Posted in Autism, Behavior/ ABA, Speech and Occupational Therapy

Blog #29~Curious Stims

Blog #29~Curious Stims

Stimming is awesome, admit it we all really enjoy it!

Now that I have your attention I thought I would share a little bit about Nick’s world and what turns him on.

So just what is stimming? When you see someone like Nick who might be rocking and bobbing, tapping and making odd noises you probably look over and think “What the…?”  I dedicate this week’s blog to the need to stim! Here is a good explanation from www. spectrum disorders:

What Is Stimming and Why Is It Common In Autistic People? 

Answer: The term “stimming” is short for self-stimulatory behavior, sometimes also called “stereotypic” behavior. In a person with autism, stimming usually refers to specific behaviors such as flapping, rocking, spinning, or repetition of words and phrases.

Stimming is almost always a symptom of autism, but it’s important to note that stimming is also a part of most people’s behavior patterns. If you’ve ever tapped your pencil, bitten your nails, twirled your hair, or paced, you’ve engaged in stimming.

The biggest differences between autistic and typical stimming are the choice of stim and the quantity of stim. While it’s at least moderately acceptable to bite one’s nails, for example, it’s considered unacceptable to wander around flapping one’s hands. There’s really no good reason why flapping should be less acceptable than nail biting (it’s certainly more hygienic!). But in our world, the hand flappers receive negative attention while the nail biters are tolerated.

Like anyone else, people with autism stim to help them to manage anxiety, fear, anger, and other negative emotions. Like many people, people with autism may stim to help themselves handle overwhelming sensory input (too much noise, light, heat, etc.).

Unlike most people, though, individuals with autism may also self-stimulate constantly, and stimming may stand between them and their ability to interact with others, take part in ordinary activities, or even be included in typical classrooms. A child who regularly needs to pace the floor or slap himself in the head is certain to be a distraction for typical students.

It’s not completely clear why stimming almost always goes with autism, though it’s often called a tool for “self regulation.” As such, it may well be an outgrowth of the sensory processing dysfunction that often goes along with autism. At times, stimming can be a useful accommodation, making it possible for the autistic person to manage challenging situations. When it becomes a distraction or causes physical harm to self or others, though, it must be modified.

Lessening or modifying stims can be tricky, but several approaches may be helpful. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) may help individuals to eliminate or modify some of their stimming. Occupational therapy is another useful tool.

In some cases, stimming can be reduced with medications that address underlying issues of anxiety. Finally, some people with autism can learn through practice and coaching to either change their stims (squeeze a stress ball rather than flap, for example) or engage in excessive stimming only in the privacy of their own homes.

We try to limit the stim activities to home.  But we respect Nick’s need to manage the excess sensory input that comes into his world.  He will always grab up a few things for a car ride but knows that they need to stay in the car once we reach our destination.

Here are some of Nick’s “tappers” that he raps against his mouth.  The foam pieces are much quieter.

The Bloody hand is joining Nick for dinner 🙂

Here Nick enjoys a small music toy that lights up.  Notice the basket filled with more stim toys and guess who that is on the floor in front of Nick’s feet?

That’s right Yukon Cornelius….. “Sil-ver!”

Nothing beats a good time for Nick than a doorbell…..ding dong, ding dong, ding dong…..ha, ha ha!  🙂

At school he is given down time after his work sessions.  Here are some of Nick’s favorite stims at school. The first one is a small baby toy that is totally not age appropriate. But toys such as these are like that stuffed animal or woobie blanket we hold onto for some reason. Nick likes the music and dances with it.  It also serves for tapping.

Here’s another one he enjoys.  The frog sings “Celebrate” and there’s a party going on right here for Nick…….

This is a new acquisition.  The rat wheels across the table and floor when you pull his tail/string.  Nick loves this and enjoys pulling the string and listening to his ear…….

And of course the good ole stand by that has stood the generations of time……

Who doesn’t love a good Whoopee cushion?  🙂 I buy them anytime I see them at Walgreens and now they make them self-inflating!

Last but not least, his favorite go to stim is a can of tennis balls, tap, tap, tap and he is a happy guy 🙂

The need to stim is part of our nature.  A classic example is my brother.  Tom’s legs would rock back and forth while his hand was on the helm during a sailboat race.  The tighter the race, the faster those legs banged together.  My Mom never forgot the Carefree bubblegum otherwise he would chew the inside of his cheeks raw.  Those were his coping mechanisms to stay calm under pressure. What is your stim of choice, whether it is to keep you calm or to rev you up?

I hope this gives you some insight into the sensory world that is complex and fascinating.  Perhaps when you see a person with autism exhibiting these behaviors it will make more sense to you.  That’s what is in my noggin this week. And remember there is nothing wrong with a stim or woobie blanket to help us cope in a world that can be chaotic!  Just ask Nick………

This is how he tunes out the barrage of political ads……

Linus has it figured out too……


******News flash for those of you keeping score at home.  The fire alarm count is now at 26 pulls! Nick decided to put the “trick” in trick or treat on Halloween.  Yes, it’s Nick’s world, the rest of us are just trying to keep up!


Teresa is the Author of "A New Course: A Mother's Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism" and the mother of two boys. Her youngest son, Nick is 29 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). Teresa's passion is helping others understand and navigate co-occurring Down syndrome and autism. She is a DS-ASD consultant, advocate, speaker, and author. Follow Nick's world on Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism and on Twitter @tjunnerstall. For more information and media links, visit

4 thoughts on “Blog #29~Curious Stims

  1. This was so enlightening unto our own stims… I realized reading it Nick is not different from what we term “normal” as autism lacks the developmental advances we possess! it becomes so clear we are not so different! I respect Nick for choosing benign ways of coping over some ” normal” human beings who, smokes, abuse or have addictions that make up for thier enviromntal stimuli! My awesome son, who had severe social anxiety now rocks in chairs to the point u yell ” be still” but i see, this is his stimming mechanism…praise God he rocks! He now finds peace in the company of people!!
    Great blog! Very insightful!

    1. Thank you KB for sharing your perspective and experience with your son (who is way awesome by the way, like his madre!) Praise God indeed, thanks for reading and your insightful comments. 🙂

  2. Thank you for a “stimulating” blog. I tend to bite my nails to self soothe. No matter how much I’ve tried to break the habit, it pops back up. I think it’s genetic. My dad did it too;)

  3. Oooh – a can of tennis balls – I bet my little guy would love that too! I clasp my hands and twirl my thumbs together – if that even makes sense! I’m also a finger tapper. So far, my 3 yr old rocks, hand flaps, chews on everything – especially cardboard, plays a couple of musical toys over and over and over and over……, twirls on the floor, makes throaty/nasally noises, hmmm… maybe that’s about it. Nothing too strange 😉

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