Baby Care

Stimming in Autism

Stimming is a self-stimulatory behavior that is characterized by a repetitive action or movement of the body (such as tapping on objects or the ears, snapping the fingers, blinking the eyes, rocking from side to side, or grunting) and is commonly associated with certain conditions (such as Autism Spectrum Disorder)

The DSM-5 lists “stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech” as one of the ways to tell if someone has Autism Spectrum Disorder. It also says, “Symptoms cause clinically significant problems in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.” This is the difference between typical stimming and stimming that is caused by autism: Stimming is often a sign of autism when it gets in the way of daily life.

For example, biting your nails and twirling your hair can be distracting. They are usually okay to use at work, school, and most other places. Stimming looks like flapping your hands or spinning in circles.

Other examples of stimming by autistic people are:

  • Hand-flapping

  • Finger-flicking

  • Getting up and down

  • Getting up and down

  • Twirling or spinning

  • Words or phrases that are repeated (echolalia)

  • Humming

  • Hard blinking

  • Putting doors open and shut

  • Flicking switches

  • Finger-snapping

  • Objects that spin or tap

  • Putting on and taking off earplugs

Why do people stim ?

Self-stimulatory behavior, or “stimming,” is a type of sensation-seeking that can help people feel less anxious, angry, or bored. Some people enjoy and find pleasure in stimming. Even though stimming is often linked to autism, almost everyone does it now and then. Children are especially likely to twitch.

People who stim help themselves deal with things like anger and boredom. It might also help them focus, especially on tasks that are hard or dull. Stimming can become a habit over time.

People with autism often feel overwhelmed by things like loud noises or lights that flicker. Stimming can help them feel in control again, which can calm them and make it easier for them to deal with distractions. Stimming is often a sign that a person with autism is feeling too much and can’t handle it.

Is it bad to stim?

Most stims don’t hurt anyone, but neurotypical people may find them strange or distracting.

A person with autism can “defuse” feelings of being overstimulated or upset by stimming. It doesn’t always mean they’re not happy. People with autism often stim when they are happy or excited.

Some stimming behaviors can lead to self-harm and make other people worried. If a person’s stims could hurt others, they may need help controlling them.

Some things that may need to be controlled to avoid harm are:

People with autism are often given a bad name because of these examples of stimming. When they feel more rejected and alone, they may keep doing things that could be harmful.

What’s good about stimming

Even though there is some disagreement about what causes stimming, experts agree that it is a way to control your emotions.

We still have a lot to learn about how stimming affects the brain. For people with autism, stimming can be a way to calm down or block out too much sensory information.

People with autism often have trouble processing what they feel. They either respond too much or not enough to things like sounds, touch, and smell.

For example, a strong smell might be too much for them and cause sensory overload. The way they react is too sensitive.

Their response is hyposensitive when they are less sensitive to stimuli, like when they don’t react to or even notice a loud noise.

Stimming can help people with autism in a few ways in these situations:

  • Overstimulation: When a person is hypersensitive, stimming can block out too much sensory input.

  • Understimulation: Someone who is hyposensitive can get the stimulation they need by stimming.

  • Emotional regulation: Stimming can help an autistic person deal with emotions that may feel too “big” for them to handle.

  • Pain relief: Stitching can help take your mind off of physical pain and discomfort.

Why you should reduce stimming

Self-stimulation can get in the way of learning, getting along with other people, and being social. Some ways of self-stimulation are harmful and can cause infections or damage that needs to be fixed by surgery.

Self-stimulation could also be a sign of a long-term health issue. A person with a disability may not be able to talk about problems like migraines.

How to reduce stimming

Here are some ways to improve social skills and lessen the time spent on stimming:

  • Get a medical exam to rule out the possibility that stims are caused by something physical. Some of the causes are ear infections, chronic pain, migraines, and a separation of the retina.

  • Manage the physical and emotional environment to make yourself as comfortable as possible.

  • Stimming needs are lessened by vigorous exercise, which is likely because both stimming and exercise are linked to beta-endorphins.

  • Make a good connection between stimming and building relationships. One way to use stimming as a useful part of learning is to let the person do it as a reward or reinforcer after a time of working or playing.

  • Some treatment programs, like Son-Rise and Floortime, suggest joining in with self-stimulating behaviors as a way to get people to talk to each other. If someone is spinning plates, you could do the same if they are comfortable. If someone is rocking back and forth, you could do the same thing right next to them.

In other words, if you want to stop someone from stimming, give them replacement better than the stim.

Why punishment for stimming can be harmful ?

In the past, some experts said that stimming should be punished by giving unpleasant corrections (like slaps, spanks or shocks) or by taking away or not giving rewards.

The autistic advocates strongly disagrees with any kind of punishment for stimming. Many adults with autism say that punishment hurt their self-esteem, made them feel less in control of their bodies, and left them with feelings of trauma. Autism advocates say that children should be able to stim, just like adults can touch their faces or twirl their hair. This is especially true when stimming is not harmful.

There is a reason why stimming happens to people. When you punish the symptom, you don’t solve the problem. Instead, it punishes someone for trying to take care of their own feelings. This can make feelings like anger and worry feel even more out of hand. It also hurts the child‘s trust in the person taking care of them.

Instead of punishing people who are stimming, it’s important to find out why they do it and deal with that. For instance, a child with autism might need a quiet place to do their homework or find that certain fabrics bother them. A young child might need help dealing with the stress of having to wait for food. A person with too much anxiety might need help coming up with new ways to deal with it.

When stimming doesn’t hurt the person physically, there isn’t much reason to stop it. Most of the time, stimming is just embarrassing for the caretaker and doesn’t put the person in any real danger. When someone is stimming in an aggressive or violent way, refocusing their attention may help.

ADHD Stimming

Some of the reasons why people with autism and attention deficit disorder (ADHD) stim are the same as the reasons why people with ADHD stim. When someone with ADHD is “fidgety,” they are often trying to self-regulate their need for stimulation when they feel bored.

There are also some differences. For example, a student with autism may stim in class because the lights and sounds are too much, while a student with ADHD may stim because it helps them pay attention. For some people with ADHD, stimming is just something they do all the time.

Can we stop stimming?

Stimming doesn’t have to be stopped unless it’s getting in the way.

If you answer “yes” to any of the following, you may need management:

  1. Has stimming made people feel alone?

  2. Does stimming get in the way at school?

  3. Does stimming get in the way of learning?

  4. Does stimming make things hard for other people in the family?

  5. Is stimming harmful or bad for you?

Call your doctor right away if you or your child are thinking about hurting themselves. A physical exam and evaluation could show if there are any injuries.

If not, it might be better to try to manage stimming than to try to stop it completely. When working with kids, the goal should be to teach them how to be in charge of themselves. It shouldn’t be to keep them in line.


Stimming is common in autistic people, but it’s not a sign that someone has autism; neurotypical people can also stimming.

Stims are things like rocking, flapping your hands, and saying the same words or phrases over and over. Stimming is a way for people with autism to deal with their feelings or block out overwhelming feelings.

Stimming doesn’t need to be treated unless it happens all the time, gets in the way, or hurts someone. In these situations, behavioral therapies, changes to the environment, tools for reducing stress, and even medications can be used to help the person stop stimming while they learn how to control their emotions.

Get Help!

At Daffodil Health, we help kids by giving them speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavior therapy, and special education. Through our Home therapy program, we also show parents how to help their child from the comfort of their own home.

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