What is stimming
Hand flapping. Pacing. Finger Flicking. Spinning. These are all examples of stimming. The term is short for “self-stimulatory behavior” (Sims and Hughes, 2016). Stimming behavior is repetitive and can increase when a person is nervous.
Why does it happen
Stimming is generally considered a reaction to stimuli, but it’s not clear if it’s a reaction to internal or external stimuli. Is the autistic child reacting to bright light or is she reacting to repeating the lyrics from a Disney movie in her head over and over? We’re not exactly sure.
Are there other examples of stimming
Yes. Stimming is an individualized way adults and children with autism, and other disorders, cope with stimuli. Your son may want to hit or slap a favored stuffed toy. While you may constantly rub your head until there’s a bald spot. What is common for all stimming is that it’s repetitive.
Depending on the type of stimming, and the individual’s age, the behavior can be mild or can pose legal jeopardy for the person displaying the behavior. The National Autistic Society based out of the UK, published an article describing situations that relate stimming behavior and the criminal justice system
Stimming for light
A young autistic adult with associated learning difficulties, liked looking out of his bedroom window for long periods at a time as he liked to feel the heat from the sun on him. The difficulty for others is that although there appeared to be no apparent or visible sexual motivation or gratification for this behaviour the gentleman found the activity more enjoyable and relaxing naked. Neighbours started to complain to the police as well as the family. His parents were quite elderly and found it increasingly difficult to deal with his “meltdowns” when he was stopped from undertaking this activity. A builder friend of the family suggested a film coating to go on the window which meant the young man could still look out but people could not see him – all
parties were satisfied with this outcome.
An autistic gentleman who would seek out sensory stimulation in terms of smell found himself attracted to women’s public toilets. Lots of complaints were received, the police became involved and he was detained in a special hospital. The staff at the hospital worked with him to see how the women and girls using the toilets would have felt in terms of being scared. They helped him understand that he was putting himself at risk if someone had become angry at his behaviour e.g. a parent feeling that there child is at risk. He also successfully found a way to meet his sensory needs through a horticultural group developed by hospital staff.
What can I do
Many stimming behaviors are no more bothersome than someone nervously tapping a pencil on their desk. More severe stimming can be managed with proper therapy such as ABA or others. You as the self-advocate, or the parent of a person with stimming behavior, should work with professional staff (such as a behavior therapist) to determine the best course of action.
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