Stimming in Autistic People: Causes, Management, and Differences
April 20, 2023

Stimming in Autistic People: Causes, Management, and Differences

The world looks and feels different to individuals with autism. They engage in certain behaviors that are caused by a myriad of things, stimuli, or thoughts. One of these behaviors is stimming.

What is stimming?

Stimming , or self-stimulatory behavior, is a common occurrence in people with autism. It refers to repetitive actions or movements an individual engages in, often without any obvious purpose or function. Examples of stimming include hand-flapping, rocking, spinning, repeating words or phrases, and other repetitive behaviors.

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Stimming is not necessarily a negative or problematic behavior. In fact, for many individuals with autism, it can serve as a coping mechanism or a way to regulate their sensory experiences. However, this behavior pattern in autism or other developmental disorders can also be disruptive or interfere with daily activities, and in these cases, it may be necessary to find ways to manage or reduce stimming behaviors.

This behavior is often associated with autism, but it is important to note that not all individuals with autism engage in it, and not all individuals who engage in stimming are autistic. It can also be present in individuals with other developmental disabilities or sensory processing disorders.

What causes stimming in autistic people?

stimming causes

The causes of stimming in individuals with autism can vary. In some cases, stimming may be a response to sensory overload or a way for the individual to regulate their sensory experiences. For example, an individual with autism may engage in hand-flapping when they are feeling anxious or overwhelmed by loud noises or bright lights. This behavior can provide them with a sense of comfort and control , and help them to calm down.

In other cases, stimming may be a way for the individual to express their emotions or communicate their needs. For instance, an individual with autism who engages in repetitive vocalizations may be trying to communicate their frustration or excitement. In these situations, it may be necessary to teach the individual alternative ways of expressing their emotions, such as using gestures or pictures.

Overall, the causes of stimming in individuals with autism can be complex and varied. Understanding the underlying causes of stimming can help in developing strategies to manage or reduce stimming behaviors. It may be helpful to work with a therapist or other healthcare professional to identify the causes of the behavior and develop a plan for managing them.

How does stimming differ in autistic people?

Stimming can differ in individuals with autism, as each person is unique and may exhibit different stimming behaviors. Some people may engage in mild stimming that is barely noticeable, while others may engage in more intense or disruptive stimming behaviors. The type, intensity, and frequency of stimming can also change over time.

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In addition, the way that stimming is perceived and responded to can vary among individuals with autism. Some individuals may be aware of their stimming and find it difficult to control, while others may engage in stimming without realizing it. Some individuals may find their stimming behaviors comforting or enjoyable, while others may be embarrassed or ashamed of their stimming. It is important to approach each individual with autism and their stimming behaviors with empathy and understanding.

How can stimming be managed in autistic people?

Stimming can be managed in various ways, depending on the individual and the situation. Some strategies for managing stimming in people with autism include:

1. Reducing the intensity of stimming behaviors

One way to manage stimming is to help the person find alternative, less intense ways to stimulate themselves. For example, if an individual is engaging in hand-flapping, providing them with a soft object/toy to squeeze or fidget with can redirect their attention and provide a more enjoyable sensory stimulation or experience.

fidget toy stimming

2. Reducing the frequency of stimming behaviors

Another way to manage stimming is to help the person identify triggers that may lead to stimming and develop strategies to avoid or cope with those triggers. For example, if a person tends to stim more when they are feeling overwhelmed, providing them with tools to manage stress, such as deep breathing exercises or a quiet space to retreat to, may help reduce the frequency of stimming behaviors. By understanding and addressing the underlying causes of stimming, we can help individuals with autism manage their behaviors in a more effective way.

3. Eliminating stimming behaviors altogether

It is important to remember that stimming serves a function . When thinking about it, the underlying reason should be examined and the purpose the stimming is serving should be looked at. Sometimes, it is more beneficial for the individual to continue engaging in stimming behavior as it is soothing for them.

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However, sometimes stimming can cause physical harm to individuals. In some cases, it may be appropriate to work towards eliminating stimming behaviors altogether. This should be done carefully and with compassion, as stimming can serve an important function for some individuals with autism. This can involve setting clear expectations and boundaries for behavior, as well as using positive reinforcement to encourage alternative behaviors. If the goal is to eliminate stimming, it is important to work closely with a qualified therapist who can help develop a plan that is tailored to the individual’s needs and respects their unique experiences and perspective.


Stimming, or repetitive behaviors, is a common trait among autistic individuals. These behaviors can be caused by a variety of factors, including sensory overload, anxiety, or a lack of stimulation. They can even provide a sense of comfort and self-regulation for some individuals on the spectrum.

Managing stimming behaviors can be a challenge for both the individual with autism and their loved ones. It’s important to remember that every individual on the spectrum is unique and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s also important to recognize that stimming is a natural part of being on the autism spectrum and should not be viewed as a negative behavior. By understanding the causes and differences of stimming in autistic individuals, it’s possible to support and manage these behaviors in a way that promotes self-regulation and overall well-being.


This article is examined by Clinical Child Psychologist and Ph. D. Researcher Kevser Çakmak, and produced by Otsimo Editorial Team.

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This post does not provide medical advice. See Additional Information.