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Stimming, Motor Tics, or Repetitive Behavior in Autism

“Stimming” refers to self-stimulating behavior, which are repetitive physical or verbal tics common in individuals with autism. To some degree, we all exhibit stimming behaviors. Nail biting, twirling your hair, drumming your fingers on the table, or cracking your knuckles are all forms of stimming. For a child with autism, stimming might involve motor tics like rocking back and forth, licking lips, flapping hands, or repetitive blinking. It may also verbal tics like grunting, or repeating words or phrases, a behavior known as scripting or echolalia.

Stimming behaviors are not a problem by default, but can become an issue if they interfere with everyday life or create challenges for the family or others. Neurotypical individuals—that is, individuals without autism—may adjust their stimming behavior in response to social cues. For example, an individual clicking a retractable ballpoint pen might stop when they notice others around them becoming annoyed. Individuals with autism often have difficulty picking up on social cues, which can result in disruptive behavior.

Although stimming behaviors are often harmless, they can result from anxiety or stress, in which case they may be unproductive. It is worth taking note of any stimuli or environmental factors that seem to trigger repetitive behavior or tics. Encouraging communication with your child, as well as treatments such as ABA therapy can help children with autism learn to manage these behaviors and address their underlying causes.

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