Stimming and Autism: A Centered Exploration of Behavior


Many people with autism display self-stimulatory behavior known as stimming. When most people consider autism and those who stim, they often think of children who are non-verbal and engage in stereotypical behaviors such as spinning around in circles or flapping their hands compulsively. While this is undoubtedly a typical portrayal of autism by society today, it is by no means the only one. It is a minimal depiction of how stimming truly affects children with autism.

Autism is a spectrum disorder consisting of a vast range of symptoms and abilities associated with it. This means that every child on the autism spectrum is different. No two neurodivergent children will be identical.

This blog post will explore self-stimulatory behavior in more depth. We will discuss why individuals with autism stim and offer some treatment approaches for parents who find it challenging to manage and cope with. This is especially important when the stimming becomes self-injurious, aggressive, or dangerous.

Society needs to recognize that not all individuals with autism stim. Many do not engage in any self-stimulatory behavior. Through a practical approach, families and providers can work with the child to make stimming safer and more appropriate while equally rewarding.

What Is Stimming?

While stimming can take many forms, it is often characterized by repetitive movements or vocalizations.

Some common examples include:

  • Hand-flapping
  • Jumping
  • Smelling
  • Spinning
  • Flicking
  • Rubbing the skin
  • Dropping
  • Repeating words or phrases

But this list could go on extensively, as self-stimulatory behaviors are unique to everyone affected.

Stimming can vary significantly from individual to individual. When it comes to these behaviors, there is no right or wrong way to do it; Self-stimulatory behavior is simply a way for people on the spectrum to express themselves and cope with their surroundings.

While many stimming behaviors can be harmless much of the time, in some cases, they can also be compulsive and interfere with daily activities. For example, someone may become so focused on the behavior that they exclude other essential activities, such as eating, completing chores, or sleeping. In other cases, stimming may distract others within the environment.

While there remains no cure for autism, which is deeply correlated with self-stimulatory behavior, many people with the condition can manage their symptoms with behavioral therapy like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and other treatments.

Why Do People with Autism Stim?

One theory on why some people with autism stim is that they are trying to regulate their sensory input. Brains with autism often process information differently than neurotypical brains, so they may find it challenging to filter out certain stimuli. For example, someone with autism might stim by wavering their hands in front of their eyes because they are trying to block out bright lights or reduce visual input. Chewing on objects might help them to filter out background noise and focus on a particular task.

Another theory is that self-stimulatory behaviors give neurodivergent people a sense of control over their environment. In a world that can be anxiety-provoking, overwhelming, and confusing, stimming gives them a way to feel secure, grounded, and in control of their bodies.

Whatever the reason for stimming, it is essential to remember that it is not a bad thing. It is a coping mechanism that helps people with autism make sense of the world around them. Additionally, it provides great comfort and self-expression for those who do it.

How Can Parents Manage Stimming?

Parents can implement a few safe approaches to help manage self-stimulatory behaviors. One method is to provide alternative coping mechanisms. For example, if your child stims by flapping their hands, you could give them a stuffed animal to hold instead. You could provide chewy toys or gum if they chew on objects. Self-stimulatory behaviors should not be punished or discouraged; instead, they should be seen as a regular part of who your child is.

Stimming and Safety

Some autism experts believe stimming should be allowed and even encouraged, as it can provide a much-needed outlet for autism-related stress. However, it is also essential to ensure that neurodivergent children and adults engage in these behaviors within a safe and comfortable environment. Here are a few safe examples:

• Explore alternatives. For example, individuals who hum should be encouraged to do so quietly, and those who like to rock should be given ample space to do so without encountering other people or objects.

• Consider fidgets. These small toys can be held in hand and played with. Fidgeting can help to redirect excess energy and improve focus.

• Create a safe space for stimming. This could be a designated area where they can go to stim freely and safely without being interrupted or judged.

ABA and Stimming

ABA therapy for autism has been used successfully for decades. It is a behavior-based approach focusing on behavior, reinforcement, and the environment. ABA therapy approaches self-stimulatory behavior in a variety of ways.

One common approach is providing an alternative, more socially acceptable behavior to the stim. For example, if a neurodivergent individual is engaging in stereotypical behaviors by tangling their fingers, the RBT (Registered Behavior Technician) would work on teaching them to wave instead.

Another approach is to redirect the person to another activity. This might involve providing a game or object that the individual can use instead of their body.

ABA therapy aims to manage and shape behaviors through reinforcement so that the individual with autism can better function in everyday situations.

Accepting Stimming and Autism as a Society

While some people view stimming as “bad” behavior that needs to be extinguished, others see it as a natural and essential part of autism. To create a society that accepts self-stimulatory behaviors, we must increase understanding and awareness about autism and autism behaviors. We can start by providing accurate information about autism to the public. We can also create more inclusive environments for people with autism where self-stimulatory behavior is accepted and respected.

Finally, we can work to change the way we think about stimming, viewing it as a positive coping mechanism rather than negative behavior. With these steps, we can create a society that is more accepting of autism behavior and its critical role in the lives of people with autism.

Understanding Without Judging

Stimming is behavior that casual onlookers or people who don’t understand autism can often misinterpret. As a result, people who stim can often be judged harshly by others. It is crucial to comprehend self-stimulatory behaviors and not judge people who engage in them. By better understanding autism and its manifestations, we can create a more inclusive and supportive world for people who are neurodivergent.

Coping With Stimming

If you are struggling to cope with your child’s self-stimulatory behaviors, many resources are available to help you. Support groups, online forums, and books can offer advice and guidance. The vast autism community is here to support you. Never feel alone on this journey. A stable population of people understands what you are going through and want to help.

ABA Centers of America and Stimming

Self-stimulatory behavior is a common and often essential aspect of autism. While it can be challenging to manage, it is important to remember that stimming serves a purpose for the individual. There are many approaches available for parents who find themselves struggling with stimming behaviors. Understanding these behaviors and appropriate interventions can help make life easier for individuals with autism and their families.

ABA Centers of America specializes in working with children on the goals that are most important to them. We understand that your child’s behavior makes them who they are, so we don’t focus on “changing them” or “fixing things.” We implement techniques that empower children to communicate and reach for behaviors that lead to more productive outcomes. For more information about us and our approach, contact us at (844) 923-4222 for a free consultation or visit

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