What Is Stimming?
Stimming is repetitive stereotypic behavior commonly found in autism, but also found in other
developmental disabilities. This behavior may involve any or all of the senses in various degrees
in different individuals. Several examples are listed below.
Visual – staring at lights, blinking, gazing at fingers, lining up objects
Auditory – tapping fingers, snapping fingers, grunting, humming
Smell – smelling objects, sniffing people
Taste – licking objects, placing objects in mouth
Tactile – scratching, clapping, feeling objects nail biting, hair twisting, toe-walking
Vestibular – rocking, spinning, jumping, pacing
Proprioception – teeth grinding, pacing, jumping
All of us engage in some of these behaviors occasionally, especially when we are stressed. However,
your child may engage in these activities excessively so that they may interfere with learning or activities
of daily living. Also, these behaviors may be embarrassing to you and others. Individuals engage in stimming
as a way to self-regulate sensory input and manage sensory integration dysfunction. These behaviors may be
excitatory (stimulating) or inhibitory (calming) with the result of normalizing sensations. Occupational therapy
can help to reduce this unwanted behavior. A sensory diet should be initiated which provides your child with an
appropriate amount and type of sensory input throughout the day to modulate their sensory experience. In other words,
your child needs sensory meals and snacks periodically to meet their sensory needs before stimming becomes necessary.
Often, deep pressure on the body provides needed proprioceptive inputs promoting calmness and security and lessening
unwanted behaviors. This deep pressure can be provided by any or all of the following items. weighted blanket weighted
lap pad weighted neck wrap weighted vest .
The child should be taught to understand and regulate their own behavior. “How Does Your Engine Run? The Alert Program
for Self-Regulation” by Mary Sue Williams, OTR and Sherry Shellenberger, OTR from TherapyWorks, Inc. is an excellent
resource for teaching children about their 'engine speeds' and how to change their 'engine speeds'.
"The Out of Sync Child" by Carol Stock Kranowitz, MA and "Too Loud Too Bright Too Fast Too Tight" by Sharon Heller, PhD
are also extremely informative.
One might use the analogy of Tigger who has too much energy, Eeyore who has too little energy, and Winnie the Pooh who
has just the right amount of energy. Then, I taught my children to recognize 'who' they were like at a given time of the day,
and which activities were needed to get them to feel like Winnie or stay like Winnie.
The Listening Program may help to modulate activity level . Sound Health has also been beneficial to reduce toxic noise
from the environment that causes undesireable behaviors. In addition, inappropriate stimming such as licking objects and
smelling people should be redirected and substituted with a more socially-acceptable outlet such as sucking on hard candy
(e.g. stimming)- Repetitive, stereotyped behaviors whose sole purpose appears to be to stimulate ones own senses.
To some extent we all engage in self- stimulation such as when we are anxious or bored, for instance, pen tapping, foot
tapping, hair chewing, nail biting, teeth grinding, gum chewing, etc. However, in children with Autism it becomes problematic because it can be an obsessive preoccupation, not easily redirected. It is one of the major diagnostic features of Autism.
Examples include repetitive motor movements such as rocking ones body, hand flapping, running in circles, spinning
oneself, inappropriate jumping, and clapping. Other forms of self stimulation can be manipulation of objects (twirling a string,
rolling paper, etc.), visual tracking of objects, prolonged gazing or hand regarding. The production of vocal sounds like grunting, humming, yelling, and repeating phrases out of context is also considered a form of self stimulation. Yet another form involves obsessions with rituals or routines. This includes lining objects up, holding items, Many people with high functioning Autism
have reported that some 'self stims' seem to serve a regulatory function for them (ie. calming, shutting out an overwhelming
sound, reducing stress in uncomfortable situations).
Individuals with Autism vary greatly in how their disorder presents itself and self-stim behaviors are no exception to this.
Self stimulatory behaviors can be generally divided in two types, excitatory and calming. Some self stims are somewhat
functional and can help a person center themselves, focus and cope with a situation. Other stims are purely excitatory
(child sees something they like and gets wound up, may make loud noises, hand flap, clap or become otherwise physically
active) and can interfere with focus and learning, These are usually more stigmatizing because they draw more attention
and are generally more important to redirect because they are less functional. Why then is it important to try to reduce self stimulatory behaviors?
1. It significantly interferes with attention
2. It's highly reinforcing to the child and makes other more adaptive behaviors less appealing
3. It is stigmatizing
How can you intervene to help reduce self stimulatory behaviors?
Redirect behaviors in a neutral way, don't comment on them or give them unnecessary attention.
Instead, provide positive reinforcement for the absence of the behavior.
Don't let the behaviors function in a way that allows the child to escape from demands.
If behaviors cannot be completely eliminated try to limit them to certain times and places (for example, you may choose to
let a child stim when they are at home in the privacy of their own bedroom but not in school or at the kitchen table). When
there are many behaviors to address, try to focus most of your attention on reducing excitatory stims versus those that
are calming. Also, sometimes when there is a lack of other motivators, self- stim toys or activities can be used as a positive reinforcement for other target behaviors. This way the teacher/parent is able to exert some control over the behavior as the
child works to earn "stim time". Since these behaviors are highly preferred (and thus difficult to eradicate) they can be very
powerful motivators for learning. This can be very helpful especially if a child does not have a large repertoire of reinforcers
to motivate him with.
|Stimming is a jargon term for stereotypy, a repetitive body movement that self-stimulates one or more senses in a regulated manner. It is one of the symptoms listed by the DSM IV for autism, although it is observed in many normally-developing children. Common forms of stimming among people with autism include hand flapping, body spinning or rocking, lining up or spinning toys or other objects, echolalia, verbal perseveration, and repeating rote phrases.
Many theories exist as to what function stimming has, and the reasons for its increased incidence in autistic people. For hyposensitive people, it may provide needed nervous system arousal, releasing beta-endorphins. For hypersensitive people, it may provide a "norming" effect, allowing the person to control a specific part of their sensorium, and is thus a soothing behavior.
Sometimes self-injury is viewed as a form of stimming. Usually, self-injury is very different from stimming, but people with decreased pain sensitivity may injure themselves because they like the feel of it, similar to other stims. For example, they might like the way their hand feels in the mouth when they bite themselves, while not feeling the pain of the bite. Or they might like pressure on their forehead and bang their head without it hurting, even if they are risking brain damage.