Back to basics: stimming

Even if you’re new to the world of autism, you may have heard this term before, and often: stimming.

What is it?

Stimming is self-stimulatory behavior that’s repetitive. Typically, stimming sounds like unusual noises, or looks like unusual body movement. Kids with autism all stim differently, but some stims include the following:

•Repetitive behavior like flicking a light switch on and off
•Watching something spinning (this is visual stimulation)
•Listening to the same song again and again
•Rocking back and forth, either while sitting or standing
•Posturing (like arching of the back while laying down or sitting)
•Mouthing objects that aren’t food

Some kids stim a lot and often, while others’ stims are considered milder. Stress and anxiety is what brings about stimming, because it helps the autistic child manage their strong emotions, including fear, excitement, anger, or frustration. Stimming is a way for them to feel calmer, because their attention is focused on the stim rather than whatever is causing them their angst.

For other kids, and in other situations, stimming is helpful in managing overwhelming sensory information; but in autistic kids who are undersensitive rather than oversensitive, stimming helps ignite their senses.

It’s important to be aware of stimming, and to accept that it may actually be a good thing, no matter how strange or odd it may be to the neurotypical individual. Stimming isn’t to be stopped or shamed. Stimming is something that can help the autistic child connect to the world around them and may even be helpful in how they learn and communicate with other people.

However, if their stims cause injury to themselves – like headbanging or biting to the point of cutting the skin – redirecting is vital.

Some of the things you can do to help reduce your child’s need to stim (if it is indeed self-injurious or is affecting their learning) is to change their environment or help them manage their anxiety in other ways. Remember that stimming is performed because they’re anxious, sensitive, or understimulated, so if you can help them discover new ways to be less anxious, to deal with their sensitivity in alternate ways, and to find healthy ways of stimulation, it will be a benefit to them.

Join Our Alliance

Sign up for our monthly newsletter to receive important updates and information!