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Why Is She Flapping Her Hands? | A Guide to ‘Stimming’ in Kids with Autism

by on 06/04/2021 144

Have you ever noticed that some kids with autism tend to do the same unusual behaviour over and over again? What you’re seeing could be a ‘stim’.

Hand-flapping is just one version of stimming that is typically seen in kids with autism. Stimming, which is short for self-stimulatory behaviour, is any sort of abnormal or repetitive action or noise. It is a common symptom of the disorder, and can include behaviours such as saying a word or phrase numerous times, spinning, or rocking.

People who do not have autism stim as well, but often their behaviours are more socially acceptable and less frequent. Things such as twirling your hair, whistling, or drumming your fingers are considered subtler forms of stimming.

Why do Kids with Autism Stim?

Why Is She Flapping Her Hands? | A Guide to ‘Stimming’ in Kids with Autism

The answer to why children with autism stim is not very clear.

Most experts, however, believe that it is done as a way to self-regulate (or calm one’s self). It appears to help the child manage emotions like anger, fear, or excitement.

Since many individuals with autism have sensory processing disorder, their need to stim could be related to this. Stimming is thought to help kids soothe themselves when they are either overwhelmed or underwhelmed by sensory information.

How Does Stimming Affect Kids?

Why Is She Flapping Her Hands? | A Guide to ‘Stimming’ in Kids with Autism

Stimming can actually be useful to the child, as it may help them cope with challenging situations; however, if it impedes their ability to carry out daily activities, it could be an issue. For example, if a child’s stimming is frequently distracting them from learning or communicating, then it may require some attention.

Certain kids with autism may also have stims that are extreme (such as making very loud noises) or ones that are harmful (such as hitting one’s self or banging one’s head against a wall), which are understandably problematic.

Can Anything Be Done About Stimming?

Why Is She Flapping Her Hands? | A Guide to ‘Stimming’ in Kids with Autism

Self-stimulatory behaviour isn’t always something to get rid of. It may seem odd to some typically developing people, but generally speaking, if it’s not harmful then it might not be an issue.

On the other hand, if the stimming has negative effects on a particular child, there are a few things that can be done to reduce its frequency or remove it completely.

Here are some ways to deal with challenging stims:

  • Change the child’s environment (provide a ‘quiet place’ for kids to relax, or create a classroom that is more calming)

  • Identify the need that the child has (e.g., a child is feeling angry and needs to calm down), then provide appropriate alternative behaviours (e.g., go for a walk)

  • Seek applied behavioural analysis (ABA) experts for therapy

  • Consult an occupational therapist to help decrease the need for stims

Many believe that girls with autism are being misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed. Find out why here.