Autism Stimming And Hand Flapping: What Are The Key Causes And Behaviors
If youre an autism parent, it is likely youve seen your child present repetitive stimming behaviors such as hand flapping, spinning, and shaking. These behaviors can be worrying if theyre not fully understood.
In this guide we will discuss everything you need to know about stimming in children with autism spectrum disorder and how to manage stimming behaviors.
How Do I Stop Hand Flapping
Talk with your childs occupational therapist or pediatrician before ever trying to shape their behavior. This article is solely informational and should never be applied to your child without professional consult.
As we mentioned above, a study found that 98% of stimming could be stopped when cued. This means that asking a child to stop is extremely effective. That said, this neglects the reason why they were stimming in the first place. If a child is anxious, overly excited, or agitated in some way, asking them to stop stimming may make the situation worse. If you want a child to decrease their hand flapping and other stimming behaviors, figure out why their doing it in the first place and how you can address the root of the issue.
Another interesting solution is physical exercise. A study found that kids and increased their interest in tasks after a period of exercise.;
Again, if your kiddo is causing any harm to themselves because of their stimming, seek medical advice immediately. In general, its best to check in with your childs care team to make sure that you understand their specific stimming behaviors and what you may need to do to address them.
Tics And Autism Making The Connection
Even though they have many differences, tics and stims share a lot of similarities. If you observe someone while stimming, itll be difficult to distinguish whether thats a tic disorder or just regular self-stimulatory behavior.
Its more indistinguishable in autistic patients as theyre more prone to frequent and aggressive stimming. When theyre that frequent, youll hear them being referred to as autistic tics, which isnt an inaccurate assessment.
A person with autism may also suffer from a tic disorder. Aspergers Syndrome, a condition within the autism spectrum, is a neurodevelopmental condition that frequently causes motor and phonic tics. Patients are observed to have repetitive movements, difficulty socializing, and poor nonverbal communication.
Autistic tics tend to be simple in nature. Youll hardly find any repetitive behaviors that extend beyond the usual eye blinking and throat clearing.
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You Might Think That These Repetitive Behaviors Are Hallmarks Of Asd And Adhd And Therefore Can Only Mean One Or The Other Disease In Truth Stimming Is Witnessed In Many Other Conditions Including Ocd And Schizophrenia
The best course of action to take when you notice increasingly repetitive behaviors in your loved one is to seek immediate medical attention. Schedule a consultation with a doctor to get a proper diagnosis soon, for it helps you manage the condition early on.
People with stimming disorders may sometimes be misdiagnosed with either ADHD or ASD.
Its true that these conditions share some symptoms, but that doesnt make them related. Sure, this overlap in symptoms sometimes causes the respective conditions to be incorrectly diagnosed, but if caught early enough, a keen doctor may be able to tell the difference.
Please understand that inaction is rarely an option here. Having either of these conditions puts one at risk of developing the other. Thats why its important to consult a doctor quickly once you observe atypical repetitive behaviors.
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.
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Olfactory Or Taste Stimming
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
- 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.
Why These Behaviours Happen
Many autistic children have difficulties with communication, which can affect their behaviour.
Some things that can cause these behaviours include:
- being oversensitive to things like bright lights or loud noises
- being undersensitive to things like touch or pain
- anxiety, especially when routines suddenly change
- not being able to make sense of what’s going on around them
- being unwell or in pain
These behaviours are not your or your child’s fault.
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Can Adhd Medication Cause Or Exacerbate Tics
In the 1970s, the Food and Drug Administration advised against the use of methylphenidate to treat ADHD as it increased the risk of developing tics.
The stimulant was later cleared after studies showed no direct links between the ADHD drug and an increased risk of developing tics.
Today, the FDA still advises against the use of certain stimulant drugs on people with tic disorders like Tourettes Syndrome as it may exacerbate their tics.
It later approved three non-stimulant medications for ADHD:
While some studies show that these non-stimulant drugs are generally better for managing ADHD in children with tics, others suggest that atomoxetine could result in tics in some children.
Impact Of Stimming On Your Health
Many parents ask how they can help their children to stop stimming behaviors in an effort to help them blend in with their peers. But stimming is very normal, if not widely accepted socially. Instead of asking how to stop the behavior, try asking why your child is engaging in stimming.
Common reasons for people to stim include:
Overstimulation. Stimming helps block out too much sensory input from overstimulation. An example of stemming action is making a âbrrrâ sound with your lips in a place that is too loud.
Understimulation. If a place doesnât have enough sensory input â things to hear or look at â or if you are bored, stimming provides additional sensory input. An example of this type of stimming is clucking in a room that is too quiet.â
Pain reduction. If you fall or bump your arm, your reaction might be to hurt yourself in some other way to take away from that pain. Many children bang their head or body to reduce other sensations of pain. Even though it seems counterproductive, medical professionals believe that this type of stimming may release beta-endorphins that decrease the sensation of pain or provide a sensation of pleasure.
âManagement of emotions. If you suddenly feel happy or sad, it may trigger you to stim. You may flap your hands when youâre happy or begin to bite your nails when youâre upset.
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Types Of Stimming Behaviors
There are a lot of repetitive behaviors that may be called stims. The one thing they all have in common is that they are purely sensation-seeking.
Stimming behaviors fall into five categories:
1. Auditory Stimming
Auditory stims involve the persons sense of hearing and presence of sound. In this case, the person is soothed by making or hearing certain sounds.
The stims here may include:
- Humming, grunting, or shrieking
- Finger-snapping, tapping on objects or tapping on ears
- Repetitive speech
2. Visual Stimming
Sometimes, stimming involves sending stimuli to the eyes, whether that means blinking a lot or fixating on a single spot.
Visual stimming includes activities such as:
- Staring at objects for a long time
- Peering at things from the corners of your eyes
- Lining things up
- Turning lights on and off
Sometimes the person engages in stimming activities that involve taste and smell.
Some of the repetitive actions are:
- Placing objects in the mouth to taste them
- Sniffing random objects
- Tapping your foot
Stims such as these are quite common, and it is only when we do them again and again that they become habitual. Once that happens, we cant concentrate or deal with boredom without stimming.
Thats not the only way stimming becomes a habit. A handful of other hypotheses suggest that self-stimulatory behavior develops for reasons other than to help us concentrate better.
Stimming What Is It And Why Do People Do It
- Do you find yourself doing random things with your body, especially when bored, anxious, happy, or frustrated?
- Have you ever caught yourself shaking your leg while deep in thought? Or whistling aimlessly while waiting for something.
- Do people often bring up your fidgeting and ask why you do it so much?
If youve answered yes to any of the above questions, theres a good chance that you might be stimming.
Stimming stands for self-stimulating behavior. To you, it may feel like normal behavior that takes over when youre bored or more emotional than usual. But in reality, theres often a lot more to it than what meets the eye.
To be clear, stimming is not purely stimulatory behavior. You might be more inclined to think of it as a self-soothing behavior because it helps soothe unpleasant emotions like boredom and frustration.
To understand how stims can be soothing, lets look at what classic stimming looks like.
What Can Parents Do To Reduce Vocal Stimming
Parents might wonder how to reduce verbal stimming. Experts suggest that parents or caregivers should only try to reduce the vocal stimming at the moment its happening if the repetitive behavior the child is exhibiting causes a problem.
If the behavior prohibits the youngster from learning, excludes him/her from social settings with other children, or if his/her stimming is dangerous or harmful to him/her or those around them, then the parent should intervene.
So, what strategies could parents take to try reducing autism vocal stimming? First, parents need to consider why the behavior is happening. Perhaps there are times when it happens more often? Observe the child to know what sets off the behavior and when/where it happens most. It is also important to speak to a psychologist or an education specialist who has experience in this area to rule out other reasons for the stimming.
Many experts suggest finding a similar behavior to the stim so that the child still feels soothed and receives stimulation but isnt distracting other people with the sound. The replacement should be something appropriate that the kid can do based on their ability and age and something that is relevant to the setting. Some suggestions include humming a tune, blowing bubbles, or doing pretend play/singing songs that allow for making animal sounds.
Autism Stimming Versus Non
Repetitive stimulatory behaviors, on their own, do not equate to an autism diagnosis. While its true an autism diagnosis is not made without the presence of these behaviors, they are one in a constellation of symptoms that need to be present for a diagnosis to be made. Autism is also defined by deficits 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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The Link Between Adhd And Tics
Both ADHD and tics manifest as repeated movements and sounds that appear to be involuntary. Kids with ADHD, especially, might seem to have several tics as they squirm, fidget, and make noise whenever theyre hyperactive.
Tics and ADHD also appear at around the same time. ADHD develops between 3 6 years of age, whereas Tourettes is often diagnosed from age seven onward.
These conditions become even harder to diagnose when theyre accompanied by learning disorders, OCD, and depression.
Habits And Hand Flapping
At this point, you may be thinking, this is great, but my kid hand flaps ALL THE TIME! Not just when theyre excited or anxious. Theres a reason for that.
We all like things that feel good and our kids are no different. Self-soothing behaviors feel good. Especially for our kiddos with autism, habits are quick to form and they can be powerful.;
Your child may not be especially excited or anxious in any given moment, but simply likes the feeling of stimming and has made a habit of it.
One of the most important things to note is that, while stimming may be involuntary, 98% of people in the study mentioned above were able to stop on cue. This makes stimming different from tics, seizures, or other involuntary movements we may encounter.
Ok, now that we have our basics covered, were leaving an important piece out of this puzzle. Lets dig more into how the sensory system works and why some kiddos are more prone to hand flapping than others.
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What Is Hand Flapping Exactly
Hand flapping is a way to self soothe and regulate the body. Have you ever been nervous and realized that your leg was bouncing up and down uncontrollably? Well, youve experience self-soothing without even realizing it.
This self-soothing is also known as stimming, or self-stimulation. While its often associated with autism, all of us engage in stimming almost every day. Our bodies need it. Its just that some bodies need it more than others.
Here are some examples:
- You guessed it–hand flapping
The thing about hand flapping and other stimming behaviors is that they dont always happen at the same time for the same reason. It really depends on the kiddo and the situation. Lets talk about a few different emotions and why hand flapping may show up when someone is feeling that way.
Theme : Stimming As A Self
Stimming was identified as a repetitive, usually rhythmic behaviour that wascommonly expressed through body movements but also vocalisations . Many participants said they experienced it as involuntaryand unconscious, at least at the beginning of the behaviour. Although manydescribed stimming as automatic and uncontrollable, no participants consistentlyand inherently disliked their stims .Indeed, most participants described stimming itself as comfortable or calming,suggesting a self-regulatory function . The accounts of our participants suggested that stimming created afeedback loop that regulated excess emotion and was self-perpetuated because ofthe soothing comfort or control afforded by the behaviour.
Our analysis revealed four subthemes, including overwhelming environment, sensoryoverload, noisy thoughts and uncontainable emotion. These were interrelated: anoverwhelming environment was described as producing sensory overload andsometimes contributing to noisy thoughts. Externally generated senses orinternally generated thoughts couldindependently or together cause excessive uncontainable emotions , resulting in the self-regulatory mechanism of rhythmic behaviour knownas stimming. A schematic illustration of this process is shown in .
Below we report our four subthemes in the context of stimming as a regulatorymechanism.
Subthemes 1 and 2: overwhelming environment and sensory overload
Subtheme 3: noisy thoughts
Subtheme 4: uncontainable emotion
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What Exactly Is Stimming And Why Do Autistics Stim
People with autism, however, often find it difficult to stop stimming, and may do it during most of their waking hours. People with autism may stim because they are excited, happy, anxious, overwhelmed, or because it feels comforting. Under stressful circumstances, they may stim for long periods of time.
Is Stimming Always Related To Autism
When it comes to recognizing signs of autism, often we look for things that are behavior based or developmental based. But what about stimming? For that matter, just what is stimming and is;stimming always related to autism? I just had to find this out.;
Does that mean Im on the autism spectrum?
I would be inclined to think not.
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Stimming And The Child With Autism: Helpful Insights
Stimming is a common behavior for children with autism and a frequent cause of concern for parents. Called stereotypy in clinical terms, stimming refers to the flapping, rocking, humming, or otherwise repetitive behavior we often associate with children diagnosed with autism.
In terms of function of behavior, stimming is included in the automatic reinforcement category. That is, children engage in stimming because it either feels good or because it alleviates some discomfort or pain .
We field many inquiries from parents of children with autism asking how to handle stimming. Its a perplexing behavior that many parents struggle to understand and deal with. On that front, there is both good news and not-so-good news.
Never Heard Of Stimming You Probably Do It
Ever bitten your nails, jiggled your knee nervously, or clicked your pen in a meeting? Well, these are all examples of stimming.
Never heard of stimming? Were here to explain what this word actually means. Who knows, you might be more familiar with it than you realised
Ever bitten your nails before an interview, jiggled your knee, twirled your hair around your finger, clicked your pen up and down, or anxiously paced around a room? Well, these are all examples of stimming.
Sometimes referred to as self-stimulatory behaviour, stimming is: repetitive or unusual body movement or noise.
Most people tend to just use these stims from time-to-time, and pretty much were able to control them. But, for some people with a disability such as autism, stimming can be harder to control.
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