Go Back

Difference between ordinary and autistic stimming

Stimming can be a clue for you to watch out for developmental disabilities in your child

Stimming is self-stimulatory behaviour which is also known as stereotypic behaviour in layman’s term. Even adults engage in stimming behaviour by biting nails, twirling hair, pacing around the room or tapping pen on the table. 

Sometimes the stimming behaviour can be quite annoying to people around. Cracking knuckles every now and then, nose picking, pulling at skin, biting oneself or repeating a phrase over and over again are few examples of this. 

Parents should know that stimming in children can be a clue to developmental disabilities like autism, deafness, blindness and intellectual disability. 

difference between ordinary and autistic stimming

It is important to notice that autistic stimming differs from ordinary stimming. Autistic stimming includes behaviours that interrupt everyday routine which includes specific behaviours like hand- flapping, rocking, spinning, or repetition of words and phrases.

With a little bit of knowledge, you can differentiate between autistic and typical stimming, since there is difference in the choice of stim and also as to how often it is repeated. 

We know that stimming is often irritating but ordinary stims are not unacceptable. It is not very unnatural for one to bite nails, play with hair or tap a pen in our society, but when a child moves around flapping hands they will certainly get the negative attention that other ordinary stimming may not beget. 

Ordinary stimming occurs with limitations and is less repetitive than autistic stimming. When desired ordinary stim can be controlled. For example a person can choose not to bite nails when attending an important meeting. 

Autistic people have very less or no control over stimming. They are not aware of their own stimming behaviour and neither are they aware of others reactions to their stimming behaviour. 

Reasons for stimming in autism

Autism causes a lot of anxiety, fear, anger and other strong emotions in people, since they have high levels of sensory inputs in comparison to ordinary people. Stimming helps in dealing with such high emotional onslaught autistic people feel on their mind. Their stim increases when they have to deal with high level of noise, heat or intense light. 

Stimming helps autistic children to deal with various complexities:

  • Block excess sensory inputs which they cannot handle calmly
  • It reduces overall sensation of pain, though some activities can in itself cause physical pain. The reason could be the release of beta-endorphins which can create a feeling of pleasure in individuals 
  • When required, stimming can be a source extra sensory input when there is under stimulation
  • Stimming helps in management of emotions which are intensified and hurtful to the child
  • Children use stimming to soothe themselves when distressed

How can you help?

Don’t try to stop the stimming behaviour by punishing your child. Stimming is lesser evil of the two. 

Help them manage their stimming through right therapy. 

Introduce your child to sensory diet which will reduce the need for stim to a great extent. 

Addressing anxiety with medication can reduce stims as well. 

Modify your child’s surrounding so that their emotions are not triggered often.

Introduce stress reduction through other stimulating activities like squeezing a stress ball. 

Finally, give your child loads of unconditional love and attention.