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Find Good Reading » Blog Archive » What an Increase in Stimming May Indicate About Your Current Treatment for Autism

What an Increase in Stimming May Indicate About Your Current Treatment for Autism

As parents work to find effective treatments for autism, many of the usual symptoms their children display will continue.  In the majority of cases, this often includes some form of ‘stimming’.  Stimming is an extremely common autism symptom that includes certain repeated behaviors or movements.  These behaviors are self-stimulating and consist of repetitive behaviors that are performed to stimulate the senses.  Examples of stimming include clapping, running in circles, humming, or manipulating objects (such as bending straws or ripping paper). 

Though stimming behaviors may appear to be unnecessary or even unsuitable to some situations, they’re not done to draw attention or to disrupt.  Instead, stimming behaviors are often used in order to decrease the stress levels of the child performing them.  As autism causes children to react atypically to sensory stimuli, they often use stimming to help to deal with their sensory issues.

Rocking is another kind of stimming behavior that is common among autistic children.  Many autistic children feel that rocking back and forth allows them to reestablish a sense of focus when they feel overly sensitive to the stimulus from their surroundings.  It can also help with concentration and focus.

Though it is more obvious in autistic children, non-autistic children and adults also participate in forms of stimming.  Consider the number of times you’ve seen someone drumming their fingers, tapping their pencil, fidgeting with paper, or bounced a knee when sitting down.  Anxiety tends to worsens these behaviors. Though behaviors such as biting nails or whistling are often done involuntarily, they do help us to keep control over our emotions and calm us down in tense situations.  As children with autism usually find stressors in more of the stimuli in their environment, they often ‘stim’ regularly throughout the day and especially when placed into a new environment.   

If you find that your child’s level of stimming increases in line with the introduction of new of more frequent treatments there could be a number of reasons for this.
1. They are looking for reassurance as they learn something new
2. The situation is stressful for them so they are retreating to what is familiar – the stimulatory behavior
3. They don’t like the change to their routine that the new or increased frequency of treatment is introducing.
Of course these reasons aren’t the only ones. However, the key is to monitor behavior and see if the stimming levels out, increases further or decreases as the treatment program progresses.

It is also important to keep in mind that stimming behaviors can turn into obsessions.  When identifying characteristics for treatment for autism, divide your child’s stimming into two groups: excitatory and calming. 

Stimming that is calming is the kind that helps your autistic child to regain focus when feeling stress or anxiety.  On the other hand excitatory stimming sends your child’s focus in a negative direction. 

An example of excitatory stimming could be when an autistic child gets wound up and instead of smiling and giggling, he or she might start clapping, running, or yelling.  This can be detrimental behavior as it encourages behaviors that can be inappropriate and are not conducive for effective learning.

Stimming may also be an attachment to specific objects.  Though most small children will often have a favorite toy such as a doll or blanket, in the case of autistic children they may struggle give up their attachment to this object.  It may be something that they like to smell, look at, hear, or touch. 

Stimming can also take the form of organizing things.  For example, an autistic child may self-stimulate by placing things in order, lining them up, or stacking things.  This, like other stimming behaviors, can easily become an obsession.

Stimming habits can be very challenging to break as they are often relaxing and enjoyable and provide a coping mechanism for an autistic child. As a parent you will need to decide what stimming behavior is acceptable both in terms of the action itself and frequency. Bear in mind that trying to stop all stimming could be very stressful for your child. So concentrate on the behaviors that are excitory or inappropriate and leave the calming or harmless activities alone.

When considering a treatment for autism for your child, make sure that the doctor or specialist is aware of all of your child’s stimming behaviors so that they can be properly addressed.  Keep in mind that stimming often differs from one form of autism to the next.

Grab your free copy of Rachel Evans’ brand new Autism Newsletter - Overflowing with easy to implement methods to help you and your family find proven treatments for autism and for more information on autism symptoms like stimming please visit The Essential Guide To Autism

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