themselves, you know just like some people doodle on paper when they're bored. But my kids tend to stim as a way to decompress. When their senses are overloaded, stimming helps them block things out.
Most of us remember when we had babies, and our babies would get cranky or fussy when they were over stimulated. They didn't know how to block out so many kinds of stimuli, so we had to help them. As a babywearing mom, it's one of the reasons that I encourage new moms to wear baby facing their body. Front or back doesn't matter, so long as baby has a place to hide his or her head to block out stimuli from the environment. Over time, babies learn how much attention to give certain sights and sounds, and they're not so easily overstimulated.
Kids with Autism have a lot of trouble learning how to drown out those extra sounds and sights. They don't know how to decrease what they're experiencing, so they find behaviors like rocking and hand-flapping that do it for them. Once I understood why my boys were doing that, it became easier to find other ways to help them drown things out. With Reagan I let him doodle, or even go to his room for some alone time. With Ciaran, I sweep him into a big hug and let him hide his face in neck or against my chest.
I think in the area of stimming, I've actually been pretty lucky so far. My kids stims are pretty easy to work with. Autism is a spectrum, and there are kids who don't stim much and some whose stims completely interfere with their lives. But I'm really grateful I've had such great people working with the boys and with me on issues like this. Everything we learn helps me be a better mother to them, and helps them learn how to be here in the world with us.