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Understanding the Different Types of Stimming

types of stimmingWhat is Stimming?

Also known as self-stimulatory behavior, stimming is a common occurrence in people with autism. It can be used to describe repetitive movements such as rocking, jumping or flicking fingers.

Each individual is different, however stimming usually occurs due to a lack or overload of sensory information from the environment.



Someone may engage in stimming behavior due to:

  • Understimulation- With autism, some people may be under-sensitive to a specific sense. For example, Parents recently featured an article about the causes of stimming. It included an explanation from an adult with autism, who said that it helped her to fully feel parts of her body which felt dulled before engaging in the activity.
  • Overstimulation-in contrast, some behaviors may be the result of overstimulation or the person being unable to control their emotions. It can help to calm and focus individuals, however if they are experiencing negative emotions then more physical stims may become destructive.

The Different Types of Stimming

Typically, self-stimulatory behaviors can be attributed to one or more our senses:


Repetitive movements that catch the eye, such as ceiling fans, screen savers and flipping through books are all types of visual stimming. They can attract the attention of the person, causing them to stare at the object for prolonged periods of time.


Auditory stimming can involve the person repeatedly listening to the same sounds or making the same noises. For example, someone engaging in auditory stimming might replay to the same song time and time again, or tap and click their fingers.


Stimming can also manifest in a tactile nature, where people may repeatedly scratch, grind teeth, bite their fingernails etc. This type of self-stimulatory behavior has the potential to cause distraction or harm to the person or to others, and it may need to be redirected (if possible) to squeezing a stress ball, hugging or sitting on a vibrating sensory cushion, for example.


Repeating the same words, sounds or noises without an obvious cause are common examples of verbal self-stimulatory behavior. Verbal types of stimming can be quite hard to notice, especially if the person has a milder form of autism.


Stimming that involves tasting and smelling can manifest as licking things or placing body parts within mouths. You might also see actions such as sniffing other people or animals.


Vestibular stimming refers to repetitive actions to do with balance, whereas 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, and it is thought that autism can dull this.

Spinning and rocking are both common examples of vestibular stimming, whereas proprioceptive stimming may involve throwing items, pacing or jumping.

Is Stimming Beneficial?

types of stimming- bubble tube sensory

There are many different views on stimming, and it can be quite a controversial topic. Some think that it could be detrimental to learning, whereas others state that it helps with focus.

However,some forms of stimming are more destructive to a person’s health and development than others. Activities where the person is causing harm to themselves, such as banging their head or scratching their skin can be very unhealthy, not to mention distracting them from their job or schoolwork.

Many self-stimulatory behaviors can be managed, and special sensory products such as bubble tubes and fiber optics can be used to calm or stimulate.


For more information on self-stimulatory behavior, Childmind and Autism Speaks can provide support and additional guidance.

3 thoughts on “Understanding the Different Types of Stimming”

  • Michael Luck

    Hi There,

    Through the power of the internet i have discovered that I am a propioceptive stimmer and have been since a baby.

    I used to jump manically with flailing arms and facial contortions as a child, and my parents discouraged this when it got beyond the "cute" stage ( I guess from when I was about 4 or 5).
    I then began locking myself in the bathroom or bedroom so I could jump.

    I still do this today at age 54 and this led me to look up this behaviour on the net.

    I often ( say about 10 times a day), have thoughts that just "run away " with me and I get hyper excited, almost like head tripping away from where I am at. It is all good from my side but the facial contortions and grinding and twitching are weird and even scary for other people.

    I disclosed this behaviour to my new life partner, but I can see that it freaks her out a bit. I head trip about mostly good stuff and I cannot control when I go into a stim.

    I do not think I am an un-diagnosed autistic person as I have never really had any learning difficulty and have been a reasonably successful lawyer.

    Are there causes of uncontrolable stimming other than autism?
    Might I , in fact, have a type of autism?
    Can one be tested for the cause of uncontrolled stimming as an adult?
    Are you aware of any groups on the internet where people with similar issues congregate and share?

    Any advice you can give me is most welcome.

    Best regards,

    Mike Luck

    • Andrew

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for your note. We all have sensory preferences to help with focus, attention, behavior. The preferences only become an issue when they start to impact/hinder daily living and social skills.

      It sounds like for the most part you have done a good job managing your proprioceptive input needs. I might suggest looking over the work of Dr. Lucy Miller who is a world renowned specialist in SPD or Sensory Processing Disorder. You can find much more info on her website including research to date and also impacts on both children and adults:


      I hope this information is helpful.

      Our best wishes for success.

  • Maya

    I am an autistic individual, diagnosed. I stim often and I find it helps me calm down. I am only 15 now and I have HFA with a very high IQ, this all makes it hard for me to fit in with other girls my age. It doesn’t help I’m a tomboy with a huge Lego obsession. The diagnoses helped me know why I was different. I just wanted to ask if my stimming would becomes less prevalent in my adult life? Thank you :)

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