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Spinning in Children with Autism

Table of Contents

It may be twirling a marble on its axis, watching it spin, staring at a moving ceiling fan, or incessantly pirouetting in the kitchen. 

All of these activities are examples of spinning. 

Many children enjoy spinning, whether it’s an object or themselves.

However, children with autism engage in this activity more frequently than neurotypical ones, causing concern from their parents.

At Heartlinks, parents often ask, “Should I be stopping this behavior?”

Our answers continuously vary, and there are reasons for that.

Why Do Kids with Autism Spin?

Autistic spinning is a self-stimulatory behavior, or stim for short. It helps children on the spectrum self-regulate. 

Children who spin are stimulating their vestibular system. This sensory system helps with our sense of balance, coordination, movement, and spatial orientation. The vestibular system also comprises the inner ear and the portions of the brain that process sensory information related to gravity and motion.  

Doctors believe that spinning is related to a sensory processing disorder. Autistic children who regularly spin crave sensory stimulation or are actively trying to avoid sensory overload and are self-soothing. 

Spinning can be broken down into two categories.


Whether a child on the spectrum chooses to spin their entire body or just their legs, what is known as self-spinning helps autistic children: their bodies yearn for the stimulation that comes from spinning.

Child watching toy spin on the ground


Observing objects spin is the second type of spinning. 

Examples of this type of stimming include watching a ball, hoop, or wheel spinning in circles.

An autistic child might enjoy watching everyday machines operate, such as clothing on the spin cycle or salad being dried in a spinner. 

These activities offer a child on the spectrum a chance to soothe or stimulate depending on their feelings. 

Is Spinning A Sign of Autism?

Spinning is one of the most common symptoms of autism in children. It usually begins when toddlers start moving independently.  

Autistic spinning is one of several repetitive movements children on the spectrum can exhibit. Others include hand flapping, rocking, or repeating words and sounds. 

It’s important to remember that spinning on its own does not indicate your child might have autism. Instead, it must be accompanied by several other symptoms. 

An official evaluation by a team of specialists is the best way to determine if your child is on the spectrum,

Should I Stop My Child with Autism from Spinning?

Spinning and any type of stimming are not bad. To your child, these actions serve a purpose.

However, when these repetitive movements interfere with everyday life, such as learning at school or participating in a social situation, it might be time to look at ways to stop the spinning.

You and your child’s therapist should decide whether or not to stop your child’s spinning. 

Each case is different and should be handled independently of others.  

Consider the factors listed below as to whether it is worth halting your child’s autistic spinning.

Advantages of Stopping Spinning

It can make social situations easier

Spinning can distract your child and others in social situations such as shopping with friends or attending a school dance. 

Autistic spinning can also ostracize your child from their peer group and expose them to bullying or teasing.

By curbing the spinning, your child can focus on communicating with their friends and fitting in. 

It can eliminate self-injurious behavior

If your child enjoys spinning in circles but, while doing so, hits solid objects, it can become dangerous. 

Young girl spinning in circles

From cuts, bruises, or worse, broken bones, this form of stimming may land your child in the hospital or seriously hurt someone else.

Exploring alternate types of stimming will prevent more self-injurious behavior.

It can improve your child’s focus and attention levels

Your child’s capacity to focus and pay attention in class, to others, and in general can be tremendously compromised by autistic spinning.

Not only will it distract them, but it may also be so for others. 

In stopping the spinning, you’ll find your child can focus better at school and around others. 

Disadvantages of Stopping Spinning

It can raise anxiety and stress levels

For many children on the spectrum, spinning is the ultimate form of self-soothing. Whether it’s rotating on a chair or watching a ball turn on the floor, nothing calms them as effectively as spinning. 

To stop this spinning may raise their levels of stress and anxiety. It may also lead to depression because this is their most effective coping mechanism.

It can impede your child’s self-regulation

If your child is used to spinning to either self-stimulate or self-soothe to regulate sensory input, eliminating it as a coping mechanism could be harmful.

Yes, there are less disruptive forms of stimming, but it may prove very difficult to teach your child those approaches, or they may be resistant. 

You may even discover that your child exhibits more challenging behaviors since halting the spinning, including tantrums and public meltdowns.

Learn More From The Experts at Heartlinks

At Heartlinks, when asked, “Should I stop my child from spinning?” we usually reply, “It depends.”

Each case of autistic spinning is unique and offers pros and cons.

Many times, this form of stimming is cathartic to the child. 

Yet there are other instances when it is downright destructive to them or others around them.

Parents should consider the severity of the spinning and their child’s other coping mechanisms when deciding if this form of stimming should be halted.
For more information on autistic spinning and how Heartlinks can help, contact us here.

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