Sunday, April 14, 2024

Can You Stim And Not Be Autistic

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Stimming In Autistic People

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Stimming can be more evident in individuals with autism. It may occur, for instance, as the rocking of the whole body back and forth, wiggling, or shaking hands. This can go on for extended periods as well. The person also has less social knowledge that the actions of others may be troublesome. Autism-related tuning isnt necessarily cause to worry. It becomes a problem only if it disrupts schooling, contributes to social isolation, or is harmful. It can be unsafe in some unusual instances.

Stimming in a person with autism might include:

  • Rocking
  • Looking at lights or objects spinning, such as ceiling fans
  • Chewing, touching, or stroking specific kinds of objects
  • Sniffing at individuals or objects
  • Object rearrangement

Rather than playing with them, a child with autism can invest hours at a time organizing toys. Recurring behavior may also include obsessive thoughts or fears with certain items or the recitation of complex descriptions of a specific topic.

It may cause physical damage to other repetitive habits. Such habits involve:

  • Banging head
  • Extreme skin scratching or stroking
  • Picking at open wounds or scar tissue
  • Swallowing hazardous things

The cause of stimming is often not easy to ascertain. Its a tool for managing that can meet a range of purposes.

An individual with autism, for instance, might be attempting to:

  • Improve the senses or minimize sensory overload
  • Adapting to an unfamiliar setting
  • Prevent certain activity or assumptions

How To Manage Stimming

If stimming becomes inappropriate and is difficult to manage, parents have options such as family or individual therapy to address it, and teachers have behavioral specialists who can guide them in how to replace behaviors.

According to the experts at Good Therapy, family therapy can help to:

Address and manage overwhelming sensory environments.

Develop strategies for managing the emotions and sensations that trigger stimming.

Address conflicts between caregivers about how best to manage stimming.

Determine whether a person is stimming because of an underlying neurological or mental health issue.

Help caregivers differentiate age-typical stimming from stimming that may signal a problem.

They also state that individual therapy:

Helps a person manage harmful stimming behavior such as head-banging.

Offers different strategies, such as meditation, for managing anxiety.

Helps a person talk to loved ones about stress and frustration.

Offers alternative stimming options that may be less disruptive or harmful.

Helps an autistic person better control their sensory environment by identifying and addressing triggers for stimming.

Supports a person in advocating for their needs, including disability accommodations, at work, or school.

Brittany Wilson

Master of Education | Northeastern State University

Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University

May 2020

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Stereotypies most often are triggered by excitement, anxiety, stress, fatigue or being engrossed in an activity. In some cases, children aren’t aware that they are making these movements. Parents usually can interrupt the stereotypy by calling their child’s name. As you have found, stereotypies can last for years.

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Why Is Stimming So Important

An autistic person is able to self-regulate through stimming and navigate their sensory environment. This helps them cope with challenges in their sensory processing in their day-to-day lives. It is a means of easing physical pain and internal anxiety as well as expressing ones emotions, from frustration to joy.

If an autistic individual doesnt get an opportunity to stim and meet their sensory needs, then they may withdraw and shut down or experience a meltdown. Do not try to stop a person stimming. This will only make them feel anxious and create negative associations in their minds with a particular person and or place.

What Does Stimming Do That Is Positive

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Stimming can help a person with ASD deal with sensory overload, and anxiety in a postive way. A very good blog post from The Mighty explains in detail what those with ASD experience when stimming and why they need to do it. Some examples of stimming are rocking, hand flapping, head banging, stroking a piece of cloth all can serve as a calming strategy. As one woman with ASD explains:

Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed, upset or angry, I need to let it out. I feel antsy when Im over stimulated, so I need to move around and let out some noise. Its the only way I know how to cope. It calms me down. A common one for me is humming loudly to myself and most commonly, Ill bounce my leg. Its involuntary, so I dont always realize Im bouncing my leg. It bothers some people, but I cant help it.

Temple Grandin described stimming this way:

When I did stims such as dribbling sand through my fingers, it calmed me down. When I stimmed, sounds that hurt my ears stopped. Most kids with autism do these repetitive behaviours because it feels good in some way. It may counteract an overwhelming sensory environment, or alleviate the high levels of internal anxiety these kids typically feel every day.

Chris Bonnello from Autistic Not Weird points out that many non-autistic people exhibit stimming behaviours as well they just arent as visible.

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How Stimming Affects Autistic Children And Teenagers

Stimming isnt necessarily a bad thing, as long as it doesnt hurt your child. But some stimming can be self-injurious for example, severe hand-biting.

Stimming can also affect your childs attention to the outside world, which in turn can affect your childs ability to learn and communicate with others.

For example, if a child flicks their fingers near their eyes, they might not be playing with toys so much and not developing play skills. When the child is older, if theyre absorbed in watching their hands in front of their eyes in the classroom, theyre not engaged with schoolwork. Or if the child is pacing around the fence in the playground, theyre missing valuable social opportunities.

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Due to our brain’s neuroplasticity, we can create new brain patterns. However, there are other cases in which lack of empathy is associated to severe disorders such as narcissism, anti-social personality disorders, and psychopathy. In these cases, these individuals need to get professional help if they are open to it.

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Reasons To Reduce Stimming

Self-stimulation can interfere with learning, interpersonal relationships and social situations. Some types of self-stimulation are self-harming and may lead to infections or require surgical repair.

Self-stimulation may also be a symptom of an ongoing medical problem such as migraines which a person with a disability may be unable to verbalize.

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Many people with ADHD unfortunately feel that they just can never get better with their eye contact. This is especially true for adults diagnosed with ADHD later in life. They think that they have gotten through life long enough without making eye contact that there’s no use trying to get better now.

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Every Child Will Engage In Repetitive Stimulating Behaviors Known As Stimming Only A Few Will Be Autistic

The term stimming is a shorthand used by the autism community to describe repetitive self-stimulatory behaviors such as hand-flapping or rocking. Although these behaviors are often used to diagnose neurodivergent conditions, theyre also common for children who are developing typically. So, parents who see repetitive behaviors in children may struggle understanding what is autism stimming and what is typical developmental behavior. When trying to differentiate between the two, it helps to consider how disruptive the stimming behaviors are and how long they are persisting past their developmentally appropriate window.

Why Do Children With Autism Stim

Children may engage in stimming to help with sensory processing, to either increase stimuli, or to help decrease stimuli. For example, if a child feels overwhelmed with the stimuli in their environment such as too much noise, they may stim to help calm their system.

Stims also often occur at the same time a child may feel a strong emotion such as excitement, or anxiety. For example, if a child is excited by bubbles being blown or singing their favourite song, they may stim. Similarly, if they are upset that they cannot find their favourite toy or the routine has changed, they may stim.

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Why Do Individuals With Autism Stim

Many individuals on the spectrum report that they stim because it helps them cope and adapt to their environment.

For some, it may be the only way for them to regulate and keep it together. Sometimes the behavior is calming, while other times it may be used to maintain focus and attention.

What Is Harmful Stimming

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Stims that are uncontrollable, occur excessively in inappropriate settings, or prevent a child from socially acceptable interaction, may need to be addressed. Far more serious are unhealthy stims like self-injurious behaviors. These can include hair pulling, biting, hitting oneself, hitting the head against something in a harmful way, or picking/nail biting to the point of injury. Why would a person engage in self injuring stimulation? Possibly because their overload or source of anxiety is so overwhelming, it requires a much more serious stimulation to block it out. As Kristen Lindsmith points out in her blog post on stimming pain is the one sensation that will overwhelm all others.

If you walk into a house with too many cats you may cringe at the strong scent of kitty litter, but if you stay and hang around youll stop noticing the smell. This isnt about attention, this is a physiological reaction. You really do stop smelling the cat pee. But if youre in pain, you wont acclimate to it. As long as the reason for the pain is still present, your nervous system will keep on sending you those signals. Not only that, but it will prioritize that sensation above others.

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Children With Medical Or Developmental Disorders

While the underlying cause for stereotypies is not clear, repetitive movements are associated with a number of medical and/or psychiatric conditions:

It is important to rule out any underlying medical condition that may be causing pain or discomfort before making a diagnosis of a developmental disorder or other psychiatric condition. Children who are non-verbal may not be able to articulate their symptoms of pain and thus may smack their head or face if they have a headache or sinus infection. Stereotypies that are indicative of pain would be likely to have a sudden onset with few, if any, other co-morbid developmental symptoms.

What Does Scripting Mean In Autism

Scripting is the repetition of words, phrases, intonation, or sounds of the speech of others, sometimes taken from movies, but also sometimes taken from other sources such as favorite books or something someone else has said. People with ASD often display scripting in the process of learning to talk.

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This avoidance has typically been interpreted as a sign of social and personal indifference, but reports from people with autism suggests otherwise. Many say that looking others in the eye is uncomfortable or stressful for them some will even say that it burns all of which points to a neurological cause.

Olfactory Or Taste Stimming

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Olfactory and taste stimming use a persons sense of smell and taste. They may include repetitive behaviors such as:

  • sniffing or smelling people or objects
  • licking
  • tasting objects by placing them in the mouth

Stimming may be shown in other repetitive behaviors, which should be discussed with a doctor. Some stimming behaviors may be hazardous.

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First What Is Stimming

Stimming is short for Self-Stimulatory Behavior, and essentially that means that its any sort of behavior that offers a person the stimulus that theyre craving.

Oftentimes, stimming meets an important sensory need for an autistic person.

Its SUPER important to not discourage your autistic child from stimming because it is one of several ways that autistics naturally regulate and meet our needs.

While stims might look strange, and they might even be annoying to others, as long as they arent truly harmful they should mostly be left alone.

Were Not Sure Why People With Autism Stim

While its pretty common, stimming still isnt fully understood, even by experts.

Its believed that people with autism stim for different reasons such as when they are stressed, excited, anxious, or overwhelmed.

Some people may stim because they are oversensitive to their environment and can be a calming distraction. Others may stim because they are under sensitive to their environment and are looking to stimulate their senses.

Stimming can also just be a bit of a habit, like whistling when walking down the street.

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How To Reduce Stimming

Here are some ideas for increasing relationship skills while reducing time spent stimming:

  • Get a medical exam to eliminate the possibility of physical causes for stims, such as ear infections, chronic pain, migraines and retinal detachment.
  • Manage the sensory environment and emotional environment to maximize personal comfort.
  • Vigorous exercise reduces the need to stim, probably because exercise is associated with beta-endorphins just like stimming.
  • Continue interacting while stimming occurs. In his book Communicating Partners, author James MacDonald suggests that individuals with autism tend to perceive the world through sensation and action, while most neurotypicals perceive through thought and language. Once this difference is understood, self-stimulatory behaviors make sense. MacDonald recommends turn-taking activities to engage a child without trying to stop stimming during the activity the activity will gradually become increasingly comfortable and attractive, naturally reducing the stim.
  • Join the stim! Some treatment programs, including Son-Rise and Floortime, propose joining in the self-stimulatory behaviors as a way to initiate interaction. If a person is spinning plates, then start spinning plates. If a person is rocking back and forth, then rock back and forth right next to the person. My sons preferred stim is to hold up his hand and talk to it, as if looking in a mirror. He thinks its hilarious when I do that with him!
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    Intentional Stimming â Autistic Empath

    Children will sometimes run in ritualized patterns on the playground or in the home. They may walk on their toes or ap their hands. At times, they may ick their ngers or cross them in unusual ways.

    The word stimming refers to self-stimulating behaviors, usually involving repetitive movements or sounds. It’s because stimming in people with autism can get out of control and cause problems. Stimming isn’t necessarily a bad thing that needs to be stifled.

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    What Can You Do To Help Someone Stop Harmful Stimming

    CBC recently featured a story about a young man who resides in a lock down unit in a hospital in Nova Scotia. Matthew Meisner is severely affected by autism and engages in the dangerous side of self-stims. When you read about how Matthew spends his day and how he is supported, it breaks your heart. His quality of life does not need to be what it is now. The Low Arousal Approach from the UK deals with challenging behaviour and how to manage it. This approach advocates for no restraints or punitive consequences for behaviour. Listed below are the two main techniques to gently help a person who engages in harmful stimming.

  • Remove the cause. When this type of overload stimming is occurring, the problem stimulus that is causing the overload must be removed. Its best if you can address what is causing the overload behaviour to ramp up, and pre-emptively remove the stressor BEFORE overload happens and harmful stimming starts. I have written about how to understand what autistic overload is in a past blog post that has some helpful tips.
  • Interview And Focus Group Protocols

    The individual interviews and focus groups providedcomplementary approaches to triangulate data on stimming. Ethical approval wasgranted by the University of Exeters Social Studies and International StudiesCollege Ethics Committee and UCL Institute of Educations ResearchEthics Committee . Participants provided written, informed consentprior to taking part. Interviews and focus groups were digitally recorded andtranscribed verbatim, with quotations presented verbatim in section Results.To preserve anonymity, pseudonyms are used throughout the article.


    In total, 19 autistic adults took part in individual semi-structuredinterviews, conducted by G.R., D.E. and C.E. of these, 17 interviews tookplace in person , 1 took place by e-mail and 1took place by both e-mail and instant messaging. Participants had the optionto have a parent/carer present during the interview, and five chose toexercise it . Questions about stimming took place as part of a larger interview , which also included questions about their strengths.

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    Can You Be A Little Bit Autistic

    It is not uncommon for people to ascribe certain behaviors or moods to medical conditions or suggest that they are driven by a diagnosable psychological disorder. Examples might include:

    • “Oh, I know I’m picky. I’m just a little obsessive-compulsive.”
    • “Yes, I’m moody. I guess I’m sort of bipolar.”
    • “I’m in a crappy mood. I think I’m depressed.”

    All of these statements, which are used all the time, equate a passing mood or mild preference with a major mental illness.

    But of course, picky eating is a far cry from obsessive-compulsive disorder , which can make it impossible to fulfill the demands of daily life. And, a passing feeling of unhappiness or moodiness can’t be compared in any meaningful way to the extreme challenges of bipolar disorder or clinical depression.

    Some people may truly believe that spending 20 minutes choosing a color scheme for a party is akin to true OCD, or that a rotten mood is the same thing as major depression.

    Others know better but will still use these terms as a colorful way to describe a passing emotion or a behavior that’s not quite appropriate. This has extended to behaviors that some have haphazardly labeled as “autistic” or being “on the spectrum.”

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