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Autism and Humming: Understanding Vocal Stims

June 3, 2024

We’ve all done it. We’ve all caught ourselves absent-mindedly humming a tune as we go about our day. But humming is also connected to autism spectrum disorder. It’s one of many repetitive behaviors that autistic children may perform for vocal stimming.

Humming, in and of itself, is not necessarily a predictor of autism spectrum disorder, but it can be an important self-stimulatory behavior for children with autism. These vocal stims can be an important way to enhance the child’s overall well-being.

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on AUTISM STIMMING: CAUSES, MANAGEMENT, AND TYPES

Why is my child constantly humming?

Many children with autism spectrum disorder stim as a way to regulate their emotions. This can include vocal stimming behaviors like humming.

Several stimuli, including excitement, anger, or boredom, can trigger vocal stimming. Humming can often help the child self-regulate their emotions when experiencing sensory overload.

Aside from being a self-regulation tool, vocal stimming behaviors, like humming, can help autistic children better interact with their environment. Repetitive sounds can also help create a better experience for those seeking sensory input.

Role of vocal stimming in autism

Vocal stimming in autism is often connected to sensory processing issues. While humming is the most common form of vocal stimming, it can also take other forms, such as:

If the child is overwhelmed by sensory input, vocal stimming can help them self-soothe, especially if sensory overload leads to stress or anxiety.

Children with autism engage in vocal stimming when bored or feeling isolated. Children who may struggle with verbal communication skills may begin vocal stimming behaviors to help fill a void brought on by isolation.

Involuntary humming while eating

Mealtime seems like an odd time for a child to be humming. However, some children with autism spectrum disorder appear to hum involuntarily while eating.

Autism research suggests children may hum while eating due to difficulty processing sensory information. The sensory input needed during eating may cause physical discomfort, and humming makes the experience easier to tolerate.

A young boy eating https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/autism-and-humming/

Unfortunately, humming while eating can also lead to issues for the child and the rest of the family.

If the family is trying to dine out, and the child is humming too loudly, it can create issues with other diners. Depending on the situation, humming may not be one of the socially acceptable behaviors for eating in public.

Children with autism also tend to prefer routine to spontaneity. If their meal time is moved for whatever reason, they may begin humming during eating as a coping mechanism to help address and understand the routine change.

Benefits of humming and vocal stimming

While humming and vocal stimming can certainly present challenges, repetitive behavior can also provide benefits to children with autism.

As mentioned, when sensory input has become overwhelming, humming can help the child soothe themselves and regulate their emotions. Vocal stimming often provides a calming and grounding effect when the child’s senses are overloaded.

It can also improve focus and concentration. Many children with autism benefit from repetitive behaviors.

Autism and ADHD are often related. Humming and vocal stimming can provide the child with an outlet when they need to be focused on a task.

I’ve seen this with my own son. He will often hum to himself while washing the dishes or cleaning his room. He struggles with focus, so the vocal stimming helps him remain on task.

Managing vocal stimming and humming

Since humming can have positive and negative impacts, it’s important for parents to work with their children with autism to help them recognize appropriate times for vocal stimming. 

Some of the best ways to manage vocal stimming behaviors include:

  • identifying triggers,
  • providing sensory input,
  • providing positive reinforcement,
  • and teaching alternative behaviors.

These methods can help the child recognize what may be causing their humming and if the time is appropriate for the vocal stimming behavior.


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It’s also important to note that suppressing vocal stimming behavior could have negative consequences for children with autism, including causing distress.

This can also lead to issues with self-esteem or control over their environment. It can be difficult for children to stop stimming, so adjusting the common behavior may be better for the child.

While managing vocal stimming is important, it’s also important for parents to validate the child’s sensory needs.

Parents can set boundaries and expectations so the child’s sensory need for vocal stimming isn’t ignored, but socially acceptable behaviors are still recognized and followed.

Humming and autism

There’s nothing wrong with a little humming now and then. We all do it, and it can have positive benefits for children with autism.

Vocal stimming can improve communication skills, sensory regulation, and emotional well-being. But it’s still up to us as parents to help our children with autism recognize when humming is not a good idea.

Understanding vocal stimming is one of the most important things we can do for our loved ones. Just remember, a little humming can help address the many challenges our children with autism face each day.

FAQs

Q: Can whistling and humming be an autism stim?

A: Stimming behavior can take many forms as autistic people look for ways to self-regulate their sensory issues. Some forms of auditory stimming include whistling and humming.

Q: What are examples of autistic stimming?

A: Some examples of stimming in autism include walking, bouncing, hand flapping, finger flicking, repeating words, humming, or whistling.

Q: Is humming while eating common in autism?

A: Humming while eating is considered a common behavior among autistic people. But every autistic person will not hum while eating, so it shouldn’t be used as the sole reason for diagnosing autism.

Q: Can humming be a sign of autism?

A: Repetitive behaviors and repetitive movements can often be signs of autism. Verbal stimming can be one of many self-stimulatory behaviors used to lessen anxiety.

References

Kapp, S. K., Steward, R., Crane, L., Elliott, D., Elphick, C., Pellicano, E., & Russell, G. (2019). ‘People should be allowed to do what they like’: Autistic adults’ views and experiences of stimming. Autism, 23(7), 1782-1792. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361319829628

Marc J. Lanovaz, Ingrid E. Sladeczek, Vocal stereotypy in children with autism: Structural characteristics, variability, and effects of auditory stimulation, Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Volume 5, Issue 3, 2011, Pages 1159-1168, ISSN 1750-9467, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2011.01.001.

Russo, N., Larson, C. & Kraus, N. Audio–vocal system regulation in children with autism spectrum disorders. Exp Brain Res 188, 111–124 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-008-1348-2

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