Autism and stimming: Should we discourage it?

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Autism and stimming: Should we let people with autism stim?

It depends but the short answer is “yes, if they’re not harming themselves or others”.

Stimming isn’t quirky and cute for everyone. Some autistics’ stims are very intense and can actually be harmful. 

Stimming isn’t something most autistics can control — and it’s not something you even necessarily do consciously. I can’t control mine, though I wish I could. Charlie, on the other hand, like many people with autism, stims all day long and sometimes even hurts himself in the process. 

A few months ago, he got a staph infection on his scalp. It was from the incessant hitting his face while stimming. 

So is there anything wrong with stimming? Not inherently, unless:

– the autistic person is hurting themself 

– the stimming is so incessant that they can’t do anything else and it impacts their quality of life (they can’t focus, learn, or engage)

– the stimming is highly disruptive/harmful to others

Charlie’s stims are intense, but I feel lucky because some autistics stim so intensely that they have to wear a helmet 24/7 to protect themselves. A common stim is banging one’s head. 

So while some people with autism learn to control their stims and use them to self-regulate, this is far from the case for everyone on the spectrum.


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  • Reply
    Paul S.
    2020-10-05 at 8:25 AM

    Sooo, What can be done to moderate or stop harmful/injurious/incessant stimming, and/or protect the individual & others from harm?

  • Reply
    2020-11-24 at 1:41 PM

    Hi! I work in the autism care field with young children. Something we might do to attempt to reduce the frequency of a harmful stim is offer an alternative behavior that’s incompatible with the stim. For example, if a stim a child has is hitting or slapping his/her own face or hitting someone else, we typically will prompt an alternative behavior like clapping, waving, holding my hand. Those are all behaviors that a child can’t do while stimming, so they have to cease the stim for those actions. But it really depends on the age of the person and the nature of the stim.

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