What is stimming, and more specifically, what is stimming behavior? Also known as self-stimulatory behavior, different types are a common occurrence in people with autism and sensory processing difficulties. 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. Keep reading for more information on autism and sensory processing.
What does Stimming Look Like?
Typically, self-stimulatory behaviors can be attributed to one or more of 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.
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 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.
Verbal stimming in autism can help. Repeating the same words, sounds or noises without an apparent cause are typical examples of verbal self-stimulatory behavior. Oral types of stimming can be quite hard to notice, especially if the person has a milder form of autism.
Taste & Smell
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 & Proprioceptive
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?
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.