Guest Post: Rippin

Posted by on Feb 3, 2012 | 1 comment

Guest Post: Rippin

Today’s post is by Jeff Stimpson, a fellow autism blogger who appreciates the humor on our journey. 



Our apartment is as quiet as it can ever be with two boys living here when from over where Alex sits I hear the soft sound of ripping. “Alex cut it out!”
He picks a few threads at the hem, pulling them off and letting them flutter through his fingers. Soon he turns the threads into thin strips that curl at their width into ropes of purple, orange, yellow, black. Gone then are shirts from Old Navy, past activities, camps. Some of these shirts he loved. It didn’t matter.
Alex (13 years old and PDD-NOS) has also been ripping T shirts of his typically-developing younger brother Ned, which has done wonders for filling up our bag of kitchen rags but Ned is still pissed. “Oh my God, Alex, stop that! He’s ripping every T shirt I have!” We’ve hidden Ned’s shirts from the Intrepid museum and his summer camp. Maybe that will help this wave of destruction fueled by autism.
“I have no idea why he’s doing this,” says Alex’s teacher, who does add that she thinks it might have something to do with the sensation Alex gets through his fingertips at the ripping cloth. It is kind of a cool feeling, but he winds up looking at worst like a castaway, at best like an Oklahoma Sooners linebacker.
Jill goes online to a local autism group. “Anyone familiar with this behavior?” she wrote. “Alex (almost 13) has begun ripping T shirts. He usually starts at the bottom. It used to be if a T shirt was a little old or had a hole or loose thread he’d start there, but now it’s been newer T shirts. Is this a sensory thing? Related to puberty?”
Replies one group member: “It’s an OCD/anxiety situation. He should be seen by a nuero-developmental pediatrician. My son’s similar behaviors were greatly reduced by Klonopin, an anti-anxiety treatment. Another approach that might work and has no failure cost is to go to a thrift store and buy a huge stack of T shirts for a few bucks. Tell him it’s okay to tear those shirts all he wants. At least it will stop confrontations and has a good shot at burning out this particular OCD. After he’s had it for a few days, interrupt him doing something else he likes and insist it is time to tear T-shirts.”
The thrift shop idea I jump on, paying a couple bucks apiece for a bright green NYC tourism shirt, a faded old blue job that says CAPE COD, and a tie-dyed T. Only the tie-dyed has so far begun its trip to the rag bag. Then his teacher sends me: “Today I sat down with Alex and we wrote a social story about not ripping his T shirts. It seemed to have somewhat of a positive effect to the behavior. Every time Alex tried to rip or play with his shirt, I would say, ‘Alex, hands down.’ If that did not work, we read his social story together and had him show me hands down at his side or on his lap. I made two copies of the social story, one for school and one for you to keep at home …”
If ripping holds to much of his behavior borne of autism, we’ll just get Alex’s hands down when he’ll be on to something else.

Jeff Stimpson is a native of Bangor, Maine, and lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s Digest, Autism Spectrum News, the Lostandtired blog, The Autism Society news blog, and An Anthology of Disability Literature (available on Amazon). He is on LinkedIn under “Jeff Stimpson” and Twitter under “Jeffslife.”

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