What is Stimming?

Stimming is short for self-stimulation. Stimming is a repetitive body movement, such as hand flapping. Stimming is commonly found in Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder, but also found in other developmental disabilities. This behavior may involve any or all of the senses in various degrees in different individuals.

By Jeanette Baker-Loftus

This piece was first published on Sensory Processing Disorder Support for Parents here.

Photo credit: SPD Parent Support

Stimming is short for self-stimulation. Stimming is a repetitive body movement, such as hand flapping. Stimming is commonly found in Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder, but also found in other developmental disabilities. This behavior may involve any or all of the senses in various degrees in different individuals.

When children are hypersensitive, or overly sensitive to stimuli they possibly may engage in stimming because they want to reduce stimulation, because they perceive their environments and surroundings  to be too loud, bright or too much to handle.

 When children are hyposensitive, or under-responsive to stimuli they have the opposite effects and stimming may actually increase arousal. You may notice they are engaging in self-stimulatory behaviors that are providing them with sensory excitement. You may notice flapping their arms, spinning, licking and sucking on toys.

Stimming may become self-injurious behavior such as head banging or biting their hands. Not all self-injurious behaviors are considered stimming. Self-injurious behavior could also be your child trying to tell you that they are frustrated.

There’re a few reasons why individuals may engage in self-stimulatory behavior, and it’s not always the same reasons for each person… It may be that the behavior provides sensory reinforcement or sensory stimulation to the individual, or the behavior may be used to regulate sensory input, either increasing stimulation or decreasing sensory overload.

There is visual stimming, olfactory stimming, auditory stimming, oral stimming, vestibular stimming and tactile stimming.

Here are a few example lists of self-stimulatory behaviors (stimming)

Visual Stimming

– shaking toys
– lining up toys and other objects
– pushing toy trucks to watch wheels
– spinning wheels on toy cars
– watching ceiling fans
– staring at lights in the room
– opening or shutting drawers
– walking in patterns
– splashing or watching water
– running sand or beans through hands while watching them
– throwing or dropping toys
– ripping or shredding paper
– running in circles
– excessive drawing or coloring
– watching a yoyo over and over
– head shaking
– spinning and twirling


Auditory Stimming

– blurting out high pitched noises
– repetition odd noises or sounds
– excessively talking
– repeating portions of videos
– snorting
– throat clearing
– snapping fingers
– constantly singing
– reciting alphabet over and over
– banging on everything
– pounding toys or books
– excessive pretend play
– repeating the same T.V show
– tapping on ears or objects
– covering and uncovering ears


Vestibular Stimming

– spinning repeatedly
– swinging
– rocking side to side
– pacing back and forth
– jumping over and over
– bouncing repeatedly
– rocking back and forth


Tactile Stimming

– chewing on insides of cheeks
– chewing fingernails
– rubbing clothing
– scratching obsessively
– head banging
– teeth grinding
– spitting
– rubbing face and hands
– tapping surfaces with fingers


Jeanette Baker-Loftus is the founder of the Sensory Processing Disorder Parent Support. It is a community she created almost eleven years ago when her daughter Bean was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). She did not know what it was at the time. Since then, she has learnt a great deal about SPD and discovered that she too has SPD.

Sensory Processing Disorder Parent Support has become a place to seek support from other parents who are also struggling with their children. It’s a community to share with others what she has learned from my own two children who have special needs.

Her children have been diagnosed with multiple diagnoses including Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism, and ADHD. Her two children are now adults (21 & 24) and she is a Grandma to her beautiful grandson with one more grandchild on the way. Check out her website which is full of information on SPD here. Follow SPD Support for Parents on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Jeanette is also on LinkedIn. She is based in Vancouver, Canada.

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