ADHD stimming, short for "self-stimulatory behavior," is a term that encompasses a wide range of repetitive actions and movements. These behaviors, such as nail-biting, leg-bouncing, hair-twirling, and repeating sounds, are observed in some individuals with ADHD.
Stimming serves various purposes and plays a vital role in helping individuals with ADHD self-regulate and cope with the challenges associated with the disorder. [i]
For more than 40 years, the Drake Institute has used advanced treatment technologies to design customized treatment protocols for patients with ADHD, autism, and other brain-based conditions.
To learn more about how the Drake Institute treats ADHD and many other brain-based conditions, please fill out the consultation form or call us at 800-700-4233.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects millions of individuals worldwide. It's characterized by a range of symptoms, primarily related to difficulties in sustaining attention, controlling impulses, and hyperactivity. While ADHD is most frequently diagnosed in childhood, it can persist into adolescence and adulthood.
The exact causes of ADHD are not fully understood, but both genetic and environmental factors are believed to contribute to its development. These factors can include family history, prenatal exposure to substances like tobacco, alcohol or drugs, premature birth, and low birth weight. Certain areas and functional networks of the brain are involved in attention and impulse control and show differences in individuals with ADHD.
ADHD presents itself on a spectrum, with various subtypes. The predominantly inattentive presentation is characterized by difficulties in sustaining attention, while the predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation involves impulsivity and hyperactivity. The combined presentation includes all three core symptoms. [ii]
What is stimming in ADHD and why do people with ADHD stim? People often think of stimming in autism spectrum disorder, where it can be quite pronounced, but it also can occur in ADHD.
ADHD individuals often engage in stimming behaviors as a means of self-regulation and coping with the challenges they face. Stimming serves several important purposes, offering a way to manage ADHD-related symptoms and challenges.
These behaviors can manifest in various forms, including nail-biting, leg-bouncing, hair-twirling, and more. Understanding why and how people with ADHD stim can shed light on the unique needs of ADHD individuals and how stimming helps them navigate their daily lives. [iii] [iv]
For many ADHD individuals, stimming provides a way to combat boredom and restlessness. When they find themselves in situations that require focusing on non-preferred or boring tasks, stimming behaviors can be a compensatory mechanism to stay focused on a boring task.
Stimming can also serve as a form of self-soothing for ADHD individuals. It offers comfort and relief from the emotional and sensory overload that can accompany ADHD. When they experience stress or anxiety, stimming behaviors can provide a calming effect and reduce feelings of distress.
Another crucial aspect of stimming for ADHD individuals is the release of excess energy. The disorder can bring heightened levels of physical and mental energy, which can become overwhelming if not channeled appropriately. Stimming allows them to expend this surplus energy, reducing restlessness and aiding in improved focus.
ADHD individuals may experience sensory overload in their daily lives, as they can experience increased sensitivity to external stimuli that can be quite uncomfortable. Stimming behaviors may help reduce the impact of overwhelming sensory input.
Impulsivity is a core symptom of many individuals with ADHD, and according to Psych Central, some individuals with ADHD may have a difficult time delaying gratification. These ADHD patients may stim because they feel immediate gratification. [v]
ADHD stimming behaviors encompass a wide spectrum of actions that individuals with ADHD may engage in. These behaviors can manifest in various forms, serving different sensory needs. Understanding the range of stimming behaviors can offer insights into how ADHD individuals navigate their world. ADHD stimming examples include: [vi] [vii]
Visual stimming behaviors in ADHD individuals often involve repetitive movements or actions related to sight. This may include activities like eye blinking, drawing, or flipping through pages.
Verbal stimming encompasses repetitive vocalizations or speech patterns. Individuals with ADHD might repeat words or phrases, engage in echolalia (repeating what they hear), or create their own verbal rituals.
Auditory stimming involves repetitive engagement with sounds or noises. This can include tapping, humming, or even listening to sounds repeatedly.
Tactile stimming behaviors are associated with physical touch. ADHD individuals may engage in activities like rubbing fabric, playing with objects, or scratching surfaces.
Stimming behaviors related to smell are less common but still exist. This might include repeatedly smelling an object or one's own skin. It is self-soothing.
Vestibular stimming involves repetitive movements of the body, often related to balance and motion. Examples can include rocking back and forth, swaying, or spinning.
ADHD and stimming can go hand in hand. It's essential to recognize that stimming is a natural coping mechanism for many, and in ADHD individuals, it can be entirely harmless, providing a mechanism for managing ADHD-related symptoms.
On the positive side, stimming often helps ADHD individuals self-regulate and maintain focus. It can serve as a comforting and grounding mechanism in overwhelming or stressful situations, reducing anxiety and improving attention span. For some, stimming is an effective way to release excess energy, which is a common feature of ADHD with hyperactivity.
However, there can be drawbacks to stimming. In some cases, these behaviors may become disruptive to others or potentially lead to physical harm. For instance, excessively biting fingernails or picking scabs can result in injury or infection. In many cases, stimming is harmless and does not lead to negative outcomes, but in cases where stimming does lead to negative outcomes, the behavior should be addressed. [viii] [ix]
So, are stimming behaviors a sign of ADHD? Stimming can be seen in ADHD; however, stimming behaviors are not exclusive to ADHD—they’re also commonly associated with autism. While there are some similarities in the stimming behaviors observed in both disorders, there are also distinct differences that set them apart.
ADHD stimming behavior can be self-soothing and can help sustain focusing on tasks. [x]
In contrast, stimming in autism is hypothesized to compensate for experiencing overstimulation or under-stimulation, may help with pain reduction, managing emotions, and can also help with self-soothing.[xi] Stimming in autism seems to be more prevalent and pervasive. Furthermore, we have seen stimming involving sensory issues to be much more common in autism than in ADHD. [xii]
Managing ADHD stimming behaviors is a constructive approach to ensure they serve their intended purpose without becoming disruptive or harmful. There are various strategies to help individuals with ADHD effectively manage stimming behaviors. [xiii] [xiv]
At the Drake Institute, we’ve found that the best way to reduce ADHD-driven stimming behavior is to treat the underlying causes of ADHD; brain dysregulation. Our brain map-guided neurofeedback treatment helps reduce dysregulation to optimize brain functioning, reducing the need for compensatory stimming behaviors. Below are some secondary strategies that may help with stimming.
The first step in managing ADHD stimming behaviors is to identify triggers. Recognizing the situations, emotions, or sensory inputs that lead to stimming can offer insights into the specific needs that these behaviors address. By understanding the triggers, individuals can be helped to create strategies that minimize the need for stimming as a coping mechanism.
Exploring alternative self-regulation techniques may further assist. For example, deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, or fidgeting tools can serve as effective substitutes for stimming behaviors. These alternatives provide individuals with healthier ways to manage their symptoms and stay focused, particularly in situations where stimming might be disruptive.
Lifestyle adjustments can play a role in reducing negative stimming behaviors. Adequate sleep, a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and effective time management can contribute to improved self-regulation. A healthy lifestyle helps reduce ADHD symptoms and the need for stimming.
Finally, executive functioning training can enhance your executive functioning skills by having a professional help you develop skills in planning, organization, prioritizing, and time management.
The diagnosis of ADHD involves a comprehensive evaluation that includes clinical and developmental history.
To determine whether an individual has ADHD, healthcare professionals typically follow specific criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The evaluation assesses if the individual exhibits the core symptoms of ADHD, including inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Additionally, the symptoms must be present for a specific duration and cause significant impairment in multiple areas of life, such as school, work, or social relationships.
The diagnostic process involves clinical interviews, history, and standardized symptom rating scales. At the Drake Institute we also include quantitative EEG brain mapping to identify any dysregulated regions or functional networks in the brain linked to symptoms. [xv]
Over the last 40 years, the Drake Institute has clinically pioneered the use of advanced treatment technologies to treat a variety of brain-based medical disorders such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, PTSD, anxiety, panic disorder, depression, insomnia, and more. Using a combination of brain map-guided neurofeedback and sometimes neurostimulation, our Medical Director creates customized treatment protocols to address each patient's needs.
To develop our individualized treatment plans, we first complete a qEEG brain map analysis for each patient. Brain mapping helps us identify which specific regions or networks of the brain are dysregulated linked to symptoms.
To collect this data, 19 sensors are placed around the scalp in areas of the brain responsible for language, focus, memory, executive functioning, social/emotional understanding, and behavioral/emotional regulation. The 19 sensors measure and record brainwave activity that is processed through a normative database of neurotypical individuals.
When we compare the patient's results with those of neurotypical individuals, we can identify regions or networks of the brain that are dysregulated and causing symptoms. This information also allows us to determine how these areas are dysregulated so that we can develop specific treatment protocols that help improve brain functioning and reduce symptoms.
During neurofeedback training/treatment, sensors are once again placed on the scalp. The sensors record and display instantaneous brainwave activity visually in real-time on a computer screen with simultaneous auditory feedback as well.
During neurofeedback sessions, the patient is seeing the results of how their brain is working and with this information, they learn to improve their brainwave activity by guiding it toward healthier, more appropriately functional brainwave patterns.
We do not administer any drugs or perform invasive procedures during this process. Instead, the patient is improving their own brain functioning, guided by visual and auditory feedback.
As an adjunct to neurofeedback, we may also use neurostimulation guided by qEEG brain map findings to gently stimulate the brain into healthier functional patterns. In our experience, some patients may benefit even more from neurofeedback if we also use neurostimulation. We have found this particularly helpful for lower-functioning children on the Autism Spectrum.
In the last forty years, Drake has helped thousands of patients with various disorders such as autism, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, panic disorder, depression, insomnia, migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and hypertension reduce or resolve their symptoms and thereby achieve a better quality of life. Call us at 1-800-700-4233 or fill out the free consultation form to get started.
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Interview with Dr. David Velkoff
Interview with Dr. David Velkoff
Spanish News Feature
“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”