What is stimming, and how does it relate to ADHD?

adhd and stimming

Stimming, an abbreviation for "self-stimulatory behavior," involves repetitive movements, sounds, or actions, such as hand flapping, rocking, spinning, or verbal repetition. It helps Adhd'ers and other people with neurodivergence self-soothe, manage anxiety, or regulate sensory experiences, ranging from sensory overload to boredom.


How does stimming relate to adhd?


Because Adhd people often become dysregulated, stimming is a common and useful behavior for them. They may use it to help them increase focus regulate their senses, calm down, help with distraction, regulate emotions, even help with attention management!


The important thing to know is that neurodivergent nervous system quickly become dysregulated in a world not built for them. Stimming is a natural way to help themselves.


What role does sensory processing play in stimming behavior in individuals with ADHD?.

Just like autistic people, adhd people use stimming to help with sensory regulation.
To understand stimming, we need to understand the 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 involves perceiving internal sensations like 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 usually Correspond to senses and how they are experienced or disrupted in a neurodivergent person.


  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.
  3. Auditory Stimming: Includes behaviors such as humming, making repetitive noises, or echoing words or phrases.
  4. Tactile Stimming: Relates to touch sensations, including rubbing or scratching surfaces, exploring textures, or seeking pressure through hugs or squeezes.
  5. Oral Stimming: Involves mouth-related activities like chewing objects, sucking on fingers or clothing, biting nails, or creating repetitive mouth movements.


When you or someone you know is stimming, you can understand which sense they are trying to stimulate or soothe based on the type of stim!



What are common Adhd Stimming Behaviors?


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 many people do, often without realizing it.
  2. Twirling hair: This can be soothing, especially when a person is nervous or thinking.
  3. Biting or chewing on objects 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 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.


adhd and stimming in women

Remember, stimming is not inherently wrong or something to be discouraged. It's a natural behavior that helps regulate 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 Qualified healthcare professional.


Is ADHD Stimming Different from Stimming in Autism?


While stimming is common in many neurodevelopmental disorders, the way it presents in ADHD can be a little different from how Autism. For instance, ADHD people might stim to expend excess energy or to help them focus more often than autistic people. Stimming usually plays a crucial role in self-regulation and organizing sensory systems for all neurodivergent people.


Remember, stimming is a critical form 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 harm you somehow, I'd encourage you to find a suitable replacement for its purpose.


Abuse Against 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. Historically, autistic people have been forced to hide or stop their stims, which is now considered a harmful, abusive, and traumatic practice.


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 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 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 innate ability to regulate themselves. This hurt their sense of self and ability to regulate 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.


We must 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 but a valid and vital part of who they are.


ADHD and Stimming can be Mental, Too!


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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