Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders


Dealing with Self-Stimulation Behaviors

Dealing with Self-Stimulation Behaviors

Most of our "leisure activities" are nothing more than
self-stimulation behaviors that have become highly
ritualized over time and made socially acceptable.

There is nothing intrinsically valuable or reasonable
about leisure pursuits such as bungee jumping, playing
cards, dancing, playing video games, listening to
music, smoking, etc.

People participate in these different activities
because they find them to be pleasurable and because
the activities alter their physical state.

Each activity provides us with a particular type of
sensory input.

There is not necessarily a great difference in
so-called self-stimulation behaviors and some of
these activities, beyond the fact that some are
more socially acceptable and "normal" in appearance
than others.

Each of us, even those of us with more intact central
nervous systems, tolerates differing degrees of

Most parents find that their child is more likely to
participate in self-stimulatory behaviors when he/she
is idle or stressed.

Interacting with your child in some way may break up
the self-stimulation.

If the behavior appears in response to stress, finding
ways to help him relax (e.g., massage, being wrapped
up in a quilt, etc.) may reduce the amount of time
spent in the behavior you find inappropriate or harmful.

If your child is left alone; however, it is likely
he/she will re-engage in this activity as soon as the
opportunity presents itself.

Some behaviors may present problems because they are
considered socially inappropriate.

These behaviors can be used as a way to explore the
individual's preferred sensory channels for receiving
information from the world.

With this information we may identify preferred sensory
experiences around which we can develop more "mainstream"
leisure activities that our children will also come to
view as "leisure."

For example, if a child enjoys the visual sensation of
lights we can find age-appropriate toys that might be
motivating to him.

Take time to observe the types of self-stimulation that
your child participates in and when this behavior occurs.

Watch him/her and make notes about what you see and when
you see it. Then try to see if there is any pattern to
these behaviors that would give you insight to the type
or types of stimulation he/she prefers and the purpose
it serves.

At the same time note what types of activities he/she
finds aversive.

When you have a good understanding about his/her
preferences, begin to brainstorm ways that you can offer
other stimulatory activities, modify or expand on the
preferred self-stimulation.

Ask for help from your child's teacher, physio therapist,
occupational therapist, and others.

Look at children of the same age, and try to find toys
or activities that may make the self-stimulatory behavior
appear more "normal."

Sometimes your child's favorite self-stimulation activity
can be modified or expanded in a way that will make it
more socially acceptable.

The Parenting Autism Resource Guide: A Complete Resource Guide For Parents Who Have Children Diagnosed With Autism.

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