Understanding Autism Stimming Behaviors And 12 Helpful Strategies

12 Helpful Strategies: Understanding Autism Stimming Behaviors

What Is Stimming Behavior?

Stimming is short for self stimulatory behavior that involves making repetitive body movements and sounds. It is a form of self-soothing behavior that is a necessary part of the human experience. Stimming behaviors may come and go, depending on the environment; and may decrease as a child matures.

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What Are The Types Of Sensory Stimming For Autism?

Sensory stimming includes auditory (hearing), visual (sight), vestibular (balance), tactile (touch), verbal (speech), and oral/olfactory (mouth/smelling) behaviors that are done repeatedly.

  • Auditory-Listening to the same song or making the same sounds repeatedly.
  • Visual-Involving the eyes or eyesight (e.g. staring at moving objects).
  • Vestibular-Repetitive actions that involve balance (e.g. spinning in a chair).
  • Tactile-Touching different types of textures.
  • Verbal-Making the same sound, noises, or words repeatedly.
  • Oral/Olfactory-Grinding teeth, mouthing non edible items, or smelling objects.

What Are Common Stimming Behaviors For Autism?

  • Hand and arm flapping (most common)
  • Fluttering fingers near the eyes
  • Watching items rotate
  • Staring at objects for a long time
  • Rocking while sitting or standing
  • Spinning in a chair
  • Chewing or mouthing objects
  • Repeating words or phrases (echolalia)
  • Pacing
  • Sniffing objects
  • Running

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What Is The Importance of Stimming In Autism?

  • Helps to maintain focus
  • Soothes the sensory system
  • Helps process feelings of excitement
  • Releases built up emotions and energy
  • Processes sensory input
  • Helps avoid meltdowns or shutdowns
  • Relieves anxiety
  • Provides comfort
  • Regulates emotions

Understanding Autism Stimming Behaviors And 12 Helpful Strategies

Do Only Autistic Individuals Exhibit Stimming Behaviors?

No, neurotypical individuals also exhibit stimming behaviors. These behaviors may appear when someone feels stressed, anxious, or even bored. These behaviors may include:

  • Pen twirling
  • Chewing on pencils/pens
  • Hair twirling
  • Biting nails
  • Foot tapping
  • Cracking knuckles
  • Biting bottom lip
  • Bouncing a leg
  • Drumming fingers on a desk
  • Clicking or fiddling with a pen
  • Repeatedly drawing or doodling on paper

However, neurotypical individuals usually refer to these behaviors as “fidgeting” instead of stimming.These behaviors may provide comfort, maintain concentration, or help with processing information.

How Does Stimming Impact High Functioning Autism?

Not all behaviors may be recognized as stimming and this is especially true with high functioning autism. These repetitive stimming behaviors may include:

  • Touching items or textures
  • Listening to the same song or noise
  • Flicking light switches on and off
  • Repeating the same questions
  • Opening and closing doors
  • Laughing excessively
  • Requesting the same story, book, or song
  • Asking about the schedule repeatedly

Some of these stimming behaviors are not as distracting and are often overlooked. The behaviors that are distracting present a challenge because they are commonly misunderstood. In some instances, these stimming behaviors could be misinterpreted as being purposely disruptive. It is often not recognized as being a part of autism. In fact, many have the misconception that with high functioning autism, the child can control these stimming behaviors and is just being “silly.”

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When Should Stimming Be Redirected?

Stimming helps maintain focus, soothes the sensory system, provides comfort, and helps regulate emotions. These behaviors may cause concern if:

  • Causes physical harm to self
  • Overly disruptive to others
  • Causes extreme distress (e.g. upset, crying, shouting)
  • Child appears to be in physical pain
  • Harms someone else
  • Child appears extremely frustrated

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you have concerns about your child’s stimming, be sure to contact your child’s pediatrician

What Are Strategies To Help With Stimming?

  1. Avoid punishing the stimming behavior.
  2. If persistent, consider scheduling a medical exam to rule physical pain or distress.
  3. Provide a quiet space in the classroom.
  4. Play calming music in the background.
  5. Evaluate the sensory environment to look for overstimulation or under-stimulation.
  6. If the child needs less stimulation, try going to a quiet space or sensory room.
  7. If the child needs more stimulation, try extra playground time or more time in the gymnasium.
  8. Learn to recognize and reduce sensory triggers.
  9. Learn how to recognize stimming behavior and prompt the child to take a calming break.
  10. Teach calming techniques: deep breathing, using a fidget, deep pressure exercises.
  11. Provide sensory input: weighted lap pad, weighted blanket, bean bag.
  12. Create a daily exercise routine–regular exercise releases endorphins and helps to reduce anxiety.


Stimming is short for self stimulatory behavior that involves repetitive body movements and sounds. For autistic individuals, it may provide a sense of comfort, help process sensory input, and release energy. Neurotypical individuals often exhibit stimming behaviors in the form on fidgeting; such as, clicking a pen repeatedly, twirling hair, or tapping a foot. You should consider redirecting stimming if it is constant, causes harm to others, or harm to self. Stimming may impact individuals with high functioning autism differently and these behaviors are often overlooked and misunderstood.

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Understanding Autism Stimming Behaviors And 12 Helpful Strategies

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