Decoding and Defining “Stimming” with Autism

Posted by Soribel Martínez

If you have a child dealing with autism, you might already be familiar with the term “stimming”. But, many don’t know exactly what it means or how to decode it. 

Stimming is simply the act of repetitive movement or noises. Often, they’re seen as “unusual” movements or noises, but it’s a way for a child with autism to self-stimulate. 

It’s not always easy for autistic children and/or teens to manage their emotions the way everyone else does. They can have a hard time coping when things are out of their control or when a situation seems overwhelming. These actions or sounds can help them cope and manage their emotions, even if it might not seem “normal” to the average person. 

What does skimming look like, and how does it affect your child or teen? 

The Signs of Stimming

It’s not uncommon for autistic individuals—especially those with limited verbal skills—to make noises you don’t always understand. But, there’s a difference between those noises and stimming. 

Some of the most common displays of stimming include: 

  • Mouthing objects
  • Listening to the same song over and over
  • Rocking back and forth
  • Hand and finger movements
  • Repetitive behaviors

Some children experience mild stimming and may not do it often. Some might do it more frequently. You might also notice that your child performs these actions more when they’re under stress or in a particularly overwhelming situation. 

That’s especially true for autistic teenagers. If they are feeling anxious about something, they might be more inclined to stim. 

Is Stimming a Bad Thing?

At face value, stimming isn’t a negative thing for your child or teen. If it helps them manage their emotions and keeps them from getting overly stressed about something, it can actually be beneficial. 

If you find that your child’s stimming doesn’t negatively impact their life, it’s okay to let them work through their emotions with those behaviors. 

However, stimming can sometimes become risky, or even dangerous. Depending on your child’s behaviors and actions, they could end up hurting themselves. Some children, for example, will bite their fingers or hands repetitively, leading to open wounds and a lot of pain. 

Even if your child doesn’t become self-injurious, stimming could become a negative distraction in their life. If they are too involved in their stimming actions, they might be too distracted to focus on anything else. That can impact their learning ability, as well as their social and communicative growth. 

What Should You Do About Stimming? 

If stimming is affecting your child or teen in negative ways, it’s important to reduce their need to stim. Finding other ways to help them deal with stressful situations and/or anxiety is sometimes easier said than done, but not impossible. 

For starters, try changing their environment when they become overwhelmed. Sometimes, a change of scenery is all it takes to feel calmer. Consider having a “sensory room” at home with things they can focus on, rather than performing stimming behaviors. 

It’s also a good idea to reach out for professional help. If your child is in school, talk to their teachers about a strategy to reduce their stimming. When you’re on the same page as everyone else in your child’s life, you can work together to reduce the unwanted behaviors and keep your child safe and healthy. 

Talking to a mental health professional will also make a difference. Anyone who is experienced in behavior interventions can help you come up with effective solutions that will reduce your child’s stimming. 

If you have a child with autism and their stimming is becoming problematic, don’t wait to get them the help they deserve. Feel free to contact me to set up an appointment.

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