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Self-stimulatory behaviour

Self-stimulatory behaviour or ‘stimming’ are repetitive behaviours which provide sensory satisfaction for an individual.

What is self-stimulatory behaviour?

Everyone has self-stimulatory behaviours – it could be fiddling with hair, bouncing a leg or chewing on a pen. Reasons for self-stimulatory behaviour will vary, it is often an attempt to increase or suppress sensory input. Examples of self-stimulatory behaviour could be:

  • Repeating words or vocal sounds
  • Rocking, tapping hands, jumping and swinging
  • Chewing on things
  • Listening to the same song or noise repeatedly

Why do these behaviours occur?

All behaviour serves a function for that person. For individuals with autism, they may experience atypical sensory processing meaning that they are either under or over sensitive to sensory input. Self-stimulatory behaviour can therefore be an attempt to gain sensory input, such as rocking; or to reduce it, by focusing on one particular sound to block out a loud environment. It can also be a way to deal with stress and anxiety.

What we may consider normal sensory input may be incredibly overwhelming for someone on the spectrum or they may need to produce their own sensory input.

How to react to self-stimulatory behaviour

Recognising that self-stimulatory behaviour serves a purpose for individuals, it is not something that you should try to change, unless the behaviour is dangerous to the individual and those around them, or acts as a barrier to the individual succeeding. If this is the case, alternative behaviours should be sought that serve the same function.

Self-stimulatory behaviour should not become a barrier to individuals accessing the wider community. You can support this by ensuring you respect those that display self-stimulatory behaviour by not staring or making them feel uncomfortable.

Fidget spinners

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