Why does my child stim? And how do I approach it?

“Self-Stimulating Behaviors, more commonly known as ‘Stimming,’ are various repetitious actions that children and adults on the autism spectrum do. Stimming could look like: Pacing back and forth, hand-flapping, jumping, spinning, staring, lining up objects, making repetitious sounds, asking a question repeatedly, or, if your child is highly-verbal – talking intensely about a topic of interest, with no space. There are thousands of different stims our children can do. The commonality is that when it comes to stimming, all of our children do it.

Why does my child stim?
“People on the autism spectrum experience sensory overload much of the time. It is far more difficult for those on the spectrum (than those not) to process all of the sensory input coming their way. Sensory input is how we take in the world (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, heat, cold, the way things feel on our body, etc.) In an attempt to handle and regulate this sensory overload, our children engage in predictable, calming behaviors (stimming). Stimming not only soothes our children but can also help them feel like they have some control over their lives. Stimming makes so much sense to us at The Autism Treatment Center of America. It makes sense to our children, and we hope it makes sense for you too. In a world that is overwhelming and challenging to navigate, they have found a fantastic tool that helps them cope.

How do I know if my child is Stimming?
“Observe your child and look for the following signs:
• “They are doing repetitive actions to themselves (see above for examples.)
• “They are not making eye contact.
• “They are not responding to you.
• “They are engaging with you in a rigid and controlling way (such as insisting a game happens a certain way or talking and talking with no space for you to respond.)

Here are three powerful ways to approach stimming
1) “The most important thing to know is you want to view stimming as a wonderful coping mechanism that helps those on the spectrum to manage their experience more easily. Let’s take a moment to celebrate stimming! Yes, how smart of our children. That they have found something they can do to gain control! Letting go of any judgments you have of this behavior is crucial to supporting your child.

2) “Allow them to stim. If your child is safe, avoid interrupting or re-directing this behavior. Let your child stim for as long as they need to. Allowing your child to stim will not only aid in helping your child to manage the world, but it will also support your relationship with your child. Knowing this will show your child compassion and understanding about how they operate.

3) “Join your child! When you see your child stimming, and you have a spare moment, try putting yourself in their shoes for a while and do the same as them. For example, if your child is pacing back and forth, pace back and forth opposite your child. If your child is lining up objects, get some of your own objects and line them up in a similar way. If your child is talking intensely and there is no space for you to add anything, join them by listening enthusiastically and lovingly to what they are saying.

“The attitude you have when you join your child is the most significant part. Being non-judgmental and curious about your child’s world and actions will make all the difference. Joining is not copying. It’s delighting in your child and attempting to understand their experience.”

Becky Damgaard, Senior Son-Rise Program Teacher

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *