Stimming: Examples & Managing Behaviours

Posted on
September 29, 2023
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The term "stimming" encapsulates acts of self-stimulation characterized by repetitive gestures or auditory patterns. Almost everyone engages in some form of stimming, though it might not always be overtly noticeable to those in their vicinity.While often associated with individuals on the autism spectrum, stimming is not confined solely to this context. Stimming isn't inherently negative and doesn't always necessitate restraint, yet addressing it becomes crucial when it disrupts others' experiences and overall well-being.

This blog will delve deeper into stimming's diverse dimensions, its connection to autism and more information to identify stimming and some ideas to manage it.

Why does stimming occur?

Stimming is widely seen by experts as a tool for emotional self-regulation, especially relevant for those on the autism spectrum facing sensory challenges. Hypersensitivity can lead to sensory overload, while hyposensitivity can result in dulled reactions. In these cases, stimming serves to:

  • Moderate Stimulation: It counters overwhelming sensory input in cases of hypersensitivity.
  • Provide Stimulation: It offers essential sensory engagement for those with reduced sensitivity.
  • Manage Emotions: Stimming helps navigate complex emotions, both positive and negative.
  • Cope with Discomfort: It diverts from physical discomfort and pain.

Stimming also helps autistic children handle emotions like anxiety and excitement by focusing their attention and inducing calming responses. Moreover, stimming aids in regulating sensory input, mitigating overload for hypersensitivity and stimulating underactive senses for hyposensitivity.

Can you have stimming and not be autistic?

Let’s look at some examples what are stimming behaviors:

  • biting your fingernails
  • twirling your hair around your fingers
  • cracking your knuckles or other joints
  • drumming your fingers
  • tapping your pencil
  • jiggling your foot
  • whistling

While common stimming, like nail-biting, is tolerable. Nearly everyone engages in some form of self-stimulatory behavior, often to the point where it becomes habitual and unconscious. For the majority, this behavior is harmless, and there's an awareness of when and where it's not suitable.

Autistic stimming, which disrupts routines and includes actions such as hand-flapping, has distinct characteristics - meaning that this behaviour is more obvious accompanied with less social awareness from the individual causing behaviours to be disruptive to surrounding people, and not only to themselves. Autistic stimming aids in managing intense emotions linked to sensory sensitivity, regulating pain perception, and coping with sensory overload.

What are examples of stimming in autistic children?

  • Hand-flapping: Repetitive motion of the hands, often characterized by rapid movement of fingers or hands.
  • Rocking: Swaying back and forth while sitting or standing, sometimes accompanied by vocalizations.
  • Repetitive vocalizations: Repeating words, phrases, or sounds continuously.
  • Finger-flicking: Quickly snapping fingers, often in a rhythmic pattern.
  • Tapping: Repeatedly tapping fingers, objects, or surfaces.
  • Visual stimming: Staring at lights, patterns, or moving objects.
  • Tactile stimming: Engaging in activities that involve touching different textures, like rubbing fabrics or surfaces.
  • Clapping: Repeatedly clapping hands together.

Tics vs. stimming in ADHD individuals

Tics and stimming might seem alike but are distinct. Tics are semi-voluntary or voluntary reactions to involuntary sensations, often an urge followed by relief. Stimming, in contrast, involves repetitive actions to comfort during stress or overstimulation. Tics, usually harder to control, encompass unexpected movements like hand-flapping, while stimming responds to emotional and sensory needs.

Self-stimulation serves as self-care and emotion regulation for those with ADHD, fostering calmness, connection, focus, and emotional expression. While both neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals stim, ADHD individuals tend to stim more. If not disruptive, stimming can become a beneficial routine.

Is stimming common in toddlers?

In a nine-month-old's world, filled with new experiences, stimming is a universal way of managing emotions and expressing feelings. Stimming behaviors like rocking, thumb-sucking, and rubbing offer comfort amid overwhelming situations. These actions are a natural part of development, helping babies adapt to their changing surroundings. While similar to autism-related behaviors, stimming isn't exclusively indicative of autism. Ultimately, stimming is crucial for a baby's self-regulation and adaptability.

Supporting techniques for stimming

Implement the following techniques in your child’s daily life when they are confronted with stimming behaviour.

  • Understand the Triggers: Identify stimming triggers like loud noises, bright lights, strong emotions, or routine changes. Observe your child's behavior to determine triggers and address them to relieve stress.
  • Create a Calming Environment: Ensure a soothing environment. Avoid punishing, opt for gentle approaches, encouragement, and rewards.
  • Find Replacement Stims: Encourage safe stimming. Instead of stopping stimming, suggest a replacement activity, such as using a fidget spinner or a swivel chair.
  • Utilize Speech and ABA Therapy: Consider speech therapy to enhance communication skills and reduce stimming as a form of communication. Employ ABA therapy to identify triggers and promote safe stimming, aiding better management techniques.
  • Promote Physical Activity: Engage your child in enjoyable physical activities. Physical exercise serves as a distraction from sensory overload, aids focus, and copes with stress. Regular exercise can be broken into multiple sessions throughout the day.
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