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Stimming Solutions for Families

May 21, 2024

Here are some tips on how you, as a parent, can help your child manage his/her stimming behavior.

Here are some tips on how you, as a parent, can help your child manage his/her stimming behavior.

Stimming is often associated with children on the autism spectrum, although stimming is something that neurotypical individuals will engage in as well. Stimming is also known as self-stimulatory behavior and can be characterized by repetitiveness of body movements or noises. 

For individuals with autism, stimming may include flapping of the hands, jumping, or rocking.  For neurotypical individuals, stimming may include twirling their hair or tapping a pencil when in deep thought. The difference between the stimming for individuals who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and those who are neurotypical is when the repetitive body movements or noises negatively impact the individual’s ability to function in normal social and personal settings—and may include self-harming behaviors such as head-banging. 

There are many reasons why individuals with autism may engage in stimming. It can be soothing to them as a way of self-comfort during times of high stress. It could be a reaction to stress, anxiety, depression, or fear. It can even happen with feelings of extreme happiness, joy, or excitement. 

Understanding why an individual engages in stimming behaviors can help you find a personalized solution that is unique to your child. BCBA therapists can use ABA therapy to address stimming solutions for autism families as well. 

Tips families can use to address stimming in individuals with autism

  1. Do not try to stop an autistic individual who is stimming unless they are causing harm to themselves
    • It could be a way to soothe themselves or bring feelings of calm to themselves during unstructured parts of their day 
    • Trying to stop a child from stimming could result in an increase in aggressive behaviors  
    • If they are engaging in self-harming behaviors, then of course action should be taken to maintain the safety of the child
  1. Try to find the reason why the child is engaging in stimming behaviors so that they can be reduced or altered with more appropriate behavior
    • For example, many children with autism have sensory input disorders too, and they are constantly seeking sensory input. Biting is a form of stimming that serves the function of sensory input-seeking behaviors. If your child is a biter, they are most likely seeking sensory input, not trying to be mean or aggressive towards others 
    • Try chewy tubes, which are appropriate for biting as sensory seeking behavior
    • Older individuals with ASD may enjoy chewing on gum to fulfill those sensory input needs
  1. If your child is stimming in large crowds or noisy playgrounds, he/she is most likely trying to soothe themselves by keeping away from the noise and chaos
    • Try noise-canceling headphones or have an “I need a break” social card that they can hand to anyone who can help 
    • If a teacher was handed a card that said: “I need a break”, they would understand the child is asking for a break away from the noise and can offer a quiet room to rest or play in 
  1. Exercise can also be used to help regulate stimming behaviors that are seeking sensory input
    • Running is a popular sport among individuals with autism for the comfort in the predictable and rhythmic movements of the legs
    • If your child is engaging in stimming behaviors for sensory input, take a break to play tag outside or have your child do a few jumping jacks between activities  
    • Yoga can also be soothing for children on the autism spectrum and many apps have specialized yoga programs for children that are easy for them to follow

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  1. Do not attempt to hold the child down during stimming
    • If the stimming behaviors serve the function of self-comfort, stimming behaviors will most likely be replaced by other stimming behaviors in an effort to soothe themselves 
    • The new stimming behaviors that replace the older behaviors may be less favorable or less desired than the original behaviors 
  1. Use the opportunity to connect to the child
    • If your child is banging blocks together, sit next to your child and bang blocks to a beat and sing a song to go with the beat. In doing so, you are teaching the child a more appropriate and functional behavior that may help with social interactions with his/her peers 
    • If your child likes to run laps, run next to them to help them feel more comfortable. Physical activity breaks are a safe and healthy choice for children with autism to soothe themselves

Use resources available to you to receive the best care and treatments. There are also many organizations that specialize in autism that can help provide functional solutions and resources for additional in-home support.

This article was featured in Issue 123 – Autism in girls

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