ADHD and Stimming

TLDR: Stimming and ADHD

Stimming, or self-stimulatory behavior, includes repetitive actions like hand flapping or verbal repetition to self-soothe or regulate sensory experiences. ADHD individuals engage in stimming to manage their eight senses, including proprioceptive, vestibular, and interoceptive senses, which govern body movement, balance, and internal sensations respectively.

Types of Stimming: Stimming spans various senses, such as physical (rocking), visual (watching spinning objects), auditory (humming), tactile (rubbing surfaces), and oral (chewing objects).

ADHD and Autism: Stimming is crucial for individuals with ADHD and autism for sensory and emotional regulation. However, it can be stigmatized, leading to shame and misunderstanding.

Mental Stims: Cognitive stims, like repeating phrases mentally, serve similar purposes to physical stims but are less noticeable.

Stimming vs. OCD: While both involve repetitive behaviors, stimming is comforting and self-regulating, whereas OCD behaviors cause distress.


What is Stimming?

Stimming, an abbreviation for “self-stimulatory behavior,” involves repetitive movements, sounds, or actions, such as hand flapping, rocking, spinning, or verbal repetition. This behavior is often a method for individuals to self-soothe, manage anxiety, or regulate sensory experiences, ranging from sensory overload to boredom.

adhd and stimming

ADHD and Stimming Across the Eight Senses

Beyond the traditional five senses—sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell—three additional senses play a role in stimming: proprioceptive, vestibular, and interoceptive.

  1. Proprioceptive Sense: This sense helps us understand the position and movement of our bodies.
  2. Vestibular Sense: Governing balance and spatial orientation, this sense is engaged through activities like spinning or jumping to regulate coordination and focus.
  3. Interoceptive Sense: This involves perceiving internal sensations such as hunger, thirst, and heartbeat.

Stimming often engages multiple senses, aiming to regulate sensory experiences. By observing the type of stim, one can gain insights into the sensory regulation being sought.

Types of Stimming Corresponding to Senses

  1. Physical Stimming: Involves repetitive movements like hand flapping, rocking, spinning, jumping, pacing, or fidgeting with objects.
  2. Visual Stimming: Encompasses activities like staring at lights, watching spinning or flickering objects, and observing repetitive patterns.
  1. Auditory Stimming: Includes behaviors such as humming, making repetitive noises, or echoing words or phrases.
  2. Tactile Stimming: Relates to touch sensations, including rubbing or scratching surfaces, exploring textures, or seeking pressure through hugs or squeezes.
  3. Oral Stimming: Involves mouth-related activities like chewing objects, sucking on fingers or clothing, biting nails, or creating repetitive mouth movements.

Examples of ADHD Stimming

Stimming behaviors can vary greatly among individuals and some may not be immediately recognized as such.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Tapping fingers or feet: This is a common behavior that many people do, often without realizing it.
  2. Twirling hair: This can be a soothing behavior, especially when a person is nervous or thinking.
  3. Biting or chewing on objects: This can include pens, pencils, or the insides of cheeks.
  4. Blinking excessively or rapidly: This may be a less obvious form of stimming.
  5. Repeating words or phrases: This is also known as verbal stimming.
  6. Humming or making other noises: These sounds can be soothing to the person making them.
  7. Tracing patterns or shapes: This can be done on a surface, in the air, or on one’s own body.
  8. Fidgeting with objects: This can include things like paper clips, jewelry, or stress balls.
  9. Pacing or walking in a specific pattern: This can be a way to expend energy or reduce anxiety.

Remember, stimming is not inherently wrong or something to be discouraged. It’s a natural behavior that can help individuals regulate their emotions and attention and organize sensory input when overwhelmed and stressed. However, if stimming behaviors become disruptive or harmful, it may be necessary to seek help from a healthcare professional.


ADHD and Stimming

While stimming is common in many neurodevelopmental disorders, the way it presents in ADHD can be a little different from how it appears in conditions like Autism. For instance, people with ADHD might stim to expend excess energy or to help them focus. Stimming plays a crucial role in self-regulation and organizing sensory systems.

Stimming is a critical way of self-regulation

It’s not a ‘bad’ behavior that needs to be stopped, but a coping mechanism that serves a purpose. If stimming behaviors are harming you in some way, then you should try to find a suitable replacement for the purpose it’s serving.

Abuse Against Adhd and Autistic People who Stim

In “Unmasking Autism”, Dr. Devon Price describes stimming as an essential means of self-regulation for autistic people. It can involve a variety of methods and make use of any of the eight senses.

Here are the five main ways autistic people use stimming to help them

  • Sensory Regulation: Stimming can help manage sensory overload. For example, a person who is hypersensitive to their environment might use stimming to distract or soothe themselves.
  • Emotional Regulation: Stimming can help individuals manage their emotions. For instance, someone might stim when they are anxious or excited to help calm themselves down.
  • Focus and Concentration: Some people find that certain types of stimming, such as fidgeting or pacing, can improve their focus and concentration.
  • Self-expression: Stimming can be a form of self-expression, especially for individuals who might struggle with traditional forms of communication.
  • Comfort and Pleasure: Many individuals find stimming to be comforting or pleasurable.

ADHD and Stimming Shame

Many Autistic and ADHD people had experiences where they were stopped from stimming or punished from stimming when they were younger. For example, being told to sit still or stop fidgeting is a form of this. Effectively, this taught them not to trust their own innate ability to regulate themselves. This had a negative impact on their sense of self and their ability to engage in regulating their sensory system, and they felt they could trust the signals from their body. Now, they may feel shame.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma and misunderstanding surrounding stimming, especially in relation to ADHD and autism. Many people view stimming as “weird” or “abnormal,” and this can lead to bullying, discrimination, and even abuse against individuals who engage in stimming behaviors.

It is crucial for us to speak out against this abuse and advocate for the rights and well-being of individuals with ADHD and autism. Stimming is not a sign of weakness or abnormality; it is a valid and vital part of who they are.

ADHD and Stimming can be Mental

These are less noticeable than physical stims because they happen inside a person’s mind. Some examples include: 1. Repeating words, phrases, or sequences in one’s head. 2. Visualizing patterns, sequences, or scenarios repetitively. 3. Mental math or counting. 4. Creating or following complex thought patterns or stories. These mental stims can serve the same purpose as physical stims, providing comfort, focus, or a way to manage anxiety or sensory overload. However, because they are internal, they can be more challenging for others to recognize or understand.

ADHD and Stimming can be Misdiagnosed as OCD

There can be some overlap between the behaviors associated with stimming and those seen in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Both can involve repetitive behaviors or thoughts. However, there are key differences. Stimming is a self-regulating behavior. It’s typically a coping mechanism to manage sensory overload, anxiety, or other overwhelming experiences. Stimming behaviors are usually comforting to the individual. On the other hand, OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by unwanted, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or rituals (compulsions) that the person feels driven to perform. These compulsions are often performed to mitigate the anxiety caused by the obsessions. Unlike stimming, OCD behaviors can cause significant distress and interfere with a person’s daily life. While there can be similarities, it’s important not to conflate them. If there’s concern about OCD or if repetitive behaviors are causing distress or impairment, it’s vital to seek a professional evaluation.

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