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How To Manage Stimming

April 25, 2022

By ABA Psychological Services

How to Manage Stimming Behaviors in Autism
The term “stimming” refers to self-stimulating or self-soothing behaviors that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may show. Everyone engages in self-stimulatory behaviors such as tapping your fingernail against the desk, whistling, or rubbing your hands together while in deep thought. However, persons with Autism often show these signs when they are overwhelmed, upset, or scared. Some common stimming behaviors include hand flapping, rocking, spinning themselves or objects, pacing and jumping. Nevertheless, some self-stimulatory behaviors can be harmful, such as biting, pinching, pressing on eyes, and self-injurious behavior. While for some individuals, these behaviors can be soothing, or help with their emotional regulation, for other individuals, these behaviors may detract from the ability to concentrate or complete daily living skills.

Strategies to Reduce Poor Stimming Behaviors
Many parents and caretakers of Autistic individuals may wonder what they can do to reduce self-stimulatory behaviors. What they really want to know are the best ways to manage stimming when it is disruptive or harmful. ABA Psychological Services has developed a list of strategies you can implement to help address stimming if it becomes an issue in social or functional situations.

Consult with a Medical Professional
It’s important to seek advice from a medical professional if you are contemplating how to reduce stimming behaviors for those with Autism. It’s critical to determine whether or not the behavior is actually stimming or if there are additional health concerns that may not even be related to Autism. For example, if a person is suffering from migraines, they may engage in behaviors centered around alleviating that pain (E.g., head banging, pushing on eyes). Talk with a medical professional about the behavior, explain the actions and frequency, and heed professional medical advice before taking any actions to manage stimming on your own.

Understand Why Certain Behaviors Occur
The ability to narrow down the root cause of stimming behavior is the first step toward curbing unhealthy issues instead of simply figuring out how to stop certain conduct. Stimming can occur for a wide variety of reasons, like gaining sensory input when over-or-under-stimulated, coping with stress or anxiety, or even dealing with pain. By focusing less on the stimming and more on the reason behind it, you can seek the right kind of help or know how to redirect certain behavior.

Reinforce Positive Behavior
Reduction of stimming behaviors is really the redirection of interfering stimming to healthy or safe stimming. Reactionary triggers will always be prevalent, but you can remove them through redirection to a behavior that can be reinforced. Additionally, reinforcing target behaviors never means the individual would get in trouble for the behavior of concern.

Reimagine Stimming When It Causes Disruption
Stimming in a social setting or in an academic environment may be disruptive for the individual and others in the environment. In situations where an autistic person tends to stim, provide them with alternatives to do so discreetly or quietly. We can work to help the individual learn under which situations is it okay to stim in, and which situations it is not okay to stim in. For example, I should not stim in the middle of math class, but if I need to stim, I can ask for a break in the sensory room.

Increase Exercise or Physical Activity
Studies have found that in many cases, increased physical activities may help decrease self-stimulatory behavior and increase appropriate responses. There are many conclusions as to why exercise helps to manage stimming, but more importantly, certain types of physical activity can help someone with Autism refocus and have fun! A simple jog is a common exercise to try, but others also found to help include jumping jacks, throwing a medicine ball to the ground, or arm circles.

Start Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy
Work with the right resources and programming to effectively manage stimming. One-on-one ABA therapy with a behavior paraprofessional and BCBA supervision is beneficial for individuals with Autism so they can make actionable progress toward behavioral goals and other objectives. ABA Psychological Services specializes in ABA therapy, as well as providing social skills groups and parent training for those seeking assistance. Learn more about our mission and book an appointment, today!

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