If your child has autism, there’s a good chance you are already somewhat familiar with stimming. But in case you aren’t, the term is an abbreviation of ‘self-stimulation’ that refers to a repetitive behavior performed as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, frustration, and unpleasant emotions. Many people stim regardless of whether or not they are on the autism spectrum. Perhaps you crack your knuckles or tap your fingers in scenarios you find stressful. Individuals with autism, on the other hand, tend to stem in different ways and for various reasons. Here are some categories of stimming frequently exhibited by children with autism.
When most people think of stimming, tactile stimming is the first category that comes to mind. This is exactly what you might guess—using one’s sense of touch to achieve self-stimulation. This can include any of the following:
- Tapping one’s fingers
- Scratching oneself or objects
- Repetitive hand gestures
Visual stimming refers to self-stimulation achieved with one’s sense of sight. When children with autism align objects in order to calm themselves down, this could qualify as visual stimming. They may also perform actions that more directly influence their sight, such as repeatedly moving their fingers over their eyes, blinking, or flickering light switches.
Individuals who practice auditory stimming use sounds to calm themselves down. Often, this takes the form of vocalizations. Your child with autism might hum or shriek when they feel overwhelmed. There is also a chance that they will repeat turns-of-phrase from movies or songs.
But not all auditory stimming is expressed vocally. Your child could repeatedly snap, or run their fingers along the tines of a comb. Frequently, there is cross-over between this other categories of stimming, such as tactile.
So far, the categories of stimming we have addressed cover the senses of touch, sight, and sound. You might be surprised to learn that stimming can take the form of taste and smell as well.
Individuals who take to olfactory stimming may repeatedly smell people or objects. This is not as uncommon as you might think. Some children associate a particular smell with their parents or their home, and will bring an object that carries that smell to school. To give another example, children who practice olfactory stimming might repeatedly eat candy or breath-mints in stressful situations.
The Connections Therapy Center
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