Understanding Stimming in autism

Understanding Stimming in autism

Understanding Stimming in autism

Stimming is repetitive use of object or actions that one does to feel secured in uncomfortable situation. Stim is short form for self-stimulating actions. Stims may help to distract or relieve stress or calm you down. It may serve purpose to the doer but proves to be a distraction for people present around them. It is commonly associated with autism, but everyone & everybody has their stim. Many people have a stim to self-regulate, but it’s not always obvious and they know how to control the behavior in socially acceptable manner, unlike for people with autism. For people with autism, Stimming in autism is much more pronounced as they experience each & every sensation in a very intense manner.

Types of stimming

There are different types of stimming. Here, I have classified few of them into types based on the sensory system involved –

Visual stimming involves vision & sight – Staring at fans or lights, blinking or turning on/off lights, moving fingers in front of lights, hands flapping, eye tracking from corner of eyes, lining up objects

Auditory stimming involves hearing & sound – Humming, tapping objects, covering ears, finger snapping, repetitive speech

Tactile stimming involves touch & feel– skin rubbing/scratching, hand movements – opening closing fists, walking on toes, water beads, playdough

Vestibular stimming involves movement & balance– spinning around, rocking back & front, jumping

Oral stimming involves mouth ie teeth, tongue, cheeks – biting oneself or others, licking objects

Olfactory stimming involves nose & smell – Sniffing candles, new clothes, soaps or sanitizers

Proprioceptive Stimming in autism involves body awareness with respect to where it is in space, joint position sense – Ball pressure, tight hugs, pushing heavy objects

Benefits of stimming

Stimming helps in self-regulation – while dealing with strong sensations like noise, heat, light, smell, crowd, etc.

Stimming helps in mental health – coping up with overwhelming situations and emotions like anxiety, fear, anger, excitement.

Some do it for fun, enjoyment or to gain sensory input. Some find it helpful, as it helps child to cope up with challenging situations.

Stimming is basically a tool for the child to manage unpleasant feelings. It may vary every now & then.

Should you intervene & stop the stimming?

There is no need to try to stop stimming, unless the behavior is dangerous. If one stim is removed, it will be replaced by something else. It can be hard to change stimming behavior but it needs to be managed at times. Stop stimming only when it can cause injury to someone & replace it with some other stim giving similar sensory input to the child. Stimming behaviors can come & go according to situation around. Sometimes they get better as child matures or get worse during stressful times. So be patient & understand how to manage stimming.

OT Tips for managing stims

Figure out the trigger or reason that why is child stimming, what is bothering him/her. Do what you can to reduce or eliminate the trigger to lower stress. Stimming is a behavior, and behavior is way of communication. Understanding what child is trying to convey is very important in order to stop stimming.

Provide calming & safe environment

Encourage good behavior & avoid punishing bad behavior as it might make them feel uncomfortable leading to stim more to feel better & deal with situation.

Manage stim slowly & gently. Avoid being the trigger yourself in process of calming the child down. Understand needs of your child, validate their feelings and give them the reason to stop.

Give movement/ sensory breaks to avoid overwhelming the child by giving tasks back to back.

Avoid changes in their routine. Try to make them aware as soon as possible, about schedule or changes in their day.

Teach your child few self-regulating activities, which are socially acceptable. Try swings for vestibular stimming, headphones for auditory, tight hugs for proprioception, sunglasses for visual, etc.

Seek medical/professional help when required.

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