Occupational Therapy Sensory Integration

What is Stimming?

The word “stimming” refers to self-stimulatory behavior. Some people call it “stereotypic” behavior. In people with autismstimming typically refers to certain behaviors like:

  • Twirling your hair around your fingers
  • Biting your fingernails
  • Jiggling your foot
  • Drumming your fingers
  • Tapping your pencil
  • Whistling
  • Cracking your joints or knuckles

Autistic children (and adults) may:

  • Rock back and forth
  • Flick or snap their fingers
  • Flap their hands
  • Pull their hair
  • Walk or pace on tiptoes
  • Blink repetitively
  • Rub or scratch their skin
  • Repeat words or phrases
  • Jump, bounce or twirl
  • Rearrange objects

While stimming is common in individuals with autism, it does occur in those with other developmental and sensory processing disabilities. Some individuals stim when they’re nervous. Stimming sometimes involves the use of all senses, including:

  • Sound
  • Visual
  • Taste
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Balance
  • Movement

People with autism are often comforted by stimming. They can vary in type and intensity and may occur due to various emotions. Some only stim once in a while; others all the time in response to emotions like fear, stress, happiness, anxiety, boredom or excitement. Some stim when they’re overwhelmed.

Causes of Stimming

It’s not fully understood why stimming occurs. Some research suggests it provides a pleasure response and arouses the nervous system due to certain chemicals (beta-endorphins) being released in the brain. Central nervous system beta-endorphins produce dopamine —the “feel good” chemical that increases pleasure sensations.

Therapy for Stimming

Some parents wonder if stimming behavior should be forbidden or eliminated through therapy. Generally, if the stimming behavior your child is performing isn’t dangerous, then there’s really no reason for you to forbid it. However, there are a number of reasons and ways to manage it which the pediatric occupational therapist will discuss with you.

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