Sensory and Stimming


A major component of Autism is sensory. Our sensory systems are responsible for how we perceive and interpret the world around us. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) just as Autism, affects everyone differently depending on the severity of the disorder. An individual may have one or more sense affected, and this can cause an a person to be over responsive or under responsive to certain stimulus in their environment. Someone can experience this with one or all senses. For some this is when things may become too loud, too bright, or too rough. And for those who are hypo-sensitive to their environment, struggle with receiving enough sesnory input. And will 'seek' it in other ways like rocking, flapping, and spinning.


These behaviors are also common responses to when a person might feel overwhelmed as well. SPD stems from disfunction in the vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile system. The vestibular system is located in your inner ear and is responsible for your sense of balance, and your ability to detect your heads movement. This can cause a person to appear clumsy or suffer from dizziness easily, and be hypersensitive to movement. Activities like swinging and going upside down are common for those who seek that type of sensory input. 

The proprioceptive system is what helps your body detect, and predict the right response to movement.

A person who has an abnormal proprioceptive sense often find with trouble fine motor tasks. Things like zipping a zipper may be more difficult due poor motor planning and sense of body awareness. In order to avoid a meltdown or feeling overwhelmed, it's common for a person to regulate their senses and calm themselves by stimming. Stimming is a series of repetitive behavior that is used to self calm and regulate a person's senses. An individual can stim in various ways including not to obvious ways, such as visually stimming. 


Olive stims all through out the day in various ways. A person stimming can tell you a lot about how they are feeling, and is also used as a tool of communication. I can tell depending on how Olive is stimming if she's overwhelmed or just 'sensory seeking'. Generally behaviors like flapping her hands, spinning herself, jumping up and down, and tip toeing are an indication of excitement and happiness. Purposely bumping into things or people, loss of speech, a deep gaze, biting her nails, and shrieking are pretty good indicators things are about to go south pretty fast. But she also stims for enjoyment. She enjoys watching T.V. upside down, and always has. This provides the pressure she craves as well as help her regulate her nervous system in a way that's not interfering with anyone else. She also vocally stims which can be rather loud. When distressed she will yell and have slurred speech. Another way she vocally stems is repeating a certain phrases, sounds, or words. Her favorite thing to do is scripting. Scripting is something she does whether someone is around or not. She sometimes insists her sister join in when it's a two person dialog. Majority of the things she repeats are her favorite Youtube videos and her favorite movies. 

A person stimming isn't always silent, at times it can be distracting. I urge you not to stop someone from stimming, but to attempt to redirect their attention if necessary. While you think stimming might not be appropriate at times, understand stimming is necessary for self regulation. Stopping someone from stimming is cruel and will likely lead to a meltdown or sensory overload.

Stimming is a vital tool for people on the spectrum, and should be respected.

I by no means am saying there is anything wrong with trying to redirect the behavior is the wrong move, but if that doesn’t work then consider giving them more time to self soothe. And if necessary find a safe place for that person to decompress. Overall, if an individual isn't hurting themselves or another person you should let them continue. You should never punish a person for self-stimming. Respect that this is important and meaningful behavior.