Stimming is a behaviour that can occur to assist us in managing certain feelings and situations. Times that may have us feeling overwhelmed, anxious, bored or frustrated.
Essentially it’s a coping mechanism, which may be in the form of repetitive behaviours, unusual noises or patterns in movement.
Perhaps you bite your nails when you are stressed?
Or tap your fingers when you are bored?
Possibly you're like me and frantically organise every cupboard in your house when you are feeling unusually overwhelmed.
Reality is we all do it in some shape or form. It may be noticeable, you may realise when and why you are doing it or it can be so mild, possibly you are not aware of it at all. But basically it helps you ‘cope’ during the times you need it.
What is Autistic stimming?
Autistic stimming like neurotypical stimming is done purely to calm our systems and manage our emotions but to a greater and at times more complex degree. It’s a familiar action that can bring some peace and familiarity when everything else seems so overwhelming and confusing.
Children and adults with ASD have a more difficult time managing feelings, coping with new situations and regulating their senses and emotions. Being overly excited or having a difficult time within an environment can cause a great deal of sensory overload.
The world can be a very overwhelming and challenging place to feel in control at times, therefore stimming is much more apparent and evident.
I constantly witness my daughter chew her pencil when she is frustrated, twirl her hair when she is anxious and bite her nails when she is overwhelmed. This type of stimming and repetitive movements is quite mild but is done frequently and constantly due to her ASD diagnosis. It assists in calming feelings and managing anxiety.
Stimming behaviours may become apparent in a shopping centre when the lights and noise become too overwhelming, when adapting to an unfamiliar environment, to express frustration when the words just won’t come out, to cope with new people or being in social situations in general. Whatever the reason it is an important and useful coping mechanism particularly for neuro diverse minds.
Stimming Autism examples
There are so many different stimming behaviours; I know first hand that my daughter has different ones she does to cope with certain situations. I guess it depends on how she is feeling and what feels natural and comfortable to her at the time. Below are some examples of Autism stimming.
Hand and finger stimming
Hair twirling or pulling
Fidgeting with fingers or objects
Flicking switches on and off
Picking at things
Tapping a pencil
Scratching at things
Rubbing or stroking objects or people
Walking on tiptoes
Unusual body movements, patterns or posturing
Visual stimulation (staring at lights)
Rearranging things over and over
Repetitive behaviour (flicking light switches on and off/opening and closing doors)
Repeating the same words or phrases
Listening to the same song or noise over and over
Excessive rubbing or scratching
Picking at sores
Launching at someone (throwing body weight on your safe person)
What to do about stimming?
Autistic stimming is a very natural way to bring calmness and reduce anxiety; there is no need to intervene. It is also very difficult to just get someone to stop stimming as it’s usually an everyday occurrence of repetitive behaviours and can sometimes last hours.
Sometimes autistic stimming in children naturally decreases, or changes, as they grow older. It may be that they find other ways to cope, become aware of triggers or find milder stimming behaviours.
There is no need to try to stop stimming, but it may need to be controlled if;
-Behaviours start to become harmful to themselves or others around them
-It begins to cause social isolation
-Becomes disruptive to others
-Causes problems for home
If there becomes the need to intervene it is important to firstly speak with your child's therapist. But I think it's vital to try not to punish the behaviour. Instead perhaps try to look at triggers before the stimming behaviour occurs. Maybe then, these triggers can be dealt with first and it may ease the stimming behaviors required?
For example, if noise is the trigger, ensuring noise cancellation headphones are ready or if it's new situations, discussing what to expect or using social stories. Doing what you can to eliminate the trigger.
Another useful technique is to try to introduce and teach alternative stimming behaviours. For example for excessive picking or scratching perhaps a sensory or fidget tool could replace the behaviour. Another example is chewing; if a child is chewing their clothes a silicone necklace or chew toy may give the fulfillment that is needed.
Overall stimming can be a wonderful tool for autism. Once appropriate stimming behaviours have been discovered it can bring calmness into a sometimes very busy and overwhelming world.