What Is Stimming?
ADHD stimming, (short for self-stimulatory behavior), is when someone with ADHD repeats certain movements or sounds. The reasons for stimming may vary depending on the person and their environment.
To some extent, we all engage in stimming from time to time. Examples are twirling hair while talking, tapping your foot while studying, or rubbing your fingers together when nervous. The difference for someone with ADHD is that these behaviors are more severe, occur more often, and may interfere with how they function socially, at school, or at work.
Although stimming is part of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it is not unique to people with ASD. These behaviors also occur in those who have ADHD. That’s because, to some extent, many of us engage in self-stimulatory behaviors from time to time.
Types of Stimming
Below are several types of stimming with examples of stimming behavior:
- Visual – Flipping pages without looking at pictures, watching water, excessive drawing, pacing, spinning objects like coins or toys
- Verbal or auditory – Inappropriate or excessive giggling, humming, constantly singing, repetition of odd sounds and noises, compulsive throat clearing, or making throat noises
- Tactile – Rubbing fingers, chewing inside cheeks, excessive skin scratching, hair pulling, teeth grinding, biting or chewing fingernails, cracking knuckles
- Vestibular or balance-based – Spinning, rocking, swinging
- Other – Excessive gameplay or pretending, acting out a movie scene repeatedly, excessively sharpening pencils, writing numbers or days of the week over and over
What Triggers Stimming?
Stimming helps stimulate a person’s senses, but there are a handful of reasons why people feel compelled to stim and achieve stimulation. One of the most common reasons is to relieve boredom and anxiety. It can be triggered by something in the environment or being in certain situation.
For example, an individual might stim when anxiously sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office expecting to be called in soon or eagerly waiting for the results of the most recent test at school. In such cases, stimming helps expend energy that isn’t being used, and it can help redirect negative energy, like fear and anxiety.
This is why people stim when they are bored or placed in an unfamiliar or unpleasant environment. It gives them a chance to use the excess energy they have, adapts to the situations they are in, calms themselves down, and even expresses anger and frustration.
ADHD can make an individual much more sensitive and reactive to elements in the environment, and hence more likely to stim.
How to Control Stimming
Stimming is not usually an issue. However, it becomes a problem when it begins disrupting everyday functioning or results in self-harm or injury. Managing stimming may include:
- Medication – This may include stimulant or non-stimulant medications or a combination of both.
- Therapy – This typically involves behavioral therapy aimed at helping an individual learn necessary skills to self-monitor and self-regulate without stimming.
- Changing the person’s environment – Doing what can be done to eliminate or reduce triggering situations, lower stress, and provide a calming environment.
- Awareness and support– Making sure family members are aware of the issue and what triggers it. For a child in a school setting, this might involve setting up an IEP plan to help control the stimming behavior.