Stimming: What it is and who it affects

Stimming is a short self-stimulatory behaviour, often used to calm yourself down or distract yourself through distractive actions. Although it is often observed in children with autism, you and I probably do it all the time as well! For example, tapping your nails on the table while waiting, twirling your hair, humming to yourself or even bouncing your knees while eating are categorised as stimming behaviour as well.


Stimming is a natural behaviour that one engaged in in order to express your boredom, anxiety or any form of discomfort. Therefore, though stimming is often observed in children with autism, it is, in fact, not a symptom of autism. It is simply a normal behaviour that is magnified and exaggerated in individuals with autism.


In autism, stimming becomes disruptive when it becomes excessive and interferes with daily living. For example, a child who engages in stimming behaviour where he runs back and forth in a straight line continuously will have his daily life affected when he refuses to sit still for schoolwork or even a meal. A child with autism may even exhibit self-injurious stimming behaviour such as smacking their heads and scratching themselves.


In therapy sessions, the therapist often works on reducing the frequency of such stimming behaviour, especially if they are self-injurious and disruptive. However, if the stimming behaviour is harmless, therapists often allow the child to engage in them as it is a way of how the child expresses their feelings and/or calms themselves down.


If the stimming behaviour does not affect your child’s daily living and is not self-injurious, it will be better to work around it than to eliminate it completely. One way to work around it is to teach your child more coping methods in order to help them express and manage their emotions.