Stimming: What do we know and why it happens?

Stimming, also known as self-stimulating behaviors, are repetitive physical movements of the body or objects, and sounds.

So, what causes stimming? Although there is still more research to do, researchers have identified some evidence, as well as presented several hypotheses, for what causes stimming. These reasons can be split in 2 different but connected explanations: sensory stimulation and emotion regulation. 

First, stimming helps the body organize the information we receive from the environment. When a child is overstimulated, perhaps by loud noises, stimming helps by blocking out excess sensory input. Similarly, when a child is under stimulated, they engage in stimming to help increase sensory input, such has chewing on pen caps to increase oral input.  

Next, have you seen a child become so happy, they start running in circles or flapping their hands? Managing their emotions is another way that stimming presents itself. Especially at a young age when children are learning to express themselves and verbal communication is not yet strengthened. Therefore, by stimming with movement, they are managing an array of feelings. In addition, stimming helps with regulation, it is a soothing and unconscious reaction to what the body is experiencing. On a similar note, a hypothesis is that stimming causes the release of beta-endorphins in the body which provides a feeling of anesthesia or pleasure.   

Now that we know the different types of stimming, and reason why individuals engage in stimming. Stimming is primarily a natural mechanism that is often used to navigate the different needs in our body. As practitioners and family members, we can work to be accepting of stimming and move away from the stigma that can often occur when stimming is observed.