What is Stimming?

Stimming, short for “self-stimulatory behaviour,” is a term that refers to the repetitive physical movements or sounds that some people engage in to self-soothe or regulate their sensory experience. Everybody stims in some way. For people with autism or other complex needs, stimming is often a way of managing or expressing emotions like excitement or anxiety.

Stimming behaviours can range from the very subtle to the obvious. Stimming could include hand flapping, rocking back and forth, hair twirling, finger tapping or even vocalisations like humming or repeating words.

It’s important to note that stimming is not exclusive to people with autism. Many neurotypical individuals also engage in self-stimulatory behaviours as a way of managing their emotions or coping with overwhelming situations.

Here you will find information on what stimming is, why people do it and how you can provide support if stimming is having a negative impact on someone you love.

Types of Stimming Behaviour

Stimming behaviour can take many forms and may even be behaviour completely unique to the individual. Below we detail some common types of stimming behaviours based on different senses. Remember that this list is not exhaustive and stimming can take many other forms as well:


  • Staring at moving objects (like ceiling fans or screensavers)
  • Staring at objects for a long time
  • Repeated blinking
  • Turning lights off and on


  • Playing the same song over and over
  • Clicking fingers
  • Clapping
  • Clicking tongue
  • Humming


  • Rubbing hands together or on different surfaces
  • Squeezing
  • Leaning


  • Whistling
  • Tongue-clicking
  • Saying the same word or phrase repeatedly (otherwise known as echolalia)


  • Biting
  • Chewing
  • Licking
  • Sniffing
  • Touching objects with tongue or teeth
  • Grinding teeth

Vestibular and Proprioceptive

  • Spinning around
  • Rocking
  • Throwing objects
  • Pacing
  • Jumping
  • Rolling

Why Do People Stim?

People stim for different reasons but it’s almost always a coping method for strong emotions such as anxiety, joy or boredom. Stimming can be a source of pleasure or enjoyment for some individuals. Repetitive movements or sensory experiences can be comforting and provide a sense of control in a world that may often feel unpredictable and overwhelming. For instance, someone with autism may flap their hands or vocalise when they are happy or excited.

But stimming can also serve as a way for a person to cope with unpleasant emotions such as uncertainty or anxiety. People may stim as a way to manage their sensory experiences and cope with overwhelming stimuli. Imagine someone that flaps their hands or rocks back and forth to self-soothe when feeling anxious or overstimulated.

Stimming can also be a way for people to express their emotions or communicate their needs. Some people use stimming as a way to communicate information or emotion, such as bouncing up and down when excited or covering their ears when overwhelmed by loud noises.

It’s important to recognize that stimming is a natural and normal behaviour for many people. It should never be discouraged or suppressed unless it poses a safety risk to the individual or others around them.

Rather than trying to eliminate stimming, the focus should be on understanding and accommodating the individual’s sensory needs. The goal should always be to support the individual and help them find healthy and safe ways to manage their emotions and sensory experiences.

Triggers for Stimming

Stimming can be triggered by any factors that cause a person to feel under or overwhelmed. Anxiety and stress are common triggers that cause a person to stim as a way of coping with these overwhelming emotions. But excitement and happiness can also cause a person to stim as a way of expressing their joy. Every individual is different.

Some of the most common triggers for stimming include:

  • Anxiety or stress
  • Positive emotions such as joy, happiness, or excitement
  • Frustration, anger, or unhappiness
  • Loud, crowded places
  • An unfamiliar setting or unfamiliar people
  • Boredom
  • A change in plans or routine
  • Reducing pain
  • Uncomfortable clothing or shoes

What is Stimming in Autism?

For people with autism, stimming often takes a unique and significant role in their lives. People with autism may find it challenging at times to navigate a world that is not always accommodating to their needs, and stimming is a way to manage the difficulties of everyday life.

Stimming often helps people with autism regulate their sensory experiences or express their emotions. For someone with autism, the world may at times feel overwhelming due to the constant sensory input coming from all directions. Stimming provides a comforting sense of control and stability in an environment that can feel chaotic and unpredictable.

Understanding and accepting stimming as natural behaviour is important in promoting the well-being and autonomy of people with autism. For many people, stimming is not only a way to cope with the overwhelming sensory input they experience but also a means of communication and self-expression.

When people are allowed to stim freely without judgement or restriction, they are often better able to regulate their emotions, reduce anxiety and stress, and engage more fully in their environment.

Supporting Someone with Stimming

Many of us engage in some form of physical expression for comfort – whether it be twirling our hair or tapping our feet. For some people, stimming is even an important form of communication and expression.

But in some cases, stimming behaviours can become harmful to the individual or those around them. If stimming is having a negative impact on someone you love, you can support them in learning positive ways to manage or prevent their stims.

Ask yourself if your loved one’s behaviour causes them discomfort or is unsafe in any way. If so, you can look into strategies for supporting that person in modifying or reducing their stimming behaviour so that they can lead a better quality of life.

Always remember that stimming is a natural behaviour that serves a purpose and should not be shamed or discouraged. If stimming is enjoyable and doesn’t cause any problems to the individual or those around them, you should not intervene to try and manage or reduce it.

Here are some strategies that can be helpful when stimming behaviour becomes concerning:

  • Sensory diet: A “sensory diet” is a form of occupational therapy that involves scheduling activities throughout the day to meet an individual’s sensory needs and reduce the need to stim.
  • Environmental changes: Reducing environmental and social stresses can help reduce the risk of sensory overload. This includes making environmental changes such as placing the person in smaller classrooms, soundproofing windows and rooms, and removing textures or lights that may be upsetting to them.
  • Stress management tools: Introducing stress management tools and objects like a stress ball or fidget toys can help some people transition to different stims.
  • Medications: In extreme cases, medications may be prescribed to reduce negative emotions such as anxiety or stress that can fuel excessive stimming. These may be continued or used just until other adaptive strategies begin to work.

Specialist Support from Liaise

Here at Liaise, we offer specialist support services for people with autism or other complex needs or specialist conditions. We provide Positive, Progressive and Personal support that empowers people with autism, learning disabilities or other complex needs to live happy, purposeful lives.

Our community-based supported living and residential care homes are so much more than just a place to live. Our dedicated teams work hard to foster inclusive and enriching environments where people with complex needs can live with greater support and independence.

We offer a range of thoughtful services and activities that promote not only self-confidence and independence but fun and joyfulness as well.

We are here to support you and your family. If you would like to learn more about our complex care and support services, do not hesitate to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.

Contact Us

Further Resources