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Article: What is “Stimming” and Why is it Important? (at Special-ism)

Today, I'm blogging over at Special-ism.

The article is called; What is Stimming and why is it Important

In the article, I look at those rocking, blinking, fidgeting and general noise-making behaviours commonly seen in children on the autism spectrum and I explain why they're important.

Head over to Special-ism and have a read. 

Note: With the closure of Special-Ism, this article is available in my free book  "The Special-Ism Posts volumes 1 and 2"

Also, because this was a fairly popular post, I've reprinted the article on my website;


Anonymous said…
Thanks for this post. Im wondering how very young children, even toddler aged kids, can work out that this stimming is something that calms them and feels good? Why do they choose a particular stim? How do they know so young that this 'works for them?'
Gavin Bollard said…

At an extremely young age, a child will know what feels good and what doesn't.

The stims develop quickly as the child repeats the rewarding/enjoyable behaviour.
Anonymous said…
Yeah, i kind of get that, but im wondering why kids with aspergers use similar types of stims to each other, ie, all 3 of my girls twirl, and how come kids who dont have aspergers do that quite so much?
Unknown said…
I sit on the floor in my room. And I rock back and forth to music. And I am 42 years old. No-one understands why I do this. My sister does this too. It's very very relaxing you know.
Anonymous said…
Hmmm, yeah, i get it that its relaxing, im now wondering why it seems particular to people with aspergers? If it feels nice and relaxing, and toddlers can work that out, why doesnt everyone do it? When i took my first daughter for her diagnosis they asked me if she walked on her toes (yes) or rocked (yes) and i assume they 'counted' this behaviour as evidence of aspergers, i wonder why stimming is a 'trait', is there a physical, neurological or biological reason?
Lindsey G. said…
Responding as a mature aged man with HFA.

Permission: I acknowledge and 'give permission' to myself when I feel the need to self stim. (Rocking mostly) I organise appropriate time and space. Often blend it with meditation practices. Even if the moment is not appropriate, knowing that I will allow it at a later more appropriate moment, is often enough for now.

Redirection: In working with other Spectrum people, often harmful stims can be gently redirected to other forms of stimming less harmful or inappropriate.

Bridging: Shared stimming can sometimes create a bridge of understanding. When working with quite young Spectrum individuals, I have sometimes sat down near them and shared a stim such as rocking. First to their cadence, and then slightly changed the cadence. If they copy my cadence, we may swap the role of lead cadence in a way that builds a bridge of mutual acknowledgement and respect.
Lindsey G. said…
"is there a physical, neurological or biological reason? "

Opinion: Stimming facilitates a more direct non-verbal link with the limbic part of the brain, bypassing overloaded cerebral processing. In particular, the limbic lobe. Helping to self regulate heart rate, blood pressure and attentional processing.

It may also connect with the nucleus accumbens, which is believed to be involved with reward, pleasure, & addition. It is known that stimulus of the accumbens can induce measurable physiological changes.

Stimming exists in most people including NT's (neurotypical) It is the modality, level of engagement and self activation which varies. Control, social camoflage and redirection is more pronounced in NT's.
Anonymous said…
Ahh, yes that makes sense, if i understand...everyone would engage in these stimming activities with more intensity if people without aspergers didnt have a 'social filter' to say its not 'appropriate' behaviour in public? So does that mean that neurotypical toddlers already understand the social world enough not to 'stim' in public? How interesting and complex this is!!
Gavin Bollard said…

Children don't usually get labelled with autism at birth because (among other things) stimming behaviours are not easily recognized in the first three years.

It's only in the toddler years that a child develops the muscular control required to stim via rocking motion.

By this age, I believe that neurotypical children are more open to correction by their parents and to alternative behaviours.

They may also experience far fewer, and less intense, sensory episodes hence self-calming may not be as necessary.
Anonymous said…
Thanks, this all makes sense. Can i ask then, is hand posturing a stim? Our therapist has told us that children who arent ASD rarely do hand posturing or hand leading, all my kids do it, i have 21/2 yo twins waiting for a diagnosis..
Gavin Bollard said…

I'm not sure what you mean by hand posturing however;

Fidgeting, Finger stretching, wrist bending, Wringing ones hands, making fists, spreading the fingers etc. can all be stims.

A stim is after all an action which provides positive sensory feedback which may be of a calming nature.

- and you might want to remind your therapist that if she's seen ONE person with autism, she's seen ONE person with autism. Everyone is different and we're constantly seeing established boundaries being shattered by new realisations.
Lindsey G. said…
The 'labels' are becoming less significant.

Society has the technological functionality to customise form and function to the needs and predilections of each individual.

Comparative quantification belongs in the applied science of Statistics and not in Social Humanism.

Love, accept and nurture each being for who they are, not who they 'should have' been.

Most actions have some core functionality, even if not understood. Building communication bridges helps to translate actions into self actualising life skills.
Lindsey G. said…
"to say its not 'appropriate' behaviour in public?"

Or to more skillfully socially camouflage the stim.

For example, someone perceived to be a fashion guru might be able to conceal a personal obsession with tactile clothing as a personal 'style'.

Another method is to gradually reduce the scale of the stim.

Example - boy with stim involving repetitive touching of towelling. Stim is reduced to a small square of towelling on a keyring kept in a pocket. Fingertip stimming is available when needed without being socially obvious or intrusive.
Starjayde said…
Hi there I have been enjoying your blog recently. My 4 year old son was diagnosed with aspergers a few months ago. He stims quite frequently. Most commonly he twists his right hand back and forth repetitively, with or without holding an object in it. He spins things eg a wheel on a toy car; he beats rhythmically with two hands on whatever is nearby and often these actions are accompanied by repetitive vocal sounds. I worry that as he gets to school he will be teased and bullied and wonder what is the best way to help an AS kid learn some control on when it may not be appropriate or if this is even possible, or any other helpful suggestions, thanks.

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