Does Your Child Stim?

ceiling fan stimmingOkay, let's talk about stimming.

"Stimming" for those of you who might be all, "uh, what?" is a nickname for repetitive body movements that "self-stimulate" one or more senses. Even a "typical" child can engage in them, be it thumb-sucking or hair twirling or rocking themselves in bed. But "real" stimming (holy air quotes, Batman) in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders or sensory integration/processing challenges is a little...different. They rock their bodies, flap their hands. line up toys, blink at lights, stare at ceiling fans, chew on their fingers or objects, hum the same notes over and over and over again -- the list goes on and on.

Stimming is not always a bad thing -- a lot of children use the movements and tics as self-soothing or coping tactics when they're overwhelmed or out of sync or just in need of some extra processing time.

Stimming, though, can be...embarrassing, at least for parents. Noah has a handful of quirky stimming behaviors that probably look pretty strange to people who don't know him.  And some stimming behaviors can move into self-harming territory -- head banging, biting, leaping from unsafe heights, etc. 

But most of the time, we...let Noah do what he has to do (as long as it's not dangerous or approaching an uber-compulsive level). We redirect if he's stimming to the point of zoning out and disconnecting -- usually by joining in with the behavior, or finding some other way to give him the sensory input he's craving (brushing, gentle horseplay, offering small toys or fidgets).

We're currently on a mission to curb his oral motor stimming, which involves excessive biting/sucking/chewing on his hands and fingers. His OT recommended gum or hard lemon candies; we're opting for fruit-juice lollipops and the OCCASIONAL therapy chewie. Sometimes we gently request that he simply STOP after awhile, but try to never shame or scold about it. (Though I sometimes fail at this, I'm sure, particularly if the behavior is inappropriate for where we are or just...oh my God, ENOUGH ALREADY.)

Some parents take a different approach -- I recently met a mother who had a zero tolerance for her child's stimming behaviors, ever, no matter what. If the child did ANYTHING repetitive with a toy or object, the mother simply...took it away, even if it was a lovey like a Taggies blanket. No more. Stop it.

That seemed really harsh to me, but then again, you can absolutely find "experts" arguing for both approaches to stimming. Do you offer accommodations like chewies or bouncy chairs or weighted vests...or do you simply draw a hard line and focus on getting the child to function without them?

Does your child stim? Do you ignore, curb, redirect, accommodate? A combination of all of the above, depending on the behavior or place? Have you been able to eliminate or reduce any stimming quirks, either big or small?


Image via jeffk/Flickr

autism, developmental delays, discipline, toddler development


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nonmember avatar Jen K.

My son stims by staring at his wheels of toys as he rolls them along the floor -- mainly his trains.  If he is playing with a train table, he will kneel down to look at the trains.  If he is playing on the floor, he will lie down on his side and move the line of trains in front of his face.  He zones out when he does this, so we try to interact with him and do some Floortime when we catch it. 

nonmember avatar Nicole P.

My godson, now 12, with Asperger's has various stimming behaviors and his parents and teachers have developed ways to accommodate his needs.  He was becoming disruptive in class, so they would put a few heavy books in a backpack and send him on an "errand" to the main office.  The walk to the office and back to the classroom with the weighted backpack was enough to calm him back down and let him focus in class.  As he got into the upper grades of elementary school (and more time in OT), he doesn't need to make any adjustments in the classroom.

He also spins.  So, at home, they installed a tire swing for him.  He LOVES it.  He also has special rooms and areas outside where he can get away from the chaos at their house (at-home daycare, 2 younger brothers, several dogs).  No one is allowed to bother him in any of his special areas.  He goes there, regroups, and then is back to what he was doing before.

nonmember avatar Meredith

Hi.  I take a similar approach to you.  For the most part I can tell that my son's stimming is self soothing, or the  need for sensory input.  We do get a bit of headbanging these days though.  This is totally sensory seeking rather than frustration, so I have found a solution in a tight swim cap.  He looks a little like he is about to be shot out of a cannon when he is in he also wears ear muffs and sunglasses.   He is a bright beautiful cookie and I try to balance his need to have a childhood with all the therapy he does.  If down time is spinning and flapping and playing with wheels, I just jump in and join him.

nonmember avatar Christy

LJ stims quite a bit.  he use to more so when he was a baby.  He has Cerebral Palsy and Cortical Visual Impairment so a big one use to be light gazing.  He doesn't do it as much now, but that's one thing I don't really tolerate.  I will either put up a blackboard to block the light or simply turn the light off. 

LJ also stares at his hand.  He's 3, so he's beyond the age of checking his hand out.  I think sometimes he does it to orient himself.  I try to distract him by either putting a toy in his hand or giving him something to reach for. 

I'm really excited you posted this because now I'm starting to wonder if his biting is stimming.  Sometimes I know it's because he's teething (still!) but he does it when he's upset or mad too.  I've put those teniis bands on him so he can bite (he can't put an object in his mouth but he can bite his arm) or a hand splint if that's the way he's going. 

Also, I've recently discovered my son LOVES it when I rock him in our glider and it seems to soothe him.  I use to put him in a swing and he hated it but now,,, maybe because his visions better?  or because he can handle the input now?

He also shakes his head back and forth and sometimes bangs his head.  when he does this, I put a little pressure on the top of his head.

I'm ok with a little stimming but I try to redirect it.  Just like I try to redirect him when he's upset!

nonmember avatar Annie

My daughter is 21 months, and is most likely on the spectrum.  She stims by running around the perimeter of the room, and doing this "singing" kind of warbling.  She does this whenever she doesn't know what to do with herself, which is any time we aren't actively engaged with her or she's out of her routine.  She will play when we engage, but if we are otherwise occupied (cooking dinner) it's hard to manage. She doesn't mimic or engage in her own appropriate play well, so often one of us "on duty" with her while the other tackles whatever task we are doing.


She also likes to take pointy things (straws, pencils, crayons) and touch the ends of them together. Or things that fit together, she'll touch the ends of them together. If we let her, she could do this for half an hour. I try to get down and take one of those things and use it, to talk to her, to engage her however I can.

But her teachers do say to allow her some time to comfort herself this way for a "break." 

nonmember avatar statia

Before we entered the whole Early Intervention "what do you mean our son has a problem" territory, he would spin.  And spin and spin, which is totally common for spectrum/sensory kids.  At the time, I definitely knew something wasn't quite right, but it took until he was totally checked out and pacing before I finally knocked some sense into my husband that there was a problem.   

But yeah, even two years later, he still has stims, but they're much more mild.  He goes through flappy phases, I noticed it more now that he's stopped napping, but it's still not really noticeable to someone who doesn't have experience in noticing spectrum behaviors.    He tends to regulate himself by getting eye level with some matchboxes for awhile and just watching the wheels go.   When he's particularly bad, we ask him if he needs some squeezing or throwing.   A good even pressure squeeze or throwing him on the bed helps him a lot.  

nonmember avatar Maria

My son has stimmed since he was 16 months old.  He isn't always consistent--we have weeks where he does it all day long, and then days where we don't see it at all.  It's fascinating, and I can tell it comforts him.  We're still in limbo wondering what his diagnoses is/will be but right now it's SPD.

Here he is at 27 months  He turned four in April.

nonmember avatar AJ

My 4-year-old son has SPD and he is having a crazy outbreak of stimming today. I was feeling helpless and alone, so I searched online and landed here. I'd elaborate but I think you know how I'm feeling. Thanks for talking about this. 

nonmember avatar Tilly

My son is 8 tomorrow and has always flapped, twitched and bounced.  We are learning to live with it and through gental management and compassion from all his friends, teacher we are working through it - he is dyspraxic but otherwise an amazing little man and I am blessed - the biggest thing that affects him is diet - we manage his 'trigger-foods' very carefully and all good as long as his diet is well managed.

nonmember avatar krafty

I worked for 4 years in a severely autistic classroom-middle school-and saw many stimming behaviors-some were toned down by parent/teacher hard work, such as taking away the sock or ball-some were so severe that there was nothing you could do-7 yrs. later I still see these young adults and they are the same. Hats off to you parents and educators....

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