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Autism Stims: How To Stop Stimming In Children? (And Why You Don’t)

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When our little ones with autism start stimming it’s often hard to know exactly what to do. It’s can feel awkward, embarrassing, and upsetting that they are making themselves stand out, especially in very public spaces. And oftentimes, you just want to know, how do I make my child stop stimming?

To stop negative stimming in children, replace the harmful and negative repetitive behaviors with other stimming behaviors that do not cause harm. Unless it is causing harm to themself or others, it is not recommended to remove stimming from a child completely, as it is a calming mechanism.

What is Stimming? 

The term stimming is short for self-stimulating behavior that usually involves repetitive behaviors, usually involving repetitive sounds or movements. Many children stims in some form or the other. However, some stimming methods might be more easily noticeable.

Stimming is a part of the medical criteria for autism. Although not all children with autism stim, and not all children who stim have autism. Nevertheless, stimming is not a bad thing that must be stifled with time. However, autistic stimming needs to be addressed when it becomes unsettling for others and interferes with their quality of life.

Causes of Stimming Behaviors

A boy sitting on sofa bitting finger nails while watching TV.Mixed race Child resting in living room

The actual reason behind stimming has not yet been understood completely. According to research, stimming can arouse the nervous system and offer a pleasant response from the release of chemicals present in the brain known as beta-endorphins. Beta-endorphins produce dopamine that enhances pleasure sensations in the body.

A few theories suggest that stimming might counteract an absence of sensitivity by exciting the sensory system with sensory input. Some others propose that stimming occurs to calm the nerves, focusing the attention of a person away from an overwhelming experience or sensory overload. Stimming behaviors can offer a great amount of comfort to people with autism. This can differ in type and intensity and can happen as a result of a variety of emotions.

People of any age with autism can stim constantly or occasionally in response to certain emotions like happiness, fear, boredom, excitement, anxiety, and stress. They might also stim on occasions when they feel overwhelmed.

Enjoying this article? You might also enjoy our blog on the association between toe walking and autism. Learn more about how this common motor pattern may be related to autism spectrum disorder and what you can do to support your child’s development.

Why do Kids and Teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorder Stim?

Autism Awarness Background

Stimming has been known to help autistic teenagers and children manage their emotions like anger, fear, anxiety, and excitement. For instance, it may help children calm down as it focuses all their attention on the stim or brings about a calming transformation in their body.

Stimming can also help children eventually manage their overwhelming sensory information. In the case of children with autism, who might be over sensitive to certain kinds of sensory information, stimming can diminish overload as it focuses the attention span of teenagers on one thing at a time. For under-sensitive autistic children, stimming can be a great way to stimulate the underactive senses.

Effects of Stimming Behavior on a Child

Unlike common belief, stimming and self-stimulatory behavior is not as bad as you think, to the extent that it does not become a cause of pain and discomfort for your child. However, some stimming, hand-biting for instance, can prove to be extremely self-injurious, and reducing stimming behaviors such as these are important.

Stimming behavior can affect the attention of your child in relation to the outside world. This can affect the ability of your child to communicate with other people and learn new things.

For instance, when a child flicks their fingers in front of their eyes, they might not learn to play with toys or develop play skills. When the child grows older, if they stay absorbed in spending time watching their hands in the classroom, they are actually not engaged with their schoolwork. Or if your child keeps pacing around the fence in their playground, they are consistently missing out on good social opportunities.

Examples of Stimming in Children

Some examples of typical stimming behaviors in children are:

  • Finger and hand mannerisms like hand-flapping and finger flicking
  • Distinct body movements like rocking back and forth while standing or sitting
  • Posturing, for instance, holding fingers or hands out at a distinct arching the back or sitting at an angle
  • Visual stimulation like looking at things sideways, staring at a spinning object or fluttering their fingers near the eyes
  • Repetitive behavior like flicking switches or closing and opening doors
  • Mouthing or chewing objects
  • Hair twirling
  • Snapping fingers
  • Squeezing a stress ball for long periods
  • Listening to one noise or the same song over and over again

It is common for autistic teenagers and children to have several repetitive body movements and stims that they perform, although it can vary across various children. For instance, some children tend to have mild hand mannerisms, while others tend to spend a great deal of time stimming. Stimming might vary as per the situation. For example, few children stim more when they are anxious or stressed.

Helping your Child with Repetitive Behavior 

Since certain forms of stimming and repetitive movements can involuntarily lead to self-harm like serious injury and infections, it is quite logical that you might want to get the situation under control as soon as you can. To stop stimming behaviors such as head banging, an occupational therapist or pediatrician can provide medical advice and a coping mechanism for your child to safely express frustration or safely manage stimming. Stimming can hamper school environments while interfering with social skills and interpersonal skills.

You can help your kid in the following ways:

  • Take an appointment for a medical exam to rule out the causes of physical distress. Some children bang their heads as a non-verbal form of response to indicate a medical condition for example ear infections or migraines. The pediatrician can also look for some advice from other professionals to offer accurate answers.
  • Examine the sensory environment. The child might need to be shifted to a very quiet room or concentrate on one toy at one point in time to avoid overstimulation. In case of under-stimulation, you may need to introduce the baby to new textures and toys or give them some extra playtime. A few schools have special sensory rooms for children with autism spectrum disorder (asd).
  • Incorporate exercise as a part of the child’s daily routine. Academic research institutions have conducted studies that demonstrate a strong relationship between exercise releasing endorphins and reducing self-stimulatory behaviors.
  • Keep engaging with your kid. This is especially true if you are engaging in a favorite activity of your child. The child may try to play and stim together, but with time it can become uncomfortable to try and do both and the child will eventually choose their favorite activity.

If the particular stim is not self-injurious, it is best you join the stim. For example, if the stimming activity is to stack up objects, buy blocks, join in with the repetitive motion of stacking the objects with the child. This will help your child increase their interpersonal interactions.

Do not worry if your child shows signs of stimming very early on. It is genuinely not as problematic as you think. Stimming generally tends to lessen over time and self-stimulating behaviors such as hand flapping are natural self-regulation for those with autism. However, if persistent, they are mostly harmless. In case your child has been experiencing stimming that causes pain, it is best you consult a pediatrician as soon as possible.


What You Need to Know About Stimming and Autism. (2021). Retrieved 13 December 2021, from

What is Stimming and How Can I Help My Child? – The Warren Center | Non-profit organization in Richardson, Texas. (2021). Retrieved 13 December 2021, from

What Is Stimming and How Can It Be Managed?. (2021). Retrieved 13 December 2021, from

Understanding Why Your Autistic Child Rocks, Flaps, and Paces. (2021). Retrieved 13 December 2021, from

Stimming: autistic children and teenagers. (2021). Retrieved 13 December 2021, from

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