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What is Stimming in Autism?

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It’s natural. 

Everybody does it. 


Examples include drumming your fingers on a surface, rocking, or swaying.

Stimming involves repetitive behaviors or sounds.

It is part of the diagnostic criteria for autism. Not because it’s always related to autism. Instead, stimming in autism can often cause problems or escalate to the point it gets out of control. 

Usually stimming in the general population is acceptable in social situations such as work or school. However, stimming in children with autism takes a step beyond what is considered socially acceptable, from hand flapping to making loud outbursts.

That’s where Heartlinks can help. We have a team of trained specialists who can assist with several issues around stimming. From diagnosing your child with autism to helping manage their stimming tendencies. 

Your child’s stimming can be controlled. Let us help you.

What is Stimming?

Stimming or self-stimulating behaviors are repetitive actions people use to self-regulate or cope with emotions. The next time you’re angry, sad, or anxious, look at your repetitive actions or stims, including nail biting, pacing, and jiggling your foot on the floor to control your emotions.

These stims help calm you down, distract you from a tense situation, or help alleviate your sadness. 

What Does Stimming in Autism Look Like?

The stimming found in children with autism is more pronounced. One of the many reasons is their senses experience things much differently than the general population.

People with autism may emit a high-pitch scream or engage in exaggerated hand flapping when excited to see something or someone. This is because their experience of the world is much more heightened. They feel the same emotions as the general population but on a much larger scale.  

Young boy stimming at school

Examples of autistic stimming can include some of the following:

  • Finger-flicking
  • Humming
  • Opening and closing doors
  • Flicking switches
  • Uncovering and covering their ears
  • Rocking back and forth
  • Pronounced blinking
  • Repeating words or phrases

Stimming in autism isn’t always cause for concern. It only becomes an issue when a child on the spectrum is rocking back and forth for over an hour. This kind of behavior can interfere with learning or day-to-day living.

What are the Reasons for Stimming?

It can be challenging to determine why a child with autism is stimming. Yes, it is a coping mechanism, a form of self-regulation that can address various issues.

In some examples, stimming is used to ease physical discomfort or pain. Examples of stim triggers include the following:

  • Adapting to an unfamiliar environment.
  • Expressing frustration, in particular, if they have difficulty communicating effectively.
  • Reducing anxiety and calming themselves.
  • Avoiding certain activities.
  • Crowded or loud places.
  • Boredom.
  • An injury.
  • Uncomfortable shoes or clothing.

How Do I Know If My Child Needs Help? 

Unless your child’s stimming is causing harm or a problem, there isn’t an immediate need to control it.

Read the following questions, and if you answer ‘yes’ to any of them, then that’d be an indication you may need to manage your child’s stimming.

  • Is your child’s stimming disruptive at school?
  • Does their stimming affect their ability to learn?
  • Does their stimming cause problems for other family members?
  • Is their stimming disruptive or dangerous?
  • Does their stimming cause social isolation or cause them to be bullied?

Contact your medical professional immediately if your child or any other family member is in immediate harm due to their stimming behaviors. 

How Do I Manage My Child’s Stimming?

It’s important to remember that stimming is used as a means of coping. It isn’t deviant or traditionally “bad” behavior. Several techniques can be used.

ABA Therapy

Boy having fun with ABA therapy

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA therapy, aims to teach autistic children how best to adapt to social situations. At Heartlinks, we use ABA therapy in various ways, including coping with disruptive stemming.

By using positive reinforcement, our therapists can encourage positive behaviors and redirect negative ones. ABA aims to employ behavior and learning principles to teach children with autism new skills and improve targeted behaviors such as stimming.

For ABA therapy to be successful, our therapists at Heartlinks implement a structured process that includes the following:

  • Understanding the Root Cause of Stimming in Your Child

Our therapists try to determine, first and foremost, why a young person is stimming. Once it’s determined why your child is stimming, a plan can be developed to address the behavior.

  • Encouraging Positive Behaviors

Our therapists use several methods to reinforce certain positive behaviors in your child. This also helps redirect the stimming behaviors interfering with your child’s life.

  • Setting Healthy Boundaries

There are children with autism who never completely cease stimming. Yet through ABA therapy, we can help establish healthy boundaries with our young clients. So they learn when it’s appropriate to stim and when not to. 

Stimming in Autism

If your child with autism’s stimming is becoming highly disruptive or destructive, it’s time to get help.

With several locations across the country, our specialists at Heartlinks can work one-on-one with your child to ensure they get the assistance they need to handle their stimming.

Managing stimming takes understanding and patience for the child and their families. Yet once it’s accomplished, the results can be life-changing.
Let Heartlinks help you achieve that peace!

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