What is stimming?

Article by Flora
Posted: August 19, 2020  

Self-stimulatory behavior or stimming is an unusual or repetitive body movement. The term stim simply refers to self-stimulation and is mostly associated with autism. Most teenagers and kids with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) stim because they have problems with creativity and imagination or use it to change their surroundings to trigger stimulation. The type and degree of stimming differ from one child to the other.

Types of stimming

Auditory or verbal stimming


Auditory stimming is any-type of body movement that affects an individual’s hearing capabilities. This includes repetitive speech, tapping of ears, tapping on objects, snapping fingers, high pitched noises, grunting, or humming.

Visual stimming


This is anything that affects the sense of sight. They include: hand flapping, staring blankly, blinking repeatedly, and lining up items.

Tactile stimming


This is anything that affects the sense of touch. They include tactile defensiveness, scratching of objects or hands, or opening and closing fists.

Vestibular stimming


Anything that affects an individual’s sense of movement and balance. This includes; repeatedly jumping, spinning, taste stimming, hanging upside down, or rocking side to side.

How children with autism can cope up with stimming


Stimming usually fades as the kid develops more skills or finds other ways to tackle under-stimulation, sensitivity, and anxiety. Nonetheless, there are a few things you can do to help your loved one cope with stimming.

Adjust the environment


If the child finds the surroundings over stimulating, they might need a peaceful place or just one toy or activity to concentrate on. If the child requires more stimulation, they might gain from some music in the background, additional playtime outside, or various toys. There are also some facilities with sensory rooms for kids who require additional stimulation. The rooms usually have equipment for them to spin around on or bounce on.

Encouraging physical activity


Physical activities can also minimize stimming by getting the child to engage with others or keeping them occupied. After exercising, the child can concentrate better on their tasks, and if they are engaged, there is less time to stim. Try short sessions of physical activities to break up other regular activities during the day.

Behavior strategies


Reward the child if he or she stops stimming. The reward can be more time to play with their favorite toy or a sticker. You can also use the stim as a reward! Allow them to stim after they do something else that is productive. Teach them that there is a time and place to stim. It can be after school or in the bedroom.

What is Hand flapping autism?


Hand flapping is one of the most common hand flapping behaviors in children with ASD. It can either occur for long or short durations. The self-stimulatory behavior usually manifests itself in the following ways;


  • Moving arms


  • Clicking fingers


  • Moving fingers vigorously


Now in most cases there is usually nothing to worry about and can be caused by;


  • Nervousness


  • Excitement


  • Fidgeting


  • Reduced body movements


Hand flapping can only be an issue if it harms the child or affects their ability to function optimally.

How to manage self-regulation for children with autism


Before you do anything, identify what causes the problem or ascertain where and when the behavior mostly occurs. After that, teach the child another behavior to help them manage the situation. That said, when giving any form of physical or verbal redirection, it is essential to keep in mind that the person may think engaging in the behavior will result in enhanced attention, which may be what they really want. As such, it is always good to curb the amount of attention you give.


Also, note that even after successfully redirecting the behavior, the child may still return to the old behaviors in stressful environments or situations. So be ready to teach them more innovative ways or behaviors that will give them the same type of assistance. Certain drugs may also assist in minimizing the anxiety associated with repetitive behavior. Make sure you consult a doctor before considering this mode of intervention.


Now, minimizing self-stimulatory habits can enhance the quality of life for many people with autism or any other needs. If the person can reduce or control the stimming behavior, they will learn without any form of interference, interact with others smoothly, and eventually lead fulfilling and productive lives.


Ava Wadaby is a contributing writer for Autism Parenting Magazine. She researches and writes about autism as she works to understand the challenges of her son who was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD. She also regularly conducts activities with children in her neighborhood, focusing on their learning and development.


About the author


Flora is our fashion aficionado always up to date with the latest trends. A sucker for dogs and their cute goofy ears. She is the events and newsletter editor.


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