Stimming in Autistic kids

Does your child often keep uttering long absurd sounds like “aaa”, “brrr”, “Mhhh”? Does he often seem lost in nowhere and staring at the wall , flapping and flicking his fingers all the time?  If these actions occur frequently on a repetitive basis then these are some signs of stimming in Autism. Stimming actions vary in strength and type. They can be triggered by a variety of emotions. In response to excitement, happiness, boredom, tension, fear, and anxiety, autistic people of any age may stim occasionally or continuously. To understand more about it, let’s dig into the depths!

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What is Stimming IN AUTISM?

Self-stimulating actions, typically including repetitive sounds or gestures, are referred to as “stimming.”While repetitive activities in autistic people are most frequently associated with stimming, people without autism can also stim. For instance, tapping your foot uncontrollably while anxious is an example of stimming. 

Autism diagnostic criteria include stimming as one of the symptoms. That isn’t because stimming and autism are always associated. It’s because stimming in autistic persons can spiral out of control and lead to issues.

Also, check Autism and Sensory Sensitivity

Why autistic children and teenagers stim?

In autistic people, stimming becomes more obvious. Seeking to understand the motivation for any particular behaviour/action is always a great place to start. 

There are several hypotheses and known causes for stimming:

1. Overstimulation:

Stimming can help in blocking out excess sensory overload. When a person’s senses are overstimulated to the point where they become unmanageable, it is known as sensory overload. Their stimming may be particularly repeated when they are overstimulated and overwhelmed. They may also appear anxious or upset as they attempt to calm themselves down.

For eg: Some children can repeatedly start sniffing the objects upon any particular type of smell.

Also, check Autism and Behaviour issues

2. Understimulation:

When needed, stimming assists in supplying more sensory information.Their response is hyposensitive when they exhibit a reduced sensitivity to stimuli, such as failing to notice or even respond to a loud noise. In such a case, stimming can aid in grasping the sensory information from around.

For eg: A child may not react to the external sounds and start playing with the fingers of hand in front of his eyes to get more aware of the surroundings.

Also, check Autism and Eye contact

3. For pain reduction:

According to certain research, stimming releases chemicals from a region of the brain that provide the person an euphoric reaction. These substances are known as beta-endorphins. Dopamine, a substance known to induce pleasurable feelings in people, is produced by the beta-endorphin molecule.

For eg: To relieve pain, some children bang on their head upon the bench to distract themselves with that particular activity and divert the attention from pain.

4. For managing emotions:

Stimming appears to support autistic children and teenagers in controlling emotions like fear, rage, enthusiasm, and anxiety. It aids in their ability to relax by focusing their attention upon the stim and producing a calming change in their bodies to cope up with it.

For eg: A child may start biting his nails or scratching the floor to divert his attention when feels anxiety.

Also, check Speech regression in kids

What are some types of stimming behaviours in autism?

Common stimming behaviours may involve:

  • Tapping of pencil on the bench
  • Breaking of knuckles
  • Hair twirling around the fingers
  • Whistling
  • Biting the nails
  • Drumming your fingers

On the other hand, autism specific stimming may involve:

  • Packing or walking vigorously on tip toes
  • Making repeated sounds like “Brrr”
  • Rubbing or scratching the skin
  • Sniffing at people or objects
  • Abnormal eye rotations
  • Repetitive blinking
  • Finger snapping and licking
  • Pulling hair
  • Repetitive arrangement of objects
  • Rocking back and forth

Risks arising out of Stimming for autism

1. Social disapproval: Social acceptance is one of the biggest obstacles that comes with stimming. Autism sufferers are frequently urged to suppress their stimming in order to fit in. Instead, individuals who are not autistic should try to understand the usefulness that stimming has for the individual and allow it in social situations. People can choose to divert their attention to something else or accept stimming behaviour rather than reacting harshly to it.

Also, check Tantrums and ADHD: How to manage?

2. Self harm/injury: Some types of behaviours like biting the nails, banging the hands on the table, banging of head on the wall, etc can be self-destructive. The triggering of such behaviours more and more often can result in negative health consequences that can further mess up an individual’s functioning. 

Can we do something to overcome it?

Here are some really helpful ideas:

1. Find the source and reroute

The stimming behaviors/stereotypical behaviors in autistic kids are often triggered as a response to some provoking sources. Common stimming sources may involve:

  • Extreme noises
  • Eye painful bright lights
  • Routine changes
  • Emotional fuss- anger, anxiety, fear, over-excitement
  • Strong Olfactory triggers

Thus it is important to first decode, what sources are exactly bothering the child. When you notice the child begins to stim over something, commence with a conversation to dive into the deep cause of the problem. Some children may not be verbal, they may point out something non-verbally, the thing that’s disturbing them. Try to reduce the child’s stress by encouraging them to get over it by promising positive reinforcements.

2. Try speech therapy

In case of autistic kids, stimming is basically the easiest medium through which a child tries to communicate or dislodge his emotions.  Trying to decode the messages behind the stim is the biggest challenge! A speech therapist could teach an autistic person how to communicate verbally instead of using stims. For instance, a youngster might learn to say, “Too noisy!” during speech therapy than reacting to it by yelling or rocking back and forth.

3. Applied behavioural analysis (ABA) Therapy

We all learn through the consequences of our own behaviours! Behaviour that is reinforced, tends to rewire us and turns into our default behaviour. On a similar note, behaviour that is not reinforced will eventually disappear over time.

ABA’s are concerned with how learning occurs as well as how behaviours change or are impacted by the environment. To improve and teach new behaviours, ABA calls for the application of well-established learning principles, behavioural methods, and contextual changes. Positive reinforcement is used to teach new abilities and alter behaviours in autistic children using a variety of adaptable strategies and interventions.

For eg: If a child doesn’t stim over and over more, provide them with a small gift of appreciation for not doing it. This instils in them a realization that they must overcome it at some or the other point in their lives.

4. Involve them in exercising

Exercise keeps your child interested in something enjoyable, and specialists claim that kids with autism frequently show improved focus after an exercise session. Short workouts should be practised into your day. Make jumping up and down or other physical stimming that your child does as part of your exercise programme. A simple 10-minute pause to relieve tension could aid in the fading of the need to stim.

Also, check 8 Tips to improve academic performance

5. Medical assistance

Sometimes the stimming can be mistakenly thought as an autistic cause ,but in reality, it can be an alarm for some other health condition. Thus stimming can also be misleading!

For eg: Repeated head banging of a child can be an actual alarm for migraine issues.

Take the youngster to the doctor for advice before assuming that a child’s repetitive conduct has autism as its cause. Give an explanation of what you saw and request tests to rule out any underlying illnesses. Do this before you do anything else to deal with stimming.

Nutritional tips for Autism STIMMING:

Malnutrition or other food-related issues do not cause autism, although for many people there is a link between autism and food. Numerous individuals with autism spectrum disorders may experience severe effects from food-related difficulties, according to research.

Some types of foods that can be incorporation in ASD kids includes:

1. NUTS:

All the nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashew, peanuts and hazelnuts are rich in vitamin E and help in boosting memory. They are also antioxidants which protect against cell damage. Walnuts are rich in omega 3 fatty acids and are a valuable substance for brain function, memory and thinking abilities. This fatty acid also encourages cognitive functions.

Also, check Best nuts for protein

2. Seeds:

Apart from nuts, seeds like flax, chia, melon, sesame and pumpkins also contain powerful antioxidants like vitamin E that protect the brain from free radical damage. Sunflower seeds impact overall mood and mental processing powers and therefore a brain boosting snack. Pumpkin seeds are high in magnesium, copper, and much higher in zinc than other seeds, which help in increasing concentration and memory. One of the easiest to feed brain boosting foods for kids.


Multiple studies have shown the link between low omega 3 fatty acids and poor development, ADHD, speech delay, poor focus and concentration. These healthy fats are crucial for the brain development and helps to manage speech disorder and delay in kids.

Also, check What are some home benefits of omega 3?


Pure cocoa powder (unsweetened) contains brain boosting components as it is rich in large number of antioxidants molecules, the main is epicatechin helpful to improve cognition and speech impairment in studies. Hence cocoa powder is also an important brain development food for children.

Also, check More benefits of cocoa powder

5. Ashwagandha:

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. It also reduces anxiety and stress. Moreover, it increases acetylcholine levels which support better memory, mental focus and intelligence. Ashwagandha also improves communication between nerve cells and stimulates the body’s capacity to heal any nervous system damage.

Also, check Sensory Processing disorder

6. Brahmi:

Brahmi is a superfood for the brain to sharpen by protecting cells and increasing chemicals associated with learning and memory. It has shown to improve spatial learning and retaining power in kids. That is why in older times, kids were often given Brahmi powder with ghee/honey. This would increase their focus and attention while keeping them calm and distressed.

7. Shankhapushpi:

Shankhapushpi is a traditional remedy for increasing the functioning of the brain. The powerful antioxidants and flavonoids present in it improve the memory capacity, focus, concentration, calmness, alertness of an individual. Since it is a brain tonic and stimulator, people taking shankhapushpi have improved memory, reasoning, problem-solving, and also other cognitive abilities.

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