Stimming - opinions please | Ambitious about Autism
Skip to Content

Stimming - opinions please

Mullybum's picture

Stimming - opinions please

Thu 27 Jun 2013 7:29am

My little boy has just turned 3 and does a lot of stimming. Mainly spinning, running up and down or round in circles. He also flaps a little bit. We don't do anything to stop this. But one stim that is a bit of a concern is hitting himself in the head. (He will do it in anger as well during a tantrum or meltdown but then it's a lot harder.) 

I read recently an article written by an autistic adult that said you should not try to stop stimming unless the person is really going to hurt themselves. So head banging on floor etc or hitting themselves with objects should be stopped - but if a person is hitting themselves with their own hands then they can't actually really hurt themselves so should be allowed to continue. 

What does everyone think? I've been stopping him from doing it, should I have been or is it a way of calming himself that he needs to do?

Back to discussions
Read our guidelines

  • MikeS's picture

    This is a really interesting question, Sharon. I can see how it can be very difficult to know exactly where to draw the line with certain stims. How hard does he hit himself?

    Mike - Former Community Manager
  • Snowdrop's picture

    Hi Sharon

    Did you see my post in your meltdown thread about this? 

    I don't stop my 2 stimming as I feel they only do it as and when necessary but I wouldn't let them hurt themselves doing it and would stop that, as I mentioned in the other thread, have you thought about using a head guard so he can still stim in this way but not get hurt at the same time?

    Tracy - Retired Community Champion
  • Mullybum's picture

    Hi Guys!

    Hi Mike - he doesn't do it that hard to be honest if he's happy and just doing it for feedback, but he does it harder when he's upset or angry. I've tried to find the article that I googled yesterday but can't, but basically they were saying that if you try to hit yourself with your own hands then you can't actually do yourself any harm as there is something which automatically stops you from really hurting yourself. Obviously different if you are using an object to hit yourself with or head banging surfaces.

    Hi Tracy yes I read your reply thank you Smile It's not so much the head banging that I'm wondering about but him using his own hands (he kind of uses the outside of his wrists) to hit himself for feedback. And the article said you can't actually hurt yourself properly doing this. I'm really confused about whether to leave him to do it or try to stop him which could then end up in him getting upset and doing worse things if you know what I mean. 

    He's also doing headstands constantly, for the pressure on his head. The OT couldn't tell me if this was dangerous or not but quite often he does it with things in his hands and then lifts up his arms so he's only balancing on his head (legs are up on the wall, fire guard, stair gate, door, sofa, anywhere really) and I'm so scared if he slips he will hurt his neck or worse. But if I stop him he gets really upset Sad xx

  • Cat30's picture

    Hi Sharon, 

    I went to research autism's conference on challenging behaviour and if you are a member you can watch the speakers on their website.  Chris Oliver from Birmingham University talked about some research they were looking at into self injurious behaviour   (sIB).

    He felt that there was strong evidence to suggest a link between sib and pain. Which explains why for example it can happen intensively for a period and then disappear for a whilw. I have seen this in my sister who will pull bits of hair and scalp out then the wound hurts so she keeps poking at it Making it worse and then it just goes on and on. 

    So I expect they are right and he can't really damage himself severely but he might give himself a bit of a headache And then later bang his head on the floor to block the pain from the headache.  Which I know sounds weird but a bit like when you push on your tooth when you have a toothache. It really hurts for a short while but then it goes dead for a bit.

    Another thing he talked about was impulsivity. Children with autism sometimes literally can't stop themselves but sometimes they actually want to be stopped.  Now this sounds a bit barbaric but they had some arm splints for a little girl so she couldn't bend her arms and reach  her head BUT when she got anxious she actually asked for the splints to be put on. My sister will grab our hands so that we can restrain her hands from picking at her face.

    I don't know whether any of this is relevant! But it feels to me a bit like a milder version of his head banging. I think something you have picked up on with your son is telling you that it isn't a great idea. This is why you are trying to stop it. Given only you will know the full context in which it is happening, I wouldn't dismiss your gut reaction too quickly. On the other hand it is always worth keeping an open mind!

  • LilR's picture

    Hiya Sharon

    I am just going on what we have experienced, which hasn't been too bad compared to some, but we did stop him from whcking his head on flor, and he i go through a phase of slapping his head but we stopped him, BUT only because we didn't realise what it was and he would have hurt himself, we have only really started learning about Autism over the past 9 months, so I am looking back on his preschool years. 

    He does verbally stim, alot, some days I have to go into another room because its a constant.. Dooo, dooo , dooo, but we pretty used to it, 

    Paul Isaacs said NOT to discourage, as its a reassurance thing, but obviously if they could harm themselves then thats a totally different thing. xx

  • connieapmag's picture

    Hi Sharon, stimming or stim is a shortened term for self-stimulation and is one of the many indicators of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A person who stims shows repetitive body movements that can involve all five senses or moving objects in a repetitive motion. It is also called “stereotypy.”

    Although the exact cause of stimming is not yet known, some studies suggest that stimming is a way to seek internal pleasure and comfort.

    The theory further states that when a person stims, the nervous system is aroused, releasing a chemical in the brain called beta-endorphins. Beta-endorphins are responsible for producing dopamine, which is known to increase pleasure.

    Another theory suggests that stimming is a way to block out over-stimulation. This is especially true for hypersensitive individuals who frequently experience sensory overload and want to feel calm.

    Please continue reading this ultimate guide on autism stimming to learn how you can help your little boy: Autism Stimming: Causes, Management, and Types

    Now about headbanging and other self harming behavior, we suggest that you check our guide for Autism, Head Banging and other Self Harming Behavior

    It includes discussions such as why do autistic children hit themselves, how to stop autistic child from hitting, what triggers headbanging, and more.

Back to discussions

Back to top