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Arm Flapping Autism: Autism Stimming and Hand Flapping (Explained)

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Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) sometimes display repetitive motions or movements, like spinning, jumping, or hand flapping. This behavior is called stimming, and it’s thought to be a way of self-regulating sensory input.

While it may look unusual to us, stimming behaviors are often calming and comforting for autistic children.

In an autistic child, stimming refers to behaviors like:

  • Rocking 
  • Spinning
  • Hand flapping
  • Tapping pencil
  • Drumming fingers
  • Jiggling foot
  • Biting fingernails
  • Repetition of phrases or words

We shouldn’t try to stop our kids from stimming altogether, as it’s an important part of their self-regulation routine. Instead, we should aim to provide a supportive and understanding environment where they feel safe to express themselves.

There’s no one right way to stop a child from stimming, as each child is different. However, it’s important to understand why the kid is stimming in the first place. If the behavior is causing them distress or interfering with their daily life, then there are some strategies that can be used to help reduce it.

In this article, we will talk about strategies to stop your child from flapping their arms. However, before discussing the solutions, let’s understand the reasons for stimming behaviors in detail. 

What is Stimming?

Repetitive and rhythmic behaviors are very common in autistic children. These kids often rock their bodies, flap their hands, spin in circles, grunt, and mutter which can be uncomfortable to people unfamiliar with them.

Though stimming behaviors are not always related to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), they are part of the diagnostic criteria under repetitive movements. 

Stimming behaviors are referred to as self-stimulatory behaviors that are characterized by repetitive movements or sounds. These self-stimulatory behaviors can include flapping arms, spinning, rocking back and forth, making noises, or staring at lights.

While stimming is often seen as a negative behavior, it’s actually a coping mechanism that most children with Autism use to deal with overwhelming sensory input or emotions. For some people, self-stimulatory behavior like stimming is calming and helps to reduce anxiety.

What is arm flapping?

Arm flapping is one of the stimming behaviors that involve the repetitive movement of the arms and hands. It’s often used as a way to release excess energy or stimulate the senses.

Arm flapping can also be a form of communication for autistic people who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally. You might see children flapping their arms when they are feeling certain emotions.

Why Autistic Children Stim?

There is no one answer to this question as every autistic person experiences stimming differently. However, there are some general reasons why children with autism might stim.

Stimming is a self-stimulatory behavior that helps many children with autism manage their emotions like fear, anxiety, excitement, anger, and so on. This self-stimulation helps your child calm down as draws their attention from the stimuli to the stim. 

Stimming is also known for managing overwhelming sensory information in Autistic children. It reduces the sensory overload of an oversensitive child and focuses their attention on a particular activity or thing. Similarly, for undersensitive kids, stimming stimulates their underactive senses. 

Some common reasons for stimming include:


With self-stimulatory behavior like stimming, an overstimulated child can block out their excess sensory input by focusing on one particular object or activity. 


Stimming helps undersensitive kids with extra sensory input and thus, can help them focus better. 

Pain Reduction

Repeated spinning, hand flapping, rocking, etc. reduces the sensation of pain. Self-stimulatory behavior like stimming helps the production of beta-endorphins in the body which gives your child a feeling of pleasure or anesthesia. 

Emotion Management

Both positive and negative emotions can be managed with stimming. Many children with Autism often jump or flap their hands out of joy or excitement.

Anger or frustration too can intensify a stim. However, stimming out of negative emotions must be controlled as it may become destructive, especially if the individual is hurting themselves or others.


Stimming helps kids with an autism spectrum disorder to soothe and comfort. They might suck their thumbs, or, or perform other stimming behaviors to comfort themselves.

When Does Stimming Become a Problem?

Stimming is only a problem when it gets out of control and starts interfering with your child’s life. It can become disruptive when done in public places or at school.

Some stimming behaviors like biting, head-banging, and self-injurious stims can be dangerous for your child and must be controlled. In such cases, you should seek help from a health professional, like an Occupational Therapist or a Behavioural Therapist, to develop a plan to reduce the stimming behavior.

Stimming can become a problem in a few situations like:

When it is Constant

Continuous stimming may stop a child with autism from communicating with others. Kids who stim constantly may focus on the stims and often may struggle to participate in ordinary activities. In most cases, they get excluded from gatherings, plays, and classrooms. 

When it is Distracting

Stimming can become distracting for others. For some kids with Autism, stimming can impact others around them. If an Autistic child hits or slaps themselves in a classroom, it can be distracting for other kids. To ensure that the child doesn’t hurt themselves, talk to an occupational therapist or medical professional for help. 

When it Causes Injury 

A child can hurt the individual due to continuous stimming. Repetitive head rocking, jumping, or spinning might injure your child or someone associated with them.

When stimming is leading to injury, seek help from a medical professional or occupational therapist for more ideas to support your child. 

Stimming is not bad as long as it doesn’t injure your kid or any other person. In some cases, it becomes self-injurious. For example, when a child becomes anxious, they might start severe hand-biting. It might also affect your little one’s attention and prevent them from learning new things, making eye contact, or interacting with others. 

However, unless their behavior is harmful, don’t stop them from stimming or doing any other self-stimulatory behaviors. But if it is damaging their health, academics, and social skills, start looking for effective ways to manage stimming. 

How to Stop My Child from Hand Flapping or Stimming?

You shouldn’t stop your child from stimming as it’s a coping mechanism for them. However, you can help them to control their stimming behavior by teaching them some self-regulation techniques.

Again, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Every child is different and will respond to different interventions. If your child’s hand-flapping is distressing them or interfering with their daily activities, here are some strategies that you can use to stop the behavior:

Understand the Reasons Behind the Behavior

Before trying to stop hand flapping behaviour, it is important to understand why your child is stimming. As we’ve discussed earlier, there can be many reasons behind stimming like seeking attention, self-regulation, or coping with emotions.

If you know the reason behind the behavior, it will be easier for you to find an appropriate solution.

Talk to your child’s doctor for eliminating the possible physical causes of stimming. Talk to your child’s pediatrician for a better understanding of the reasons for stimming behaviors. This will help you to learn about your child’s physical problems and eliminate those causes with proper medication. 

Provide Positive Feedback

When your child exhibits appropriate behavior, reward them with positive feedback. This will encourage them to repeat the desired behavior. For example, if your child stops hand-flapping in class after being praised by the teacher, they are likely to do it again.

Reduce Environmental Stimuli

If your child finds the surrounding environment highly stimulating, make them feel relaxed by changing the environment.

On the other hand, if the child is under-responsive and requires some extra stimulation, provide them with a stimulus that makes them happy and comfortable.

If loud noises or visual stimuli are causing your child to stim, try to reduce their exposure to such stimuli. You can use noise-canceling headphones or white noise machines to reduce the background noise.

For visual stimming, you can use tinted glasses or visors. Reducing environmental stimuli might also help children with sensory processing disorders deal with their difficulties.

Encourage Other Activities

When your child is feeling stressed or anxious, engage them in other activities that are calming and relaxing for them. This will help them to cope with their emotions in a better way and stop their hand-flapping behavior.

Some of the activities that you can try include deep breathing exercises, yoga, listening to music, playing with a pet, as a distraction from hand flapping.

Use Distraction Techniques

If nothing else is working, you can try distraction techniques. For example, if they are hand-flapping, you can give them a toy to play with or show them a picture or video that will interest them.

When your child is stimming for attention, try to divert their attention to something else. You can do this by providing positive attention when they are not stimming or by giving them tasks to complete.

Talk to Occupational Therapist

An experienced occupational therapist (OT) can help your child with Autism with a ‘sensory diet’. In occupational therapy, a sensory diet is considered to be the activity plan that helps children meet their sensory system needs. Children with sensory processing disorder or just general sensory needs often respond well to sensory diets.


Children with autism may stim for different reasons. If your child’s hand-flapping is interfering with their daily activities, you can try some of the above-mentioned strategies to stop their self-stimulatory behaviors.

However, it is important to remember that we shouldn’t try to stop our kids from hand flapping altogether. Hand flapping is a coping mechanism that helps autistic people to deal with overwhelming sensory input or emotions.

Instead, we should aim to provide a supportive and understanding environment where our kids can stim without being judged or punished. With patience and love, we can help our children to thrive.

You may also talk to your child’s doctor or an experienced occupational therapist to get more personalized advice regarding stimming, hand flapping, and other self-stimulatory behaviors. And of course, picking up a book about autism would be immensely helpful.


Acorn Autism. (2021, September 14). Why does my child with autism flap their hands? Acorn Autism. Retrieved March 17, 2022, from 

Autism and Stimming. Child Mind Institute. (2021, July 23). Retrieved March 17, 2022, from

Pietrangelo, A. (2021, October 22). What is Stimming and how can it be managed? Healthline. Retrieved March 17, 2022, from 

Relojo-Howell, D. (2020, December 13). Why do autistic children flap their hands? Psychreg. Retrieved March 17, 2022, from  

Rudy, L. J. (n.d.). Understanding why your autistic child rocks, flaps, and paces. Verywell Health. Retrieved March 17, 2022, from 

Stimming: Autistic children and teenagers. Raising Children Network. (2020, November 19). Retrieved March 17, 2022, from,reduce%20their%20need%20to%20stim. 

Stimming, therapeutic for autistic people, deserves acceptance. Spectrum. (2020, April 16). Retrieved March 17, 2022, from 

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