What Is Harmful Stimming
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.
Common Ways People With Asd Engage In Self
Stimming was the most outwardly obvious sign of ASD in Carols case, and was the very thing that prompted her to get a diagnosis, and the treatment she needed.
Stimming is a hallmark sign of ASD. Actions such as head banging, sitting on the ground and twirling over and over, or hand-flapping are classic forms of stimming, but there are many expressions like Carols, that are a bit more subtle.
- Looking out of the corner of your eyes
- Flipping lights on and off repeatedly
- Random humming, shrieking, or making other noises
- Finger snapping, tapping or putting your hands over your ears.
- Tapping on ears or objects
- Covering and uncovering ears
- Repeating words or phrases including lines from a TV show, songs, or any other kind of repetitive verbalization
- Scratching or rubbing your skin in a repetitive manner.
- Any kind repetitive movement: spinning, pacing, twirling
- Tasting or licking including thumb sucking, finger sucking, or tasting something one wouldnt normally taste
- Unusual or inappropriate smelling or sniffing
Tips For Reducing Stimming Behaviors
In most cases, stimming is not harmful and does not need to be stopped or suppressed. Karen Wang, author of the book My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities, believes that any stim eliminated by a caregiver is likely to be replaced with a new one.
Despite this, some parents might want to reduce a particular stimming behavior to avoid self injury or help maintain a level of social acceptability. For example, a caregiver might use an autism helmet to prevent a child from injuring him/herself when head banging.
If you are concerned for your childs safety, here are some more ideas for reducing stimming behaviors.
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Is Stimming A Problem
Stimming performs the function of helping autistic people to deal with a world that is often confusing and overwhelming. So rather than see it as a problem, it’s better to see it as something that has a significant, and often positive, role in many autistic peoples lives.
When it does become problematic, however, is when it leads to physical damagefor instance, when skin picking leads to sore scabs or when head banging causes physical harm. And stimming behaviours that involve zoning out can cause problems at school and in the workplace when they affect a persons ability to take in information or participate. And some people have suffered because of the attention their stimming behaviours have attracted.
However, it’s important to remember that, in many cases, people with autism cannot do much to control their stimmingno matter what consequences it might have.
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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Do Allistic People Stim
Many forms of fidgeting, such as twisting hair or tapping fingers, are also a type of stimming. These forms of stimming are so common that they often go unnoticed.
Toddlers and preschoolers may also stim to cope with overwhelming emotions and having little control over their own lives. Some parents worry this stimming behavior is an early warning sign of autism, but when stimming is the only symptom, autism is unlikely. According to United Cerebral Palsy, about 20% of neurotypical toddlers bang their heads.
Neurotypical people stim for the same reasons that autistic people doto cope with boredom, alleviate feelings of sensory overload, manage frustration and anxiety, and because stimming can become a pleasurable habit. Fidget spinners, a recent toy fad, are a stimming tool popular among both neurotypical and neurodivergent children.
But More Importantly What Do Autistic People Say
Autistic people have described stimming as being repetitive or rhythmic behaviours . It can often start without the person realising. Common words autistic people use to describe the feeling of stimming are often soothing, calming and comforting.
Autistic adults have agreed that stimming can reduce anxiety and help them cope with overwhelming situations and environments. Sometimes this overwhelm comes from the external environment, and sometimes from internal worries and stresses.
However, there are other sides to stimming that non-autistic people often miss.
Stimming can also be the result of positive emotions such as excitement. One autistic person described it as just a release of any high emotion, so really anxious, really agitated, really happy, really excited, just any high emotion, thats when I stim .
Considered this way, stimming can also be a form of communicating emotions. Those close to an autistic person may come to recognise different stims as related to positive or negative emotions. For example, I am likely to jerk my arms if excited, but press my arms against my body if overwhelmed.
Whats more, autistic people can choose to consciously stim, rather than it starting without them realising. It can actually be used positively to prevent someone becoming overwhelmed, rather than simply happening as a response.
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Common Examples Of Autistic Stimming Behaviors
Now let’s take a closer look at some specific examples of stimming behaviors common to autism to give you a better idea of what stimming can look like. Some common stims include:
- Lining up toys or rearranging objects
- Rocking back and forth
- Flicking, snapping, tapping, or drumming fingers
- Cracking knuckles or other joints
- Humming or whistling
- Singing the same song repeatedly
- Clearing throat or coughing repetitively
- Opening and closing doors
- Flicking light switches on and off
- Clenching fists
- Repeating words, phrases, or sounds
- Biting fingernails
- Moving or waving fingers in front of eyes
- Rubbing, scratching, or picking at skin
- Picking at scabs or sores
- Bouncing leg or foot
- Head banging or dragging head on the floor
- Licking things
- Rubbing or stroking particular types of objects, fabrics, or surfaces
- Bouncing, jumping, or twirling
- Staring at rotating objects
What Does Stimming Do That Is Positive
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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What Is This Word
It’s stimming, short for the medical term self-stimulatory behaviours – a real mouthful.
Stimming might be rocking, head banging, repeatedly feeling textures or squealing. You’ll probably have seen this in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder but not really wanted to ask about it.
It is a term used widely in the ASD community.
What To Do About Stimming
Most stimming is fine. It is just an alternative way to self-regulate. It may take a while to get used to, but trying to alter or stop can be unnecessarily restrictive and may interfere with an otherwise empowering tool for the person. Furthermore, trying to restrict the actions may not always be possible and could do more harm than good.
If the person is bouncing and hand-flapping when guests come over or when taking the individual to a public place like the store or the doctor, it may initially feel embarrassing, but it is important to learn to educate others and tolerate the behavior so long as no one is in any real danger. As more and more people become educated about autism, these stimming behaviors will be more widely recognized and tolerated.
There is an option to try and replace stimming behavior, and in some cases this is truly necessary because of the harm the stimming causes. Sometimes an individual may bite themselves or pick at their skin causing severe damage. Sometimes they may bang their head on a wall or punch or slap others or things. Such actions need to be addressed. Please consult with a medical professional on the best way to address these forms of stimming. But replacing the behavior with a more healthy one is a good place to start. There are fidgeting/stimming products out there which can be used in lieu of negative stims:
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Is Stimming An Issue For Adults With Autism
Adults with autism frequently report experiencing repetitive behaviors similar to what we see in kids. These behaviors range from simple hand flapping to complex rituals involving objects and body parts. Stimming can become an issue for adults with autism when it interferes with daily life, job, relationships, or causes harm to oneself or others.
READ MORE: Key Questions About Adults with Autism Answered.
Examples Of Stimming Behaviors In Children With Autism
18 December, 2018
Autism affects a child’s social development and communication. Children with autism often show behaviors that are repetitive, such as flapping their arms, or hitting the backs of their hands. These are called self-stimulatory, or stimming, behaviors. The causes of stimming are still being researched, but some consensus exists that this behavior is calming to a child with autism, and helps him feel a sense of control over his environment.
Children with autism tend to ‘stim’ when they are anxious, excited or otherwise experiencing intense emotions. The behavior can appear awkward and potentially dangerous to others.
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Quiet Hands And Abuse
Some therapists, especially in ABA, believe that stimming should be suppressed, so that Autistic children will appear more normal. They use the words quiet hands to train Autistic children not to stim. Frequently this involves physically restraining the child until the child complies automatically.
“Quiet Hands” by autistic artist Miss Luna Rose
“Quiet Hands is… the equivalent to duct taping personâs mouth shut or preventing a nonspeaking D/deaf person from signing.”
Many individuals in the Autistic community believe that this training is abusive. Julia Bascom wrote an oft-cited personal essay on the trauma, shame, and fear that Quiet Hands instilled in her. Suppression of stimming is believed to impair executive function, making it more difficult for Autistic people to pay attention, collect their thoughts, and focus on tasks. Many Autistic adults protest the suppression of stims in children.
Iâve yet to meet a student who didnât instinctively know to pull back and put their hands in their lap at this order. Thanks to applied behavioral analysis, each student learned this phrase in preschool at the latest, hands slapped down and held to a table or at their sides for a count of three until they learned to restrain themselves at the words.
The literal meaning of the words is irrelevant when youâre being abused.
Autism Stimming Versus Non
Repetitive stimulatory behaviors, on their own, do not equate to an autism diagnosis. Although its true an autism diagnosis is usually not made without the presence of these behaviors, theyre one in a constellation of symptoms that need to be present for a diagnosis to be made. Autism is also defined by differences in social communication.
That said, stimming related to autism does seem to have unique characteristics. For one, the repetitive behaviors appear to persist past the time they are developmentally appropriate. As neurotypical children get older, they develop new ways of learning and grow out of repetitive behaviors. The same is true for an insistence on sameness. As a child grows, they find different ways of expressing autonomy.
Where its different in autism is that it doesnt seem to subside naturally on its own, Bishop says. When they really become cause for concern is when you see the behaviors interfering with someones ability to have age-appropriate social interactions.
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Difference Between Ordinary And Autistic Stimming
Stimming can be a clue for you to watch out for developmental disabilities in your child
Stimming is self-stimulatory behaviour which is also known as stereotypic behaviour in laymans term. Even adults engage in stimming behaviour by biting nails, twirling hair, pacing around the room or tapping pen on the table.
Sometimes the stimming behaviour can be quite annoying to people around. Cracking knuckles every now and then, nose picking, pulling at skin, biting oneself or repeating a phrase over and over again are few examples of this.
Parents should know that stimming in children can be a clue to developmental disabilities like autism, deafness, blindness and intellectual disability.
difference between ordinary and autistic stimming
It is important to notice that autistic stimming differs from ordinary stimming. Autistic stimming includes behaviours that interrupt everyday routine which includes specific behaviours like hand- flapping, rocking, spinning, or repetition of words and phrases.
With a little bit of knowledge, you can differentiate between autistic and typical stimming, since there is difference in the choice of stim and also as to how often it is repeated.
We know that stimming is often irritating but ordinary stims are not unacceptable. It is not very unnatural for one to bite nails, play with hair or tap a pen in our society, but when a child moves around flapping hands they will certainly get the negative attention that other ordinary stimming may not beget.
Why Do People Who Have Autism Often Exhibit These Behaviors
People with autism may experience difficulty processing social cues and emotions. They also tend to focus more intently than others on details such as textures, shapes, patterns, colors, smells, tastes, sounds, movements, and so forth. As a result, they are less likely to notice other things going on around them. This lack of awareness leads some people with ASD to become fixated on one particular activity over another. For example, if someone notices something shiny, it might trigger a desire to pick it up and play with it.
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Is Stimming A Bad Thing
For many people, stimming is an effective coping mechanism when they are experiencing stress, anxiety or a lack of stimulation. Sometimes people may wish to modify their behaviour if they feel it is embarrassing them, causing them to feel isolated or seriously disrupting the people around them.
Most of the time, stimming is not a problem and can go unnoticed by those around you. Occasionally, stimming can become dangerous or be destructive and the behaviour needs to be stopped or modified because it can cause pain and injury or impact negatively on day-to-day life.
Sometimes stimming behaviour is not understood which can lead to those who witness it feeling amused, distressed or scared and reacting in a disproportionate way. The key here is education and understanding safe stimming should not be a cause for alarm or a source of shame for anyone.
In extreme cases, it is possible to decrease the instances of stimming behaviours using medication, however, this is a contentious issue within the medical field and the way this treatment works is not fully understood.