Should you stop or allow your autistic child to stim?

Stimming is a self-stimulatory behaviour where a person makes repetitive movements or sounds. A person does not have to be autistic to stim. For example, repetitively shaking your legs when nervous is considered a kind of stimming. However with autistic people, stimming can look different. It can help them but it can also cause harm if not done safely.

How does stimming look in autistic children?

For most people, stimming is usually a repetitive behaviour that does not disrupt others and is socially acceptable. It can be a small movement like drumming your fingers on the desk or twirling your hair when you’re nervous.

For autistic people and especially children, stimming can look different. The act can be bigger and more obvious than a simple hair twirl. An autistic child may rock their entire body back and forth or, start spinning around or flap their hands. The child usually has very little social awareness that their behaviour can be disruptive to others.

An autistic child can spend hours stimming without noticing how long they have been doing it or if it is making others around them uncomfortable. Sometimes their chosen stim can even be harmful to themselves and they would not notice it.

Here are some examples of stimming in autistic children:

  • Rocking back and forth
  • Pacing back and forth
  • Repeating words or phrases
  • Hand-flapping
  • Pulling hair
  • Covering and uncovering ears
  • Scratching

Why do autistic children stim?

Stimming is a coping mechanism. The reason behind it is not always obvious to the person not stimming. However for autistic children, and even adults, stimming can help with many experiences such as:

  • Reducing anxiety and stress
  • Focusing on a certain activity
  • Decreasing sensory overloads
  • Adapting to unfamiliar environments
  • Expressing discomfort towards a situation, place, person, etc…

Should you stop or allow your autistic child to stim?

You should not stop your child from stimming altogether. As we have mentioned, stimming can be their way of expressing their emotions or regulating their feelings. In a general sense, stimming should be allowed to continue if it is not causing any harm to the child or others around them. 

However, if your child’s stim-of-choice is harmful to them or to others around them, then you will need to intervene. An example of harmful stimming is hair pulling or excessive scratching. This act, when done repetitively for a long period of time, can harm your child physically. In this case, you will need to take some steps to help them. 

Here are some tips on how you can keep your child safe while they stim:

  • Remove any objects around them that they can use to harm themselves or others.
  • Encourage harmless stimming techniques like using a stress ball or making small movements with their hands. 
  • Avoid punishing or reprimanding them for stimming. However, try to explain why it’s harmful while introducing a better replacement.
  • As much as possible, try to eliminate triggers like high-stress or uncomfortable environments.

Autistic children do not stop stimming as they grow older, but they do start to become a little more aware of their behaviour and how it affects them and others around them. Stimming is a natural symptom of autism that should be treated with acceptance and understanding when appropriate.

For more information about stimming, please read:

Stimming – a guide for all audiences – National Autistic Society

Autism and Stimming – Child Mind Institute

Sensory toys can help children find safer ways to stim. Read about them in our blog: 

A brief guide to sensory toys & their benefits

Over-stressing is one of the most common reasons behind stimming. This blog can help reduce some of the stress of studying:

How to help your child study in a stress-free environment?

Your comment will be posted after it is approved.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

20 + fifteen =