What is stimming? Also known as self-stimulatory behavior, different types of stimming are a common occurrence in people with autism and sensory processing difficulties. Keep reading for more information on autism and some different stimming examples.
Stimming can be used to describe repetitive actions to stimulate the senses. Our blog post discusses the causes of stimming in more depth. It can be a reaction to too much or not enough stimulation from the environment, and a person might use stimming to help regulate their emotions or to cope with an overwhelming situation.
Some examples of stimming can also be an expression of emotions, both positive and negative – an excited stim, like hand-flapping, is no different to saying ‘I can’t wait!’.
Although stimming is often associated with sensory processing disorders, everyone stims at one time or another – things like biting your nails, tapping your fingers on a table or bouncing your leg are all types of stims.
Typically, stims can be attributed to one or more of our senses. Some autism stimming examples fall under the following senses:
Visual stims include repetitive actions involving the eyes or eyesight. Sensory lighting can benefit those who experience visual stimming, as the changing colors can be mesmerizing.
Visual stimming examples: Staring at moving objects (like ceiling fans or screensavers), staring at objects for a long time, repeated blinking, turning lights off and on.
Auditory stimming can involve the person repeatedly listening to the same sounds or making the same noises. Bubble tubes provide a gentle bubbling noise which can be very pleasant for auditory stimming.
Auditory stimming examples: Playing the same song over and over, clicking fingers, clapping, humming.
Stimming can also manifest in a tactile nature. The sense of touch can be powerful and different textures can evoke very different reactions in those with sensory processing disorders. Vibrating sensory cushions can help to meet that need or redirect tactile stims.
Tactile stimming examples: rubbing hands together or on different surfaces, squeezing, leaning.
Repeating the same words, sounds or noises without an apparent cause are typical examples of verbal stims. These might be sounds that are pleasing to make or something that someone has heard somewhere and liked the sound of. For someone who stims verbally, a sound equalizer can enhance the stimming experience with a visual element!
Verbal stimming examples: whistling, tongue-clicking, saying the same word or phrase repeatedly.
This type of stim refers to the mouth and nose – strong tastes and smells can provide lots of sensory stimulation. Oral and olfactory stimming might lead a person to try spicy or sour foods, or seek out strong smells (which may be unpleasant).
Oral and olfactory stimming examples: biting, chewing, licking, sniffing, touching objects with tongue or teeth, grinding teeth.
Vestibular stimming refers to repetitive actions to do with balance, while proprioception is more to do with the person’s understanding of where they are and what they’re doing. Proprioception is the ability which allows us to control limbs without directly looking at them. Soft play areas are ideal for vestibular and proprioceptive stimming as they provide a soft, safe space to use and move the body in different ways.
Vestibular and proprioceptive stimming examples: spinning around, rocking, throwing objects, pacing, jumping, rolling.
Stimming is, usually, a safe and enjoyable way for a person to express themselves or regulate their emotions. However, some types of stimming can be harmful or destructive – when someone is banging their head, hitting, biting other people or throwing items, it can become dangerous. It’s important that these examples of stimming are redirected into safer channels or managed with appropriate sensory tools.
Many sensory products are designed to target one or more of the senses, providing safe and developmentally-useful opportunities for different types of stimming.
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