What Is Stimming And Should I Stop It?
Stimming, or self-stimulatory behavior, is characterized by repetitive body movements or movement of objects to gain sensory input. Children can “stim” from visual, auditory (hearing), oral (taste), tactile (touch), vestibular (movement), and/or proprioceptive (joint) input. Common stimming behaviors include staring at lights or fans, making vocal sounds, mouthing or chewing objects, scratching or biting, rocking back and forth, and hand flapping. Oftentimes, these stimming behaviors interfere with a child’s ability to complete activities of daily living and can lead to increased dependence.
So, as a caregiver, should you stop your child’s hands when they’re flapping or ask them to be quiet when they’re making vocal sounds?
My answer is yes, but through researched based methods.
Your child is stimming due to a need for sensory input, which is different for each child. Some children may require small amounts of sensory input to feel regulated, while others require much larger amounts. To address these stimming behaviors, you must provide your child with the appropriate amount of sensory input throughout their day.
So how do you do that?
A sensory diet, coined by occupational therapist Patricia Wilbarger, is a carefully designed and personalized activity plan that provides the right amount sensory input a person needs to stay focused and organized. Children learn that their stimming behaviors are no longer needed to receive the sensory feedback they are craving with a custom-made sensory diet in place. A qualified occupational therapist can use their advanced training and evaluation skills to develop a good sensory diet for your child, but it’s up to you and your child to implement it throughout the course of the day.
Here are a few sensory strategies to help decrease stimming behaviors throughout the day:
- Fidget toys/objects
- Chewy objects such as jewelry or tubes
- Chewing gum
- Animal walks
- Wall push-ups
- Squeezing hands together tightly
- Squeezing resistive material (theraputty, playdoh, squishy/stress balls)
- Movement breaks throughout the day using:
- a swing
- therapy/yoga ball
- crashing activities using cushions/bean bag chairs
- heavy work activities that include pushing and pulling heavy objects
- Give your child big bear hugs!
Most importantly, teach your child how to recognize this behavior and about other sensory activities they can do instead to give them the feedback they need to be successful throughout their day!