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Understanding the Different Types of Stimming

types of stimmingWhat is Stimming?

Also known as self-stimulatory behavior, different types of stimming 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.

 

Autism stimming examples include:

  • 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:

VISUAL

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

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.

TACTILE

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.

VERBAL

Verbal stimming can help with autism. 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.

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 & PROPIOCEPTIVE

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.

11 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

    Reply
    • 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:

      https://www.spdstar.org/

      I hope this information is helpful.

      Our best wishes for success.

      Reply
  • 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 :)

    Reply
    • lindsay

      I am 19 and have autism and a high IQ and am also a tomboy. I have accepted it and function better when I let myself stim.

      Reply
    • Heather

      I'm 36, in a similar boat, and can't get assessed for autism in my area due to age/my ability to be independent. Not doing it made my anxiety crippling (GAD). I do it whenever I feel the urge at home and excuse myself to go do it in the bathroom when I feel myself getting tense.

      Reply
  • Debbie

    My son is 9, has Down's Syndrome. He speaks, 5 word utterances. He watches videos o the computer, jumps , plays, pretends and sings along to articulate his vocabulary. He's in 3rd and starting to read simple books. He's doing alot more stuff, sometimes more than one thing at a time. I've noticed, his teachers noticed, he's tapping his head sometimes. I think he's . overstimulated. This is new, he's also doing it more often. He had his tablet one day, watching videos of himself I'm sure. He was also sitting at the computer with a singing video on and tapping his head. Kinda tapping, then some swirls with his head and back to tapping. When the video on the computer stopped he looked up, saw the next video start and went back to tapping his head and watching his tablet. If I call him he stops and says what. If he's tapping and I catch his eye contact he stops. It's like he's singing a song in his head. He's focused but breaking that focus is easy. I have to pay attention more but I don't think anyone thing triggers it, it's just an added thing to whatever he's doing when he does it. Should I be worried because I am. Should I ask the Dr who we can see about it to make sure I don't have to worry.?

    Reply
    • Abe

      I am a stimming adult and have been working with individuals, mostly adults, who stim and have other needs my entire adult life. From my experience, most stimming is not something to worry about at all. If he is not harming himself or others then its not something I would be overly worried about. If you want to it is something you can talk to his doctors about, but mostly they will tell you to simply observe and make sure it doesn't hurt him. If the tapping is gentle he might just like the feeling of it and might find that when he is trying to concentrate it helps him focus. It is his version of bouncing his leg or clicking a pen when he is thinking! (Both of those are very common forms of stimming that almost everyone does to some capacity.)
      If he isn't hurting himself I wouldn't worry about it. If it does develop into something where he is tapping too hard or pulls hair without thinking about it you can always see about trying new types of stimming. See if he likes the tapping on his head and sees about getting a headband he can tap against or see if he just wants his hands to be busy and possibly get him something to hold and mess with.
      I often rub my hands and "clap" my fingers together. Some suggestions I've gotten since I was a child when this becomes too rough (rubbing skin raw or tapping till my fingers are red) is gloves, having something soft to tap and hold.
      He probably doesn't even notice he is doing that until his focus is broken and that may be why he stops when he makes eye contact with you. His mind is so focused but his body is still so he is looking to fill the need for stimulation so he can continue to focus.

      A fun thing to do is find out if, or how, you stim and it can be a bit eye-opening! Next time you are reading or working, something that requires mental focus but not a lot of movement, see if you end up doing something you don't notice. See if you bounce/wiggle your leg, doodle, or mess with your pen. Even the chewing of gum and listening to the same soundtrack on repeat can be mild forms of stimming you see typical individuals do in everyday life!

      Reply
  • michael sackey

    Hello, I too have been vestibular stimming since I was one years old. Over time with the addition of music my stimming has morphed into something I love to perform daily, stimming is a vehicle to my creative zone. In 1993 I made a video documentary about my stimming called “The Bedrocker” , at that time ( early 90’s) the internet didn’t exist and I never heard of “stimming”. Today the Bedrocker is available to view on YouTube . Thanks Mike

    Reply
  • Heather

    I have GAD from not stimming. I was shamed out of it as a child. The GAD became so intense I couldn't hold a job, sleep for more than two hours a night, or handle being in public. Then it spiked so much I naturally started rocking. My partner, who has ASD, saw what I was doing and helped me learn to listen to what my body was telling me I needed to do. Once I let my self fully rock at the pace I needed I went from a 10 to a 0. It works as well as the drugs I'd been being given to manage my illness. Since then I've discovered I can rock or use a swing whenever I need to soothe myself. I can flap my hands for a rush of joy. When I'm angry all I need is a tight hug and I go limp. Out of all of the horrible things my mother did to me as a child taking away stimming was the most cruel. This is why I cried when I started to look into getting an assessment and the literature was full of the use of A Clockwork Orange style operant conditioning on children to take stimming away.

    Reply
  • Robyn

    I’m 26. I just learned that stimming was even a thing. Tonight. I’ve been locking myself in the bathroom and spinning to music for 21 years. Without a clue why.

    Reply
  • Daran

    Hi
    My son is 16 month old diagnosed as Global development delay. But now he started visual stimmimg like rolling any objects, spinning wheel toys, watching wheel moving, looking objects at corner eyes and spinning in circles. His eye contact is good, he responds to his name, he points things, he brings object to me. but he says only few words and he just started walking. He only have puree textured food . Is this SPD or Autism..

    Reply
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