When we first meet ten-year-old Zena Hamelson, she is sitting in a chair staring blankly at the wall, flapping her hands, repeatedly straightening and bending her legs, compulsively twisting and pulling on her fingers as her Artism Ensemble bandmates make joyful music all around her. Zena is stimming, that is, she is practicing a personal repertoire of self-stimulatory behaviors that align precisely with the symptomatic profile of her diagnosed autism spectrum disorder: Asperger’s syndrome. Stimming, autism researchers tell us, is associated with some dysfunctional system in the brain; its reduction or elimination is a target goal of many therapeutic interventions and autism studies. Yet as the chapter unfolds, Zena’s stimming is revealed as something else entirely: a meaningful mode of music-making, creative expression, and social experience unto itself.
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