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What is Stimming?

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What is Stimming?
Types of Stimming
Does Stimming Mean Autism?

There is much more public awareness today about Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) than in the past. There is also a lot of speculation surrounding autism, including what causes it, how to diagnose it, and recognizing certain symptoms. One of the symptoms often overlooked is stimming.

What is Stimming?

Stimming is a self-stimulatory behavior that consists of repetitive body movements or repetitive movement of objects. Stimming, which may also be called stereotypy, is commonly found in people with autism, on the autistic spectrum and with certain other developmental disabilities or challenges. Stimming can include the use of all of the patient’s senses, including sound, taste, visual, touch and smell as well as balance and movement.

Examples of stimming might include staring off into space, rubbing the back of the hand while talking, rolling their feet in circles, scratching the arm or head, and just fidgeting in general, among many other mentioned below. Stimming is often done as a form of release and relaxation if the individual is in a nervous or overwhelming experience.

There have been different reasons that patients resort to stimming. Some believe that stimming stimulates the nervous system and gives a pleasant response because it releases beta-endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that produce dopamine, which is said to increase sensations of pleasure. Others believe that stimming counteract a lack of sensitivity by providing stimulation to the sensory system, which in turn provides the individual with a calming sensation.

While stimming is typically not a dangerous behavior, it can have adverse emotional, physical or social effects on certain people. This type of behavior can be potentially harmful. In some circumstances, the stimming may not affect the individual very much, but in other cases, it can affect the individual’s ability to focus and learn.

Stimming may actually occur due to a variety of different emotions. It may happen as a response to fear, stress, anxiety, boredom, excitement or even happiness. Adults and children with autism may stim constantly or may just do it occasionally. It all depends on the individual. Because many people don’t fully understand autism and the calming effect stimming can provide for them, they may become frightened and nervous around the autistic individual.

Types of Stimming

According to the May Institute, an individual might exhibit signs of stimming in a variety of ways. There are various types of stimming. While many of the types might be associated with autism, some of them may be the result of something entirely different.

  • Auditory Stimming – This uses the individual’s sense of sound and hearing and may include grunting; humming; covering and uncovering ears; tapping on ears; high-pitched squeaking and repeating things like sentences, songs or television lines.
  • Tactile Stimming – This uses the individual’s sense of touch and may include scratching; rubbing skin; finger tapping or opening and closing their fists.
  • Visual Stimming – This uses the individual’s sense of sight and may include blinking; staring at objects; hand flapping; object placement with eyes; moving fingers in front of eyes; turning lights off and on or looking from the corner of the eyes.
  • Vestibular Stimming – This uses the individual’s sense of movement or balance and may include repetitive behaviors such as spinning; rocking back and forth; pacing or jumping.
  • Olfactory or Tasting Stimming – This uses the individual’s sense of taste or smell and may include things like licking; smelling or sniffing objects or people and putting things in the mouth to taste.

Does Stimming Mean Autism?

Although stimming is typically associated with autism, that’s not always the case. This type of behavior occurs from different children, and we all know that every child is different. Certain types of stimming are not only common in children but also necessary for the child’s normal development.

All the repetitive actions mentioned above are types or forms of stimming, but they’re not always due to autism. For instance, a child may keep singing the same song over and over or may spin around until they get dizzy and fall. While these may be types of stimming, they’re also perfectly normal behavior for many children.

Self-stimulatory behaviors may also be signs of other developmental issues such as Tourette’s syndrome or OCD. The biggest concern is if the behavior is disturbing to others, unusually distracting or compulsive and extreme? This is usually the test as to if the individual should be seen by a doctor and tested.


This information is not provided by a doctor and is not intended to be medical advice.