Emotional regulation is something that we all struggle with – even into adulthood. However, the way in which we regulate our emotions varies on a case by case basis – and the same can be said for children with autism and related disorders.


Many children with autism use ‘stimming’ as a form of emotional regulation, which is why you may already be familiar with the term. In this guide, we’ll break down exactly what stimming is, and steps you can take to support your child.




What is Stimming?


Stimming is short for self-stimulating, and refers to repetitive behaviors/actions carried out by individuals as a form of emotional regulation or self-soothing. While seemingly ‘random’, they provide the individual with a sense of comfort, especially when they feel overwhelmed.


According to Autism.Org, Typically stimming behaviors could include:


There are many different reasons why a person may ‘stim’. For example, it could be seen as an “an attempt to gain sensory input, eg rocking may be a way to stimulate the balance (vestibular) system; hand-flapping may provide visual stimulation.” Alternatively, it can be an involuntary response to emotional stress or anxiety.


Should I intervene when my child stims?


As a parent, it’s only natural to want to intervene when your child seems distressed. However, in most cases, stimming is a response mechanism, meaning that it actually helps them to calm down and intervention is not strictly necessary.

Intervention may be required if stimming behaviors leave your child at risk of physical injury. For example, this could include behaviors such as headbanging, scratching or biting. In these cases, parents should:


Identify (and remove) the trigger. Stimming is often not ‘randomized’, but rather a direct response to something happening around them. For example, children who are sensitive to loud noises may stim when in crowded or noisy environments. Identifying triggers enables you to remove your child from the situation and better avoid them in the future.


Learn to redirect. Parents of neurotypical and neurdiverse children alike often become adept at redirecting their children. For example, you may use toys to distract them when they are about to start crying. These same techniques can come in handy when redirecting a child who may be at risk of hurting themselves. For example, using the same example as above, if their stims are the response to loud noises, you could hand them some headphones that either cancel out noise completely or play their favorite songs.


If your child is enrolled in interventive therapy, such as ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) or Physical Therapy, you will also be able to discuss behaviors such as stimming with their therapist. This way, you can decide upon a suitable course of action moving forward, or find ways in which you can better support your child in their daily life.


If you’d like to find out more about the therapeutic services we offer, both online and in-person, please do not hesitate to get in touch today.

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