Common behaviors in children with autism are less socially acceptable, leading to stigma and suppression. Behaviors like repetitive movements and involuntary sounds may seem unusual, but they really aren’t.
At Roman Empire, we want to destigmatize different aspects of autism spectrum disorder. Stimming is incredibly prevalent in autism and an important symptom to understand and discuss.
In this blog, we’ll be looking at:
- What is stimming?
- Is stimming a symptom of autism?
- Do people with autism stim when nervous?
- What age does stimming in autism start?
- Does stimming get worse with age?
- When is stimming a problem?
- Manage stimming in children with autism
What is Stimming?
Stimming, short for self-stimulating behaviors, is the repetition of noises or movements of the body. These can be both voluntary and involuntary.
Stimming typically involves repetitive movements and noises like whistling or hand-flapping. That said, stimming behaviors can also include tasting, licking, smelling, or sniffing (e.g., thumb sucking, sniffing, licking inedible objects, etc.).
Is Stimming a Symptom of Autism?
Stimming is a typical behavior exhibited by individuals with an autism spectrum disorder. It’s so common in individuals with autism that it’s even part of the diagnostic criteria.
That said, a person doesn’t necessarily have autism if they stim. Stimming is often a sign of anxiety in neurotypical people and doesn’t always mean they have an underlying condition. Just as it is common in individuals with autism, stimming frequently occurs in neurotypical people too.
Do People with Autism Stim When Nervous?
Individuals with autism tend to stim to handle sensory processing. The practice helps manage their emotions and block out overwhelming sensory input.
A person with autism may voluntary or involuntary engage in stimming behaviors if they feel:
- Physical or emotional pain
- Bored or understimulated
What are Common Stims?
- Hand flapping
- Body rocking
- Repeating words or phrases
- Head banging
- Spinning objects
- Head nodding
- Snapping, tapping, or flicking fingers
- Jumping, twirling, bouncing
- Rubbing or scratching the skin
- Repetitive blinking
- Twirling or pulling hair
- Pencil tapping
- Jiggling foot
- “Zoning out” (e.g., staring at ceiling fan or wall)
- Rearranging or lining up objects or toys
What Age Does Stimming in Autism Start?
In children with autism, stimming normally begins around 12 months to 18 months of age, sometimes earlier.
Does Stimming Get Worse with Age?
Stimming may worsen, improve, or stay stagnant depending on an individual’s environment and development. Even if stimming as a day-to-day habit diminishes, people with autism may show stimulatory behaviors in stressful situations.
When is Stimming a Problem?
Stimming, in general, is unproblematic and often a normal part of childhood development and maturing. However, stemming becomes an issue if it impairs the ability of an individual to regulate emotions in a healthy manner.
Behaviors such as head banging, hand-biting, and pulling out hair are self-harming and require intervention to prevent injuries. Likewise, stimming that affects attention and focus can harm communication development and learning.
It’s important to understand that people with autism may use stimming to cope and suppress uncomfortable feelings and emotions. Trying to prevent stimming can negatively impact the individual and result in more harm than good. For example, some people use stimming to focus better and to calm anxiety. Suppressing stims can potentially increase stress and hurt learning.
Manage Stimming in Children with Autism
Identify Stim Triggers
Knowing which stimuli and situations cause your child to stim is one of the most effective ways to regulate them. For example, if large crowds result in sensory overload, take measures to keep your child from being in that triggering atmosphere.
Common stimming triggers include:
- Loud noises
- Strong scents
- Bright lights
- Changes in routine
- Strong emotions, including excitement, fear, sadness, or happiness
Support Communication Skills
Stimming is a form of communicating emotions. Working with your child to grow their communication skills can help to regulate their stims.
While you can do at-home exercises with your child, you can consider professional services with more tools and resources.
Services for Children with Autism:
- Speech therapy
- ABA therapy
- Family therapy
- Play therapy
- Support groups
Getting the blood pumping is one of the best ways to release built-up physical and emotional tension. If your child is prone to stim when pressured or stressed, consider having them try a sport or active hobby.
Practice Safe Stimming
Some stims simply can’t be suppressed. Rather than trying to stop stimming, accept that these repetitive behaviors are a part of your child and accommodate them. For example, if your child is prone to body rocking, provide them with an environment that’s safe to do so. Similarly, if your child stims when they need to focus on learning, try stimulating toys like fidget spinners or stress balls.
Get Started with Roman Empire
Our team at Roman Empire is passionate about your child’s learning and communication development. We offer services for expanding life skills and preparing individuals with developmental disabilities for independent living.
Contact us today to learn more about our services and how to get involved.