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Not All Stims Are Created Equal (Part 1)

Early Signs of Self-Stimulating Behavior


Before we started Early Intervention with Simon, my knowledge of Stims (Self-Stimulating Behavior) was limited to what I observed in TV shows and movies. Based on those portrayals, I thought all children with Autism either hand flapped or spun in circles. THIS is why awareness is so important; to help educate parents who might miss early sign of autism and therefore miss early opportunities for intervention.

If I could rewrite the definition, Stimming would mean any repetitive behavior used to either soothe or escape from an otherwise over/under stimulating environment. Some behaviors can be redirected to meet the child’s needs more appropriately and some stims even help with development. While other stims create barriers for learning and can impede development.

Our Soothing Stims:

For my child with a speech delay, who for the longest time would only use signs or a single word to communicate, the "scripting” stim took us all by surprise. Scripting is repeating phrases, songs, or even entire scenes from a show over and over. We soon realized this was a means for him to practice language. For example, one of his favorite YouTube videos was a boy and his Dad playing in the park. In the video when the boy falls down, the Dad says “Oops, are you okay?” Then one day, Simon and I were running around the house and Simon fell shouting aloud “Oops, are you okay?”

stim-scripting-autismAnother way he uses scripting to self soothe is during therapies. Sometimes, he doesn’t want to complete the task asked of him, but he knows he has to, so he’ll repeat an entire episode of Thomas or sing every Moana song in order. It’s not a barrier behavior since he’s completing the task, but it helps his focus and de-stress. It's like waiting in line at the DMV; you don’t want to be there, but you have to so you start humming the last song you heard on the radio. It helps calm you down and pass the time.

He also likes to walk on his tiptoes, like he’s wearing high heels on the runway. Actually, he walks better in pretend heels than I can in real life! This is another soothing stim when things become overwhelming. He’s getting less input in his sensitive feet and therefore controlling the stimulation.

Interestingly enough, through all the different Stims that have evolved, none of them were hand flapping.

What are some of the Stims your child has experienced? Share in the comments! And check back tomorrow for my follow-up post about harmful and barrier Stims.

*If you have any concerns about your child, please discuss with their pediatrician or contact your local school district or Early Intervention center for an evaluation.*


Rielly is a part-time writer and full-time mama to an adorable autistic toddler. Her favorite hobbies include naptime, drinking coffee, and pedicures. Follow her online @

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