Should I stop my child stimming? This is an interesting question, the short answer is no. There are of course times when stimming is dangerous and should be addressed. Continue reading to learn more about stimming, when it requires management, and where to get help.
What is stimming?
Most people stim on occasions. In fact, they are probably unaware of their actions. Have you ever started tapping your foot when anxious or biting your nails when afraid or nervous? Individuals with a disability are often acutely aware of their stims, as it provides release from an overwhelming stressful situation or can be soothing and aid is regulating emotions or behaviours.
Stimming or self-stimulatory behaviour is repetitive or may be an unusual body movements or noises. Stimming might include:
Body movements – This could include spinning, flicking of hands or fingers, rocking, toe walking and any unusual or repetitive body movements.
Auditory – It could be listening to the same song over or over or maybe noise over and over.
Vocal – It could be whistling or clearing the throat. Sometimes it could be repeating a work or sound over and over.
Visual – This could be watching the same movie over and over, unusual eye movements, looking at particular objects that may be shiny or textured or move like fidget spinners.
Why individuals Stim?
Stimming can provide relief from anxiety or stress. It can assist individual with focus and help with the self-regulating of emotions. For example, in a stressful situation rocking may help the body and mind regulate and stay calm. It helps an individual to redirect their focus on the stim instead of what is making them uncomfortable or anxious.. It can even produce a calming change in their bodies. Some reasons individuals stim;
- To stimulate senses and decrease sensory overload.
- Reduce anxiety and to self sooth or self-regulate emotions.
- To express anger or frustrations. Especially with communication issues or access to support.
- To cope with change or new environments.
Is stimming a bad thing.
Stimming can be a good thing and should not be stopped. However, there are circumstances when stimming should be addressed. Here is what you need to know about problematic stimming;
- It is affecting day to day living? – If stimming is restricting your child’s quality of life, then the underlying cause needs to be addressed, even if the stim is not harmful. You could offer an alternative action or seek advice from an occupational therapist. If the Stim is not harmful then the stimming should continue while you seek help.
- Is it causing harm or is it dangerous to others? If your child is self-harming for emotional regulation then it is important to seek help immediately. It is important to remain calm and not be angry when talking to your child. They will already be feeling dysregulated and experiencing high levels of anxiety. It is important that they feel safe and trust you enough to share how they are feeling.
- Is the result of trauma or extreme anxiety. If your child is stimming out of extreme anxiety then it is a priority to address the underlying issue and not focus on the stim itself (being mindful of safety) The stimming provides an outlet and a means of focusing and self-regulation. Any attempts to restrict this action will only heighten their anxiety further. Focus of reducing the stress. It could be talking and preparing for new situations or addressing sensory issues in the home or at school.
For many individuals Stimming provides calm and focus and a means to self-regulate. If you feel you do need to address harmful stimming then talk to your local GP, an Occupational therapist or your psychologist. Also see if you can identify your own stims to understand how they present. I often find myself rocking back and forth if I am in a queue. The waiting makes me anxious, and having others close to me makes me uncomfortable. Let us know your own stims in the comments, how many can you identify?