Many children with autism use self-stimulation behaviours, or "stimming," as a means to calm themselves or demonstrate that they are excited. Some examples of "stimming" include rocking, hand-flapping, humming, clapping, manipulating an object and jumping up and down. These behaviours are not harmful. However, they can interfere with learning and make your child less socially accepted. Learn to reduce your child's self-stimulation behaviours if it interferes with his functioning.
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Redirect his attention. When your child begins "stimming," focus his attention on something else. Give him something to keep his hands busy if he is hand-flapping or clapping. Play soft music if he is a hummer. Go for a brisk walk if likes to jump up and down. Keep one of his favourite toys or objects with you so that you can distract him with it.
Replace the "stimming," behaviour with a more socially acceptable alternative. Many children with autism are ostracised because some of their self-stimulation behaviours seem odd to the "normally," functioning world. There are ways to teach your child to "stim" in a more socially accepted manner. If your child flaps her hands wildly, teach her a calmer, less obvious finger tap on his desk. If your child licks random objects, provide her with lollipops to lick instead. If your child jumps up and down, buy her an exercise trampoline that is easily accessible. When you give your child an alternative way to "stim," she still gets the sensory stimulation that she needs and she looks more "normal."
Provide a specific time for "stimming." Make self-stimulation time a part of your child's daily schedule. If you provide your child with an appropriate time and place to "stim," you teach him when and where to do it. This helps reduce inappropriate "stimming." Give your child 10 to 15 minutes of "stim" time in his room when he is on sensory overload. This might be right after school, after an extra-curricular activity or after a trip to the grocery store.
Reduce stressful things in her environment. Many times self-stimulation behaviours are triggered by situations that are stressful to your child. Know what sets your child off, so you can minimise it in her environment. Eliminating the things that stress your child out will reduce her need to "stim."
Tips and warnings
- Talk to an occupation therapist about reducing your child's self-stimulation behaviours. Many children with autism wear specially designed, weighted vests to help reduce self-stimulation behaviours.
- Don't make fun of a child who demonstrates self-stimulating behaviours. Doing so can damage his self-esteem.
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