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5 Facts About Stimming in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Stimming, a form of self-stimulatory behavior, is common in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Although popular perception often associates stimming with specific actions like spinning and hand-flapping, it is crucial to recognize that the true impact of stimming extends far beyond these limited examples. By analyzing some key facts about stimming and the diverse manifestations of the behavior, we can challenge prevailing stereotypes to foster a deeper understanding of how it affects children with autism.

At ABA Centers of Florida, stimming is a normal part of our daily endeavors when providing ABA therapy to clients. We see firsthand how this self-stimulatory behavior impacts children and teens with ASD, which is why many of our treatment plans aim to address and reduce the frequency of such behaviors. Let’s break down the intricacies of stimming to shatter stigmas and promote awareness of this essential aspect of autism.

What is Stimming, and Why Does it Happen?

The word “stimming” is shorthand for self-stimulation and refers to a natural behavior experienced by those with ASD. The behavior usually involves repetitive movements or sounds and varies in each person. Many individuals on the spectrum have reported that they stim to adapt to their environments and to counteract overwhelming sensory input that contributes to internal anxiety. Everybody stims in some way, but often not to the extent of those with developmental disorders such as autism. While stimming isn’t necessarily a behavior that requires stifling, it’s still important to address it when it disrupts others and interferes with daily life.

Common Types of Stimming Behavior

Self-stimulating behaviors are common in those with ASD. These individuals often face challenges regulating their emotions and handling their senses, contributing to a “stim.” These behaviors can include many things but often materialize as full-body rocking and swaying, twirling, flapping hands, nail-biting, drumming fingers, etc. Full body stims such as rocking affect the vestibular sensory system, which helps the body’s orientation and balance. Other stims affect one or more senses, whether rubbing surfaces for touch, smelling objects for scent, or squealing for sound.

Some other common types of stimming behavior include, but are not limited to:

  • Biting fingernails
  • Hair twirling and pulling
  • Cracking knuckles
  • Jiggling legs and feet
  • Whistling
  • Pacing or walking on tiptoes
  • Repeating words and phrases
  • Rubbing the skin or scratching
  • Repetitive blinking
  • Rearranging objects
  • Fixating on lights or rotating objects such as fans

5 Facts About Stimming You May Not Know

Below are some interesting facts regarding stimming and insights that clarify common misconceptions about these behaviors.

1. Stimming is Not Always Harmful – Many believe certain stims present dangers to individuals and those around them. While some stims, such as head banging and excessive screaming, can be harmful, most of these behaviors present no harm to others and are internalized actions with no malintent. A neurodivergent individual may stim to express frustration, especially if they have communication troubles, but this does not imply that they wish to disrupt others. Instead, they’re merely trying to showcase their feelings when they may be unable to.

2. Stimming Doesn’t Always Need to be Controlled – A common misconception regarding stimming is that all behaviors, regardless of severity, must be controlled. However, managing these stims rather than attempting to control them completely is the more optimal approach in nearly all situations unless the behavior causes harm to the individual or others.

Some stims may need controlling if they cause an issue or harm to anyone. In these cases, we recommend looking at a question-based criterion to determine if management is necessary:

  • Is stimming disruptive at school?
  • Does stimming affect the ability to learn?
  • Has stimming caused social isolation?
  • Is stimming causing issues for other family members?
  • Are these stims destructive or dangerous?

3. The Occurrence of Stimming is Random – Both neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals showcase variation in how often stimming behaviors occur. For many people with ASD, stimming occurs every day, but the reasons for the behaviors may vary. These behaviors can continue for hours and be challenging to stop, especially in stressful or uncomfortable situations.

As stated, some self-stimulatory actions can indicate anxiety or emotional arousal and signal caregivers, teachers, and others that the individual may be uncomfortable. They may also indicate that the individual wishes to take a break or avoid certain environments that cause distress. In these exceptionally distressing situations, stimming can continue until the individual leaves the environment or a drastic change occurs to shift the tone of the situation.

4. Managing Stimming is Easier If You Know the Reason Behind It – It’s important to remember that behavior is a form of communication, and by understanding what someone stimming is trying to say, you can create effective management skills. This analysis begins with evaluating the situation, environment, and potential triggers for the behavior. Some important management tactics for someone stimming include:

  • Deciphering what may trigger the behavior
  • Evaluating the current factors which may contribute to the behavior
  • Offering a calm approach toward someone showcasing these behaviors
  • Encouraging acceptable behaviors
  • Avoiding punishment for these behaviors, as ceasing one behavior without addressing its cause may lead to another behavior taking its place
  • Teaching alternate behaviors that can meet the same self-stimulatory needs, especially for those that cause harm – for example, squeezing or rubbing an object or toy instead of a person’s hands or arms.
  • Implementing a routine for daily tasks

5. Understanding Without Judgment Helps Break Stimming-Related Stigmas – Stimming-related stigmas often arise from misconceptions and a lack of knowledge about autism and its associated behaviors. It is essential to educate ourselves and others about stimming and its significance in the lives of individuals with autism to promote understanding and compassion.

Breaking these stigmas begins with understanding free of judgment. We must remember that stimming is a natural behavior for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and serves a purpose for them. By approaching these behaviors with empathy and acceptance, we can create a more inclusive society that embraces neurodiversity and all aspects of the spectrum. If you notice someone stimming in public, don’t bring attention to it. Instead, remember it has a purpose, and these people do it to help themselves, not interfere with others.

ABA Therapy Can Help Manage Stimming

ABA therapy, or Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, is highly effective in managing stimming behaviors in individuals with ASD. This evidence-based therapy focuses on understanding stimming behaviors’ underlying causes and functions and developing alternative, more socially appropriate behaviors. ABA therapists work closely with individuals with autism to create individualized behavior intervention plans that target specific stimming behaviors.

Through techniques such as positive reinforcement, prompting, and shaping, ABA therapy helps individuals with autism learn new skills and behaviors that can serve the same purpose as stimming while being more functional and acceptable in everyday life. Through consistent and structured interventions, ABA therapy aims to reduce the frequency and intensity of stimming behaviors, enabling individuals with autism to engage more effectively in social interactions, communication, and daily activities. ABA therapy empowers individuals with autism to navigate their environments more successfully and improve their overall quality of life.

Contact ABA Centers of Florida

ABA therapy can help your child with stimming-related behaviors or concerns. We offer childteen, and in-home ABA therapy services at ABA Centers of Florida to teach necessary skills for a more fulfilling life.

Get started on your ABA therapy journey by reaching out to our team. Contact (772) 773-1971 or visit our website to learn more about our ABA services and schedule a free consultation.

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