Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in people with autistic spectrum disorders.
Stimming is not exclusive to people with autism, most of us stim without even realising it. I bite my nails, or fiddle with things when I’m feeling anxious and I tap my feet when I’m concentrating, but it is prevalent in people with sensory conditions.
Stimming can take many forms, including repetitive behaviours, physical movements , ie flapping, jumping, fidgeting, touching things, staring at things, perhaps the whirling blades of a fan, or one of those children’s windmills, making sounds, or listening to things. Some people stim by listening to the same things repeatedly.
Whenever I’m out I listen to music, the same short playlist over and over again, this is a form of stimming which I do to make myself feel safe.
Stimming may occur when the person is seeking more sensory stimulation, or sometimes because the person is trying to block out too much sensory stimulation.
Stimming may look peculiar but it’s usually harmless, and I feel it’s mostly a positive thing. By stimming a person is able to self soothe which is an important tool.
Trying to stop the behaviours may prove stressful, but if your child is stimming so excessively that it’s getting in the way of them doing anything it may be a good idea to try to limit the stimming by distracting the child or at least try to encourage a less disruptive stim.
Sometimes stimming can be harmful, if the person is banging their head, picking at sores or actually self-harming i.e. cutting themselves, in which case you should seek help from a professional.
Stimming may be disruptive to other people, perhaps in a classroom where, for example, the child is tapping or making sounds. It can also disrupt the child’s own concentration. In these cases it can be useful to encourage a different way of stimming.
Putty is a good idea as it doesn’t make any sound when fiddled with, my son likes to fiddle with blu-tak. Squeezy stress balls are also good. There are also fiddle toys available like these, (these are just some I found online, there are lots more) which can be used discreetly and quietly. I also really like the look of these Fidgi-flips.
If a child stims by biting or chewing, something like a chew buddy is useful. We have this one.
It’s useful to have a little bag with a variety of fiddle toys in so that when you’re out and about or in the classroom your child can choose something to fiddle with if needed.
As well as helping the child to self soothe stimming can be useful to the parent as its a good indicator of how your child is feeling. You may notice that they use a particular stim when they are tired anxious or distressed.
I am not an expert on stimming, I write only from experience. If your child’s stimming concerns you speak to a professional.