What is Stimming in Autism?

Autistic stimming is a unique type of behavior that serves as a coping mechanism to deal with overwhelming situations, emotions, or thoughts. “Stimming” refers to “self-stimulation” and usually consists of repetitive body movements like hand flapping or rocking back and forth. Autism stimming behaviors vary from person to person, and some people with autism may not exhibit any at all.

These self-soothing behaviors in autism are often performed by teenagers or children with autism who are feeling particularly anxious or stressed. In some serious cases, stimming can become disruptive or damaging to the person, as in the case of intense hand flapping or fingernail biting. Sometimes, these behaviors can prevent the person from paying attention or interacting with others. [i]

The Drake Institute uses advanced treatment technologies to create customized treatment protocols for patients with autism. Brain map-guided neurofeedback and neurostimulation help our ASD patients reduce symptoms and lead more fulfilling and successful lives. For more information regarding our non-drug treatment programs, call us at 800-700-4233 or fill out the contact form.  


What Is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that ranges from mild to severe and includes repetitive behaviors, impaired social communication, restricted interests, and rigidity.

Formerly, autism was considered a separate diagnosis from similar disorders like Asperger’s Disorder, childhood disintegration disorder, and PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified. However, in 2013, these were reclassified to all fit under the umbrella term Autism Spectrum Disorder.

There are no definitive causes of autism, though there are believed to be environmental and genetic factors involved. Autism affects people of all ethnic and sociocultural backgrounds, though minorities are reported to be diagnosed less often and later in life.

In the US, about 1 in 44 children has an ASD diagnosis. Boys are diagnosed at a much higher rate than girls, but this may be due to gender bias in diagnosing and because autistic girls tend to do a better job of masking their behavior and symptoms. [ii] [iii]

What is Stimming?

So, what is stimming in autism, and what function does it serve?

Essentially, autistic stimming helps one cope with feeling anxious, bored, or excited. Stimming is a common activity even in non-autistic individuals. Hair twirling, nail-biting, toe-tapping, and knuckle-cracking are all common stimming examples.

Autistic stimming is often engaged when a person is feeling overstimulated by things they cannot control or when they are understimulated, or to reduce pain, or to self-soothe.

Types of Stimming

Many different types of stimming can help an autistic person cope with uncomfortable situations. Stimming behaviors generally include repetitive body movements or behaviors. They may also include visual stimulation or changing body posture. Common stimming examples include: [iv]

  • Hand & finger mannerisms (e.g., finger flicking, hand-flapping, etc.)
  • Unusual body movements (e.g., rocking back and forth when sitting and/or standing, etc.)
  • Posturing (e.g., arching back when sitting, holding hands or fingers out at an angle, etc.)
  • Visual stimulation (e.g., looking at an object sideways, fluttering fingers near eyes, etc.)
  • Repetitive behaviors (e.g., opening or closing doors, turning lights off and on, etc.)

How Stimming Can Affect Children & Teens

In most cases, stimming is not dangerous to the autistic person but rather a self-soothing behavior. However, sometimes stimming can negatively impact children and teens.

Some behaviors can cause physical injury to the child or teen. Hand-biting, head-banging, excessive skin-picking, and other stimming activities can cause bodily injury. Additionally, stimming can draw the child’s attention inward, which makes interacting with others even more difficult. In some cases, stimming may persist into adulthood and be disruptive in their life. [v]

Why Do Autistic Children Stim

Autistic children stim for several reasons. Typically, stimming helps cope with uncomfortable feelings or situations. Since stimming is something even neurotypical people do, it makes sense that autistic individuals who struggle to adapt to difficult or new situations engage in these behaviors on a more regular basis or with more intensity. The following are some of the main reasons why children with autism stim. [vi]


When a child is overstimulated by sensory inputs, they can quickly become overwhelmed. Auditory overstimulation is uncomfortable and can even be painful. Stimming is a way to mitigate the uncomfortable experience of overstimulation.


Likewise, when a child is under-stimulated, they may engage in stimming to provide the sensory input they are lacking. Boredom or distraction may lead to stimming.

Pain Reduction

It’s been speculated that certain stimulatory actions may cause the release of beta-endorphins by the brain, which could produce a pleasant feeling that reduces overall pain. Head-banging or body-slapping are stimming behaviors that may be associated with pain reduction.

Management of emotions

Emotions are particularly challenging for autistic individuals to manage. When emotions, positive or negative, become overwhelming, they can trigger a stimming behavior. Excess excitement may spur on hand-flapping. Meanwhile, negative emotions like frustration or fear can cause stims that could be physically injurious.


Overall self-soothing behavior, such as thumb-sucking, is another reason an autistic child may indulge in stimming. Other self-soothing behaviors in autism include humming, rocking back and forth, or listening to the same song over and over.

Are Repetitive Behaviors Unique to Autism?

Repetitive behaviors and stimming are not necessarily unique to autistic individuals. Even neurotypical people may stim from time to time. Whistling, back-cracking, nail-picking, hair-twirling, and finger-tapping can all be considered stimming.

Stimming is also present in people with other disorders in addition to autism. Rett’s Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and other conditions are associated with stimming.  [vii] [viii]

Can Stimming Be Reduced?

Reducing stimming is important when excessive stimming is disruptive in a child’s life.  We have seen the most improvement in stimming by directly treating the brain’s dysregulation linked to symptoms.

How The Drake Institute Treats Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder can be significantly improved with the appropriate treatment protocols. The Drake Institute uses advanced treatment technologies such as brain map-guided neurofeedback and neurostimulation to improve the symptoms of autism.

Treatments are non-drug and noninvasive, making them safe for children, teens, and adults. Moreover, these treatments address the underlying dysregulation of the brain linked to symptoms.

Brain Mapping

The Drake Institute uses qEEG brain mapping to guide treatment. During brain mapping, our Medical Director analyzes the patient’s brainwave activity to map out the areas of dysregulation. To do this, we record brainwave activity from 19 sensors placed around the patient’s scalp.

This brainwave activity is then processed through an FDA-registered normative database of neurotypical individuals to assess for deviations or imbalances in functional brain networks.


Neurofeedback therapy is the next step in treating autism in boys and girls. Our Medical Director uses the patient’s brain map to create a neurofeedback treatment protocol based on their symptoms.

These treatment protocols help reduce symptoms of autism by enabling the patient to guide their brain activity towards more functional, healthier patterns. To maximize improvement in some patients, biomedical abnormalities may also need to be ruled out or identified and addressed.


In addition to neurofeedback, we may also use neurostimulation guided by qEEG brain map findings to gently stimulate the brain into more functional patterns. In our experience, some patients may benefit even more from neurofeedback training if we also include neurostimulation. We have found this to be particularly helpful for patients with more severe autism symptoms.

Contact The Drake Institute Today!

For over forty years, Drake has helped patients with various disorders such as autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, migraine headaches, and hypertension to reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Call us at 1-800-700-4233 or fill out the free consultation form.


[i] https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/behaviour/common-concerns/stimming-asd

[ii] https://childmind.org/article/autistic-girls-overlooked-undiagnosed-autism/

[iii] https://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-statistics-asd

[iv] https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/behaviour/common-concerns/stimming-asd

[v] https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/behaviour/common-concerns/stimming-asd

[vi] https://childmind.org/article/autism-and-stimming/

[vii] https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/repetitive-behaviors-and-stimming-in-autism-explained/

[viii] https://childmind.org/article/autism-and-stimming/    

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“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.”

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