We All "Stim" Sometimes!

Updated: Feb 10

Have you heard of the term "stimming?" Does your child stim throughout the day? What have you heard others say about stimming? Is it something you're working with your therapists to eliminate?

Well, I want to try and reframe stimming for you and for your kids...

We all stim sometimes! I pick at my cuticles and bite my nails. And when having to sit for a long time, I find myself tapping my foot or rocking my body. When I'm stressed I tend to pace around the room, crack my knuckles or even tune others out. Does this sound familiar? We all do things that can be repetitive, odd, or anti-social even when trying to regulate ourselves, calm ourselves, or attend to a task.

Stimming is term used to describe self-stimulatory (stereotypy) behaviors like repetitive body movements used solely to stimulate one's own senses.

Although this definition is somewhat correct, it leaves out so much more. What about the purposes it serves for children aside from "stimulating one's own senses?" Here are some of the purposes stimming serves for our kids:

  1. sensory pleasing or interesting (moving hands across a stream of sunlight to see the flicker it creates)

  2. grounding (helps to calm and regulate and calm anxiety in stressful situations)

  3. providing sensory input (jumping may give deep pressure to a child's legs when feeling restless or needing proprioceptive input.)

  4. communicative (body movements and scripting a memorized line or song repetitively might actually be communicating stress, happiness, excitement)

  5. improves attention (movement often improves a child's attention so they're not having to work so hard to sit still)

If we begin to view a child's stimming behaviors as communication, purposeful and meaningful, we can actually come alongside him and help him. Eliminating stimming is like telling you to stop biting your nails or cracking your knuckles. Does that help us calm down, or does that cause more stress? Would it be more helpful to offer some gum, a walk outside or give others a chance to talk about what's stressing them out? Then, why would we force our kids to stop these behaviors without offering other helpful tools to relieve the stress they might be feeling or trying to communicate.

The stimming behaviors we see often characterized in Autism, are considered unacceptable to society, can be embarrassing, or distracting to others. They draw attention to us, which can make parents really uncomfortable. But maybe our society needs some help understanding the purpose of your child's stimming.

Here are some ideas to try when you see your child stimming:

  1. Allow him to stim in a safe and undemanding space. For example, his bedroom or in a quiet zone (tent, closet, room) where he is free to get his wiggles out.

  2. Offer other calming tools: chewy toys, fidgets, squeezy toys, slime, doughs, sand, etc.

  3. Join him in his stimming (tread lightly, but give it a try)

  4. Ask what that script is from: "is that from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse?" to engage in conversation

  5. Provide other grounding and calming strategies you already know work for him, like squeezes, deep pressure, walking outdoors, breathing, etc.

  6. Try to expand his stimming to other tools, toys, manners (to help increase flexibility)

  7. Use trampolines, therapy balls, and pillows to provide other opportunities to bounce, jump, crash and squeeze throughout the day.

Each of the examples above have many techniques and ideas that go along with them. Depending on your child's unique stimming behaviors, there are a variety of functional and compassionate ways to understand and allow for your child to get his needs met. If you'd like some specific ideas for your child, don't hesitate to reach out. You can schedule a free consultation here to discuss your situation, and we'd be happy to help!

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