Stimming and How It Applies to Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Learning about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can often feel like learning a new language, full of acronyms and new vocabulary. One term to know is ‘stimming,’ which comes up frequently for children who are on the autism spectrum. Stimming, short for self-stimulation, is a behavior often exhibited by individuals with ASD, but this does not mean that every person on the spectrum self-stims. Two examples of stimming (self-stimulation) include flapping of hands or snapping, however there are many different types of stimming. The various categories of stims include: auditory, smell, tactile, taste, vestibular (movement), and visual.

At a glance, it might seem that stimming is an unnecessary negative behavior. However, upon further examination of this behavior, stimming can actually serve a purpose for children on the spectrum. As with many aspects of autism spectrum disorder, it is critical to understand the function of the behavior.

Pros of stimming
Stimming may be used as a way to prevent a meltdown by helping the child to self-regulate. This might be necessary if a child is feeling angry or extremely overwhelmed by anxiety, which could easily happen at home or school (e.g. during a transition in class). Stimming can also help a child to manage times when they are experiencing a sensory overload (e.g. sensitivity to light bulbs buzzing in a classroom). Social situations in school or out in the community can also be difficult for children who are on the autism spectrum, and stimming provides regulation for feelings in stressful social settings.

Cons of stimming
While stimming can be positive, there are times when the behaviors can be negative or even harmful to the individual. For example, some children may bite themselves in order to stim when they become overloaded. It will be a natural reaction to completely stop this stimming behavior, however, it is first necessary to understand exactly why the child is stimming and what types of situations trigger the self-stimming behavior. Once you find the cause of the behavior, it is then possible to resolve the behavior and provide a solution for regulating.
Every child is different, so it is difficult to say with 100 percent certainty whether stimming is a positive or a negative, but understanding the action is a necessary first step. If you have a child on the spectrum who stims, it may be helpful to discuss the behavior with their ABA therapist or teacher.

Are you interested in ABA services for your child in the Chicago area? Contact us or call (773) 630-4400 to learn more about the range of services we provide for children who are on the autism spectrum at Chicago ABA Therapy, including applied behavior analysis therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology.