What is “Stimming,” Or Self-Stimulatory Behavior?


Several children have self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming or self-stimulation. Most people associate this with children on the autism spectrum, while children with Sensory Processing Disorder can show these behaviors, too.


Stimming is when a child repeats a behavior, a sound or a movement in effort to provide him or her self a positive feeling. Pacing, blinking, hand movements like flapping, moving objects, or repeating certain phrases – these are just a few examples.


Contrary to common belief, stimming behaviors are not always sensory related. This means they are not always done in response to an unpleasant sensory trigger like a bright light, increased commotion or background noise.


Stimming vs. Sensory Response

Is It Austism-Related Stimming or a Sensory Challenge?



Under any circumstance, when a child engages in a “stim,” the behavior is rewarding in and of itself for that child. The child is likely to engage in this stimming behavior whether they are around others or alone. They will enjoy stimming either way.


When redirected or prevented from engaging in a preferred self-stimulatory behavior, the child is likely to become distressed, defensive, or even angry. This is true of children on the autism spectrum, children with Sensory Processing Disorder, and typically developing children who have no known exceptionality.


Reacting to a sensory sensitivity is about handling the negative sensory trigger. Stimming is choosing one behavior over another to get a positive feeling – a “reward.” You may approach how your respond to self-stimulatory behaviors differently than sensory sensitivities. Knowing this difference will help you with your child’s IEP



Why Is This Difference Important?



The school team needs to fully understand your child’s stimming behaviors as well as their sensory triggers. Learn how to communicate this to your teachers with ExceptionALLY. Log-in now – it’s free for all parents.





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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Mary Van Dyken says:

    We need all the help that is out there so we as parents can understand better on how to help our children.

    • Dana Lee says:

      We agree, Mary! Knowledge is power, and no one will ever want more for children than their parents. Thank you for commenting!