Treatments for Stimming?

By Sarah A.
Posted May 8, 2012

My 7 year old has stimmed since before the age of two. He squeezes his hands into a fist, leans forward, wiggles his fingers, and holds his breath for about 5 seconds. Then he releases a giant breath and goes right back to what he was doing before. He says he is thinking of things he likes when he does that (favorite movie, etc.). He can hear me while he's stimming, but doesn't respond until he gets it out. He also stims by hopping/flapping across a room about 10 times in a row. Other than stimming, he has no more autism symptoms and is doing very well in a typical school. Any biomedical suggestions for this? Thank you


Answered: May 13, 2012 by Dr. Sidney Baker

Happy Mother's Day!

Short answer: no. If we broaden the definition of stimming to include a variety of repetitive self-soothing gestures, we will see that most of us stim and learn to do so within socially appropriate ways except, perhaps, under stress. Of all the features of children in the spectrum, stimming is the one that most frequently persists after all else is resolved, just as you describe the situation with your son. As you know, biomedical approaches are generally not symptom-specific.

I'd love to hear from any parent who has found a non-behavioral remedy for stimming, especially in the context that you describe. A remedy would, I believe, have to aim at the visceral sensory impulses that demand his attention and respiratory and motor responses. I think he will gain more from coaching from a behavioral therapist to help him modify his stims to the point of incurring less notice from his peers. At the moment, I believe that the mid-brain is where the impulses arise. I have not seen biomedical treatment diminish stimming as an isolated remainder in a recovered child.

**Share Dr. Baker’s answer by clicking on the Share This Page bookmark located on the left side of this page.**


What if the stim is really a tic or OCD? In either case detoxification and or methylation support would be helpful.

I would definately try HANDLE and perhaps a chiropractor. Please also look at the sonrise website for attitudinal help with stimming. Best regards, MM xoxo

We have helped lessen our son's stims tremendously by running a Son-Rise Program for him. Prior to Son-Rise, our son would spend roughly 90% of the day stimming. When we started implementing Son-Rise techniques, his stimming lessened, and about 9 months after running his Son-Rise program, he is much more engaged and engaging, and stimms roughly only 30 - 40% of his time. As we continue to work with him, his need to stim continues to lesson. Hope this helps!

As an OT who works with kids on the spectrum, I agree with Dr. Baker that we all 'stim' - we all have sensory needs that need to get met. Some people bite their nails, others might nibble on the top of their pen. We just learn to do these things in a socially-appropriate way. In OT (and also in the Son-Rise program which I am also experienced in), we use the information given to us by the type of stimming a child might be doing to guide us to understanding what helps them / calms them. From that place of understanding (and acceptance) we can then suggest alternative ways to meet sensory needs that might be more socially acceptable and even more effective than the ways the child has already figured out for himself. Look into one of the great sensory books out there like Living Sensationally or The Out of Synch Child to get more info about interpreting the stimming that you are observing and how to work with your child to find even better sensory solutions. I also agree that sensory issues can be associated with remaining detox issues - make sure you're not missing something here!

Oh please please, I know everyone is entitled to their opinions but I hate to see parents running off to find "medical" treatments for their kids when behavioral interventions solve behavioral issues. It sounds as if your son has found a way to calm anxiety. Many children on the spectrum are treated with medications that help with anxiety, but instead I'd have a visit with an occupational therapist, or simply research ways you can "train" your son to self-soothe that are socially acceptable. Most kids on the spectrum don't want to do things that make them stand out as socially different, they just don't know/haven't figured out how to accomplish this like typical kids. First, your son is old enough to notice that other children don't do this. Second, if he is academically performing, he can understand that what he's doing is a "no" and that there are solutions that are "yes". Ask him what he thinks other children do while they are thinking of happy things. Do they run around flapping? I bet he can answer correctly. Then offer an alternative. Maybe he could tap his foot quietly, or feel the hem of his shirt, or do something ELSE that will reinforce the calmness he gets from stemming. As one poster suggested there are many conditions that are either defined as a symptom of or co-morbid to the spectrum. I do, however, disagree that this stim is OCD. It sounds like a classic stim to me. In fact, it sounds like a rather good one, because when your son is feeling "off", he is finding a somewhat reasonable way to calm himself without being disruptive, and he does this quickly and agreeably soldiers on thereafter. It does sound like you've got this otherwise licked so I hope you continue to allow your intuition to guide you.

Dear Mom, Please keep in mind the distinction between medical and biomedical. Contemporary medicine is dominated by pharmaceuticals with a focus on the disease. The main tools or biomedical approaches begin with the notion of balance and correcting unmet special needs to 1. get beneficial substances and forces and 2. avoid noxious ones with a focus on the individual. I agree that behavioral therapies may have effects that change the biochemical and immunological terrain. I believe however that if a person is downright drunk, behavioral therapies should await sobriety. By the same token, behavioral therapies should at least respect Nature's need her rule of individuality when it comes to nutrients, allergens, and toxins and expect better results from behavioral intervention when the equivalent of sobriety is established. The stimming question provided a particular challenging example of the difficulty that awaits us in answering the parents' and doctor's most vexing question, "Have we done everything we can for this child."

When my 21 year old son was taking 1 hour to get into bed and 1 hour to get out of bed because of stimming, he now uses medication which we would rather not do, but now he takes 2 minutes to get in and out of bed and holds a job and can operate almost completely normal. Sometimes, medication IS the answer even if we don't like it.

Don't change his stims if he's not bothered by him. How would you like it if someone told you it's wrong to scratch your nose when it itches and tries to make you do something else instead. Your nose will still itch. I'm autistic and stimming is like scratching an itch to calm down. I'm 34 years old and I don't care what people think of how I look. If I want to stim, I'll stim. (I think singing in a church choir helps my desire to vocal stim, so maybe get your kiddo into a singing program will benefit that need too.)

Just because the stimmer is not bothered by the stim doesn't mean it is right and should be accepted! I have a teen who's stim is to run off in a full sprint while flapping hands and making vocalizations no matter where she is. A lot of senior citizens are in danger of getting knocked to the ground if she runs into them. That would be a BAD day! And little children are also at risk. So not every stim can or should be accepted 100%. As in all things, you cannot make sweeping generalizations. I would welcome a less intense stim with open arms!