When it comes to recognizing signs of autism, often we look for things that are behavior based or developmental based. But what about stimming? For that matter, just what is stimming and is stimming always a sign of autism?
What is Stimming?
Stimming is also known as self-stimulating behaviors and they are repetitive body movements or repetitive movements of objects. Many individuals on the autism spectrum engage in stimming for different reasons.
Some of those reasons:
- The behavior provides sensory reinforcement
- The behavior provides stimulation
- The behavior might help with regulating sensory input by increasing stimulation or decreasing sensory overload
Different types of stimming are associated with different sensory systems and include:
- Full body motions such as rocking or spinning. These motions help the vestibular sensory system which helps regulate balance and orientation of the body.
- More isolated motions such as hand flapping, stroking or rubbing certain textures, and staring at rotating objects.
Another type of stimming is vocalization, which can be loud and disruptive. Some types of stimming can be self-harming such as head banging.
Want more examples of stimming? Here’s an extensive list of stimming behaviors.
Is Stimming Always a Sign of Autism?
In fact, stimming can often be observed in young children (infants and toddlers) who are developing typically. As they get older, however, these behaviors often disappear. But they may not go away entirely. Some adults who aren’t on the spectrum, may engage in stimming. How often do you tap your foot when you’re anxious? Or when was the last time you twirled your hair?
Not all individuals with autism will stim to the point of self-injury, or even to the point where they are being disruptive. When it does become harmful, however, that’s when parents, caregivers, and support professionals may wonder as to what they can do to stop the stimming activity. And while you can control the behaviors, it is best to consider how to prevent them from happening in the first place.
Please note, however, that not all stimming is harmful or disruptive. We’re only addressing the stimming that results in self-injury, destruction to the individual’s environment, or is greatly disruptive.
Why do individuals with autism stim?
Many individuals on the spectrum report that they stim because it helps them cope and adapt to their environment.
For some, it may be the only way for them to regulate and keep it together. Sometimes the behavior is calming, while other times it may be used to maintain focus and attention.
Should I stop my child from stimming?
In short, no. Unless the behavior is harmful to the individual, stimming is often necessary. Try to present your child with the opportunity to take a break, instead. And work with your child on self-regulation. That can go a long way when it comes to helping with stimming.
Most of all, recognize that when your child is stimming they are trying to cope with their environment. Their body could be telling them that this is how they regulate to get back to their normal. And unless the stimming is harmful or disruptive? Let them stim.