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What Is Stimming?

By Rebecca Harkin
Updated Feb 04, 2024
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Stimming is a repeated physical action that is performed to either self-stimulate or help to soothe a person. This form of self stimulation can include activities such as toe tapping, humming, pacing, and teeth grinding. A heightened form of self-stimulation is often found in children with autism, and may involve rocking, moaning, or clapping. In autistic children, stimming may become so exaggerated that it interferes with learning and performing simple tasks, causing the child to be teased or ostracized. Stimming can occasionally be controlled by using weighted blankets or by practicing to replace obvious, more embarrassing forms of self stimulation with less apparent ones.

Autistic children sometimes use loud, attention-gathering forms of self stimulation at inappropriate times, embarrassing and angering their parents or friends. It helps parents and friends of an autistic child to understand that this form of stimulation serves a purpose and is often needed, to some degree, to help the autistic person function. The functions of stimming are to either soothe the person during a stressful situation, distract him from animated activity around him, or help him to process the sensory information around him.

Stimming involves motion, sounds, sights, smells, touch, taste, and proprioception. Motion and auditory self stimulation are typically the most common forms. Self-stimulation with motion most often involves rocking, pacing, jumping, or whirling. Auditory self stimulation involves humming, making repetitive sounds, taping objects, snapping fingers, or clapping.

Visual stimming typically involves repetitive blinking, focusing on lights, or positioning objects, typically in a row. Olfactory self stimulation includes smelling objects or people. Self stimulation with touch includes rubbing objects, biting nails, or sucking and twirling hair. Taste self-stimulation usually includes putting objects in the mouth, and proprioception stimulation involves teeth grinding and walking back and forth.

There are several methods that can be used to try to control and limit exaggerated forms of self stimulation. A weighted blanket, neck collar, or vest sometimes helps people with excessive stimming while in school or when they are required to sit for long periods of time. The pressure of the weight is enough to sustain the needed physical stimulation and prevent or minimize the exaggerated self-stimulation.

With therapy, some of the louder or socially inappropriate forms of self stimulation can be substituted for less obvious ones. For example, therapy may be able to replace jumping, clapping, or moaning with foot tapping or drumming the fingers on the side of the leg. This method allows a child to self stimulate without calling attention to himself or interfere with the things going on around him.

Stimming is often triggered by a place or situation. Learning to recognize the trigger for stimming and avoiding them may decrease the occurrence of excessive self stimulation. Older children may be able to gradually practice the replacement of an attention-gathering stimulator with a less obvious one around their triggers.

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Discussion Comments
By Talentryto — On Dec 22, 2013

In children, stimming can be a sign of a variety of developmental and emotional problems. If the child needs to perform such tasks for comfort, it is important to find out what is stressing him or her out resulting in such behavior. Stimming should warrant a trip to the pediatrician if it continues or worsens in a child.

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