Stimming and Autism: Understanding without Judgment

Stimming and Autism: Understanding without Judgment

Stimming is a term generally used to describe repetitive movements or actions that may include hand flapping, rocking back and forth, spinning objects, or vocal sounds, to name a few commonly associated stimming behaviors displayed in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This self-stimulatory may be perceived as seemingly unusual or unnecessary to neurotypical folks but serves as a means of self-regulation and expression for many with ASD. Furthermore, stimming also, at times, can provide emotional comfort and relief from sensory overload in overwhelming environments in those who engage in it, making it vital to comprehend stimming and autism while educating about the purpose it serves.  

When most people unfamiliar with autism consider stimming or the demonstration of this complex behavior, they envision those whom ASD profoundly impacts and, in many cases, are nonspeaking. Others may picture a child spinning in circles or grasping at their fingers compulsively, utterly oblivious to the world around them. While these portrayals can depict some neurodivergent experiences, it’s essential to understand that stimming is different for everyone who engages in it and shouldn’t necessarily be discouraged.  

Taking the time to understand stimming and its role in ASD while teaching others is critical to creating more positive outcomes in ASD. Furthermore, learning and educating others about stimming in autism also helps stop fueling unhelpful stigmas surrounding this complicated feature of neurodiversity. Unfortunately, all too often, stimming receives varying degrees of societal judgment and is frequently misunderstood, even though it plays a considerable role in the lives of many, according to the National Autistic Society.

In this comprehensive guide by ABA Centers of New Jersey, we delve into the multifaceted behavior of stimming and autism to discuss it in a way that increases understanding and compassion while offering helpful tips to help readers support their loved ones on the autism spectrum in better ways.

Click here for more information about ABA therapy and autism diagnostic services with ABA Centers of New Jersey or to read more autism blogs like this.

Stimming and Autism Spectrum Disorder

The American Psychiatric Association describes stimming as repetitive behaviors commonly observed in individuals with autism. While stimming is often associated with ASD, it is not unlikely for others with developmental or mental health conditions to stim. In fact, stimming is a natural part of human behavior. However, it is crucial to understand the specific ways stimming manifests in individuals with autism and how it impacts their lives, as the spectrum nature of the disorder can impact the degree of stimming behaviors as no two individuals with ASD are exactly alike.

The Role of Stimming in Autism

According to the Child Mind Institute, one prevailing theory suggests that stimming for individuals with autism helps regulate their sensory input, as neurodivergent minds process outside information differently from neurotypical ones. For instance, individuals with autism may frantically cover their eyes to block out bright light or reduce overwhelming visual stimuli. Additionally, chewing on objects, even if they are fidget toys meant for this purpose and not food, can help filter background noise and redirect focus to specific tasks.

Other autism experts and researchers suggest that stimming empowers neurodivergent individuals by providing a sense of control over their surroundings when they all too often feel a sense of lack. In some cases, the behavior can also provide a sense of grounding, even if it doesn’t appear as it does, i.e., squeezing their arms each time they see a new friend or covering the ears seemingly maniacally.

The Benefits and Challenges of Stimming and Autism

It’s important to note that just like any behavior, stimming can have both positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, it can provide a distraction, space, and relief for the individual with autism. On the other hand, some may perceive it as socially inappropriate or detrimental in specific settings.

For example, a child whose stimming involves jumping can interrupt circle time with kindergarteners. In other cases, self-biting can become stim, which is dangerous and can lead to the tearing of skin and even the spreading of blood. However, it’s crucial to understand that stimming should not shamed. Instead, providers and caregivers should offer individual replacement behaviors that deliver the same experiences in the safest manner possible, for instance, allowing the child to drop onto a pile of soft leaves instead of falling from an extreme height of the playground for the sensory experience they crave.

In fact, discouraging or restricting stimming can have severe consequences on a neurodivergent person’s well-being, sometimes resulting in increases in anxiety, frustration, and meltdowns as individuals struggle to regulate their senses without this coping strategy.

In context to its benefits, stimming can enhance positive emotional states and be a form of self-expression. Children may express joy or thrills through fluttering hands to rhythmic pacing, ultimately strengthening one’s inner dynamic landscape. Therefore, it is far more beneficial to embrace autism acceptance and support safe stimming as an integral part of life with ASD than to increase negative perceptions of the behavior.

Stimming Safely

In a world that can feel scary for individuals with autism, stimming can be incredibly helpful and soothing; in fact, some experts believe that allowing it and even encouraging stimming provides a much-needed outlet for the distinct stress many with autism experience, according to Autism Speaks. To promote safety in stimming, caregivers and providers of ASD children and teenagers should take a few crucial steps, like encouraging alternative behaviors as earlier explored, which should always take place in safe, comfortable environments. Parents can also consider specific ASD gadgets meant for stimming, like small toys or other sensory tools.

In many cases, families find support for stimming and other challenging features of autism through ABA or Applied Behavior Analysis. However, in most cases, stimming is a natural and necessary coping mechanism for individuals with autism and doesn’t always require direct intervention.

Applied Behavior Analysis in Helping Those Who Experience Stimming

ABA therapy is a widely used therapeutic behavioral approach for managing and addressing maladaptive behavior while supporting progressive development in individuals with autism so that every client receiving ABA care can thrive in the best way for them. ABA works by identifying and reinforcing behaviors conducive to safety and autonomy while addressing challenging conduct that can make life problematic for those on the spectrum.

Certified ABA providers receive training to recognize the importance of stimming and work towards creating individual strategies that accommodate and support these behaviors so that they can occur in the most appropriate way available and those surrounding the child understand the behavior function.

Furthermore, ABA providers work hard to identify unsafe stimming behaviors and offer helpful options if the behavior pattern becomes destructive to the individual through various techniques, including positive reinforcement, central to ABA care. These ABA strategies are personalized and adapted to each client’s needs and goals and evolve as they advance through ABA therapy.

Accepting Stimming and Autism as a Society Makes a Difference

Ultimately, stimming is a natural and, at times, necessary behavior for individuals with autism. It can serve as a coping mechanism, self-regulation tool, and expression of emotions. By understanding and accepting stimming, we can create more accepting environments that celebrate neurodiversity and embrace the unique behaviors of those on the autism spectrum.

Finally, we must understand that stimming should be respected and safely accommodated rather than devalued or suppressed, as we now know doing so often leads to worse outcomes in ASD.

Fortunately, with continued advocacy and time, we can promote a society that embraces and celebrates stimming as an essential part of human diversity today for a better future in ASD lives. So, keep praising your child for who they are while learning better ways to support your neurodivergent loved one’s positive self-expression!

More About ABA Centers of New Jersey

ABA Centers of New Jersey is a leading provider of ABA care for individuals with autism dealing with challenging experiences that may include stimming. Our team of dedicated ABA experts is committed to providing custom ABA therapy and diagnostic services that support the unique needs of every ASD client and family we serve in regions of New Jersey, including:

  • Woodstown
  • Trenton
  • Paterson
  • And more!

We recognize the importance of safe stimming in the lives of our clients and work towards incorporating it into their treatment plans in a positive and supportive manner.

Together, we can create a world where all individuals are accepted and celebrated for their unique behaviors and abilities.

Reach us at (855) 640-7888 or via this online form to learn more about our services and how we can support individuals with ASD and their families.

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