If you have a child on the ASD spectrum, chances are that you have experienced stimming first hand!
A common question that parents of ASD kids often ask is ‘can stimming can be reduced or eliminated’. Stimming tends to be socially awkward, and occasionally a child who stims runs the risk of hurting herself. But before we even get there, it is important to understand what stimming means and why your child does it.
Stimming or stereotyped behavior is one of the most common features of autism and is characterized by repetitive motor movements that are self-stimulatory in nature. In a child with ASD, stimming might manifest through behaviors such as rocking, hand flapping, chewing or mouthing objects, or even the repetition of certain words or phrases.
These behaviors may seem meaningless to the rest of us, but as a parent, we need to know that they serve one or more purposes for your child. These can range from the reduction of anxiety to providing the necessary sensory input that might be missing from the environment.
What Causes Stimming?
According to the Child Mind Institute, the occurrence of stimming can be attributed to a lot of factors:
- In case of overstimulation, a stereotyped behavior or stim can help block out the excess sensory input.
- Stimming also helps provide additional sensory input in cases of under-stimulation.
- Stimming could also act as a means of reducing pain sensations in the body by the release of beta-endorphins.
- Stimming can also occur through physical reactions to various emotions. For e.g, jumping is a reaction often seen as a result of joy.
- Stims also serve as means of comfort and soothe an individual going through a distressing or overwhelming situation.
Can Stimming be Reduced?
First and foremost, it is important to understand that not all stimming behaviors need to be reduced. Stimming behaviors that are self-injurious or affect the child’s interpersonal relationships and interfere with his performance on day-to-day tasks need to be addressed. In such cases, here are some ways to reduce stimming in your child:
- Manage the environment –
Rapid or unexpected changes in the external environment are one of the prominent causes of stimming. Providing a calming environment with the right amount of sensory input your child requires will help manage stimming in your child. The child can be warned beforehand about an expected situation that might trigger stimming. A ‘distractor’ in the form of a toy, a favorite book, or a technological device could be kept handy for such situations.
- Avoid punishing the behavior –
Punishing a stimming behavior without adequately addressing why it is occurring in the first place might lead to the replacement of the previous behavior with a new stim that is even more unfavorable.
- Consult a speech therapist –
A lot of times, kids use stimming as a way of communicating their feelings and emotions. A speech therapist will be able to teach your child ways to verbalize his emotions and to use words to express each emotion. In this way, the stim will be replaced by the use of words.
- Teach your child an alternate behavior –
The kid can be taught an alternate behavior that will eventually help in reducing the stim. Once, the ‘trigger’ or a particular situation that causes the stim is identified, the kid can be gently prompted to engage in an alternate behavior. For e.g., if listening to a favorite song causes an excess of hand-flapping in a kid, the kid’s attention can be redirected elsewhere by giving him something else to do using his hands while listening to the song.
An important thing to remember is that while stimming cannot be eliminated, it is possible to reduce and manage it. If a stereotyped behavior is not harmful to the child, there may not even be a reason to look into ways to reduce this behavior. Stimming might defy a lot of neurotypical norms and hence, might be difficult to deal with in social settings, but it is crucial to understand that these behaviors provide a lot of support to individuals on the spectrum.