Stimming – Coping Mechanisms Of Individuals With Autism





I was strolling in the park, and I saw a child with autism who was playing with his mother and brother.  Out of nowhere, a speeding ambulance passed by with its siren on, and the child suddenly sat down rocking his body back and forth, mumbling something repeatedly like a chant, and he hit his head with his hand.   His mother immediately ran to him and tried to calm him.   It took a while, but she was able to appease him while his brother was trying to distract him, too, so he would stop his rocking and hitting.

It’s not the first time I saw something like that, so I just sat there and observed.  But other parents and children playing at the playground thought he was a retard and got afraid, but his mother tried to explain that he was a kid with autism, and is very sensitive to noises. He does not intend to hurt anyone.

As a psychiatrist, I tried to do my part to help this family by talking to the people there and assuring them that it’s nothing alarming.


Our Noisy World

For people (children or adults) with autism, the world is an overwhelmingly crazy raucous place.  The loud noises, the lights, the busy streets, and crowded restaurants make them feel nervous, anxious and sometimes afraid.  They have this sensory integration disorder where they tend to avoid stimuli or seek stimuli to circumvent other sensations that make them feel anxious.  Their everyday lives are very much affected by these sensory issues. “Often, kids, teens and adults on the spectrum spend a lot of time trying to be “normal”, fighting sensory overload and overwhelm, fending off personal quirks, and trying so hard to “fit in”,socially and otherwise.” Karla Helbert, LPC, E-RYT, C-IAYT also expalins.



You will notice that people with autism have social, speech, nonverbal communication difficulties, learning differences, and repetitive behaviors.

“It is important to help people with autism notice when they are stuck on details. Over time they can get in the habit of recognizing when they are focused at the detail level and learn to zoom out to see the big picture.” –John Strang, Psy.D.

These body motions they repeatedly do, and the repetitive movement of objects are self-stimulatory behaviors or what they call in autism language as stimming.   Nothing is definite why they do it, but researchers suggest that such repetitive movements arouse their nervous system to produce certain chemicals called endorphins which are responsible for increasing their pleasure sensations, just like how exercise helps reduce our stress or how sniffing certain aromas lift our moods.


Types Of Stimming

  1. Tactile stimming is the use of the sense of touch or mannerisms of the hands.

–    Opening and closing of fists

–    Finger twisting or flicking

–    Rubbing or scratching either with hands or objects

–    Wringing of hands

–    Finger-tapping


  1. Visual stimming is the use of the sense of sight.

–    Staring or gazing at the ceiling or lights or any objects

–    Blinking repetitively or turning lights on and off

–    Moving fingers to and fro in front of the eyes

–    Eye tracking or looking from the corner of the eyes

–    Lining up objects or arranging them constantly

–    Hand flapping


  1. Auditory stimming is the use of the sense of hearing and sound.

–    Humming, murmuring, or high-pitched screaming

–    Tapping the ears or other objects

–    Covering and uncovering the ears

–    Finger snapping

–    Repetitive speech, like repeating lyrics of a song, passages from a book, or lines in the movies


  1. Vestibular stimming is the sense of movement and balance.

–    Body rocking front to back or side to side

–    Spinning around

–    Jumping

–    Pacing


  1. Olfactory/taste stimming is the use of the sense of smell and taste.

–    Smelling people or objects

–    Licking

–    Tasting things by putting them in the mouth




Complications Of Stimming

Although this may not apply to everyone, there is some form of stimming that can be dangerous and physically harmful like the banging of their head, hands, legs, and objects.

Stimming may also interfere with their learning abilities and social interaction with others.  It may cause them to be socially isolated and restricted from doing stuff they love to do.

“Autism is a result of neurological differences in the structure of the brain that distinguish it from what we call the neurotypical brain. It is not mental illness or a personality disorder.” –Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC




Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder


[Have A Peek Into Their World]





Never judge, but listen, understand, and give your time and heart to a person with autism.   Lend a helping hand to those organizations trying to find a cure and help change lives so that individuals with autism can function well in the society to which they belong.

Continue reading Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

How To Deal With Awkward Things That Actually Matter






Reaching the phases of adolescence is never easy for a regular teenager, because of the unfamiliarity of undergoing changes inside and outside of the body.  Although it is a part of growing up, it can be a challenging stage, especially for an adolescent who has autism.



Rejection And Bullying

Autism spectrum disorder is the reason for the impairments of social abilities and unorthodox actions like repetitive behavior.  These may also be reasons for outside forces like social group or peers to reject or even bully persons with the illness. “By definition, bullying behavior implies an imbalance of power. The bully perceives that they are better, stronger, more socially adept, and higher on the social ladder.” Paul Schwartzman, LMHC, MS, DAPA explains.

Rejection or bullying is often accompanied by social aggression towards the doer, for the negligence or lack of knowledge about the person with ASD.






Inevitable Changes

“There is an ongoing debate about whether or not teenagerhood is a cultural phenomenon or whether it is a description of a transformation that occurs mentally and emotionally during adolescence.”  Richard Zwolinski, LMHC explains. Dealing with autism in the adolescence stage is hard, especially to parents with little knowledge on how to teach their son about the physical changes happening in the body, such as physical urges, and emotional desire. This is the time of knowing oneself and understanding life. Though these things are natural for us, it may be crucial to persons who have autism.  It is the significant changes in the body that happens in puberty stage.  These affect factors such as growth, maturation of the body, emotional and social shifts, and alterations in brain activity.

A person with autism lacks understanding and the ability to learn about these changes in the body, which causes an autistic person to panic and have inappropriate behaviors that result in them acting without knowing the consequences of their actions whether good or bad.

Every parent of an adolescent with autism must have insights of what’s going on in their child’s mind when undergoing these life-changing experiences. They must be creative on how to deal with them in a way that they will have a grasp of what’s really happening in their body and their surroundings.


Physical Changes

Explaining the physical effects of growing up early on using techniques like visuals or cartoon representations will help your kid realize that body changes are healthy and are being experienced by everyone in the process of growth.



Persons with ASD have fragile personalities. Refraining from joking about his incompetency will help him compensate for the things he can’t do.  Instead, it would be better if you help him reach his full potential on things he is interested in doing.   Like if they are more interested in arts, help them flourish in that area.


Easily Feeling Discouraged

Teenagers with autism (see relevant article in can quickly get discouraged and feel unwanted.  Praises are the best encourager. Praising him especially for the little things that he accomplishes or skills he newly acquires can push him to do better and excel.   Practicing a reward system for excellent behavior such as giving something he will love or appreciate will inspire him more.



Being positively clear when teaching your kid with autism would tremendously help him learn better and quicker. This is especially important when you talk with him about sensitive issues or awkward things such as sexual topics, relationship and family problems, and issues that mainly includes a change of environment.  Many studies have been made and showed that an ASD person could not cope up well with change.  Speaking openly and letting him understand the situation creatively and patiently will gradually lessen the stress and frustrations he feels. Licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer, Ph.D. used to say, “Negative thoughts are just a part of life, but they don’t have to consume you. Instead of trying to ignore those thoughts altogether, try countering them with positive statements.”






Fears Of Public Places

“Fear, or getting scared, is an emotion that’s part of our biology as human beings, just like other emotions such as sadness, joy and anger. It serves a purpose that’s crucial to our ability to survive,” –Steve Orma, PsyD

Teach him socialization skills in a way that he will appreciate, like how fun it is to be with other teenagers like him, or how to be cool and be a gentleman when around girls because girls like it when they are treated with gentleness.

Taking him up for daily activities like going to recreational places, eating at restaurants and having extracurricular activities will help him get familiar with public areas.   This may decrease his triggers when having new encounters.   You can also teach him techniques when something unusual comes up that he knows will trigger his tantrums or fears or repetitive behaviors.  Talking with him about awkward life experiences and being just overly casual and funny about it will help him understand that these things in life are entirely usual as we go on living.

Persons with this disorder suffer a lot and helping them to get through this phase in their life will benefit them as they go through living as a productive adult.

Be A Friend – My Classmate Has Autism


Looking back during my college days, it was a gloomy day, the first day of classes for midyear semester, and I came in late.  I managed to wind up with this guy whom I later found out had autism.  I noticed that he wasn’t able to catch up with the group activities.  And sad to say, he had quite poor social skills and had difficulty expressing himself.  He had a very short attention span that he couldn’t quite understand the lectures the professors were discussing. Somehow, I found him to be very friendly, and he sometimes tried his best to participate in the discussion in spite of his condition.


In my mind, over and over, I asked myself how he was able to manage to get in college, and so out of curiosity, I tried to do some researching about the illness. That’s when I found out that there are many organizations who help individuals with ASD.




“Autism is a complex developmental disability that causes difficulties in many areas, with varying degrees of severity, most notably with social interaction and communication.” Karla Helbert, LPC, E-RYT, C-IAYT explains. Autism starts early from the day of birth and may show signs during the first six months.   But up to this date, experts are still not sure as to what really causes a child to have autism.  Some think it is a chemical imbalance and deprivation of oxygen in the brain during childbirth.


Individuals with autism have poor social skills and a little bit slower than regular people, but some can manage to get to college.  We may think of them as less fortunate that they are unable to do what an ordinary person does, like talking in a normal phase, expressing themselves appropriately, doing tasks on a given timeframe, and proper behavior.  But all these flaws don’t stop them, because they, too, want to contribute something to the community.




“Being diagnosed with Autism does not have not to impact you negatively. People with Autism can live fulfilling and meaningful lives. It is about learning the tools and skills that can help lead to success.”  John Cutrone, LMHC, MCAP, CAS said. There are many ways on how students can be of help and socialize with individuals with ASD, and these include:


  1. Being aware that he has poor social skills, you can start by earning his trust. A simple smile always works when trying to break the ice.   Be friendly by being unjudging. Share simple jokes, and do high fives.   You can do little physical contacts like touching his shoulders or patting his back.  Establishing rapport and being friendly will make him want to converse with you and focus more on what you are saying, or pay more attention to what you are instructing him to do in social groups or activities.


  1. Individuals with autism are very self-conscious. Try not to look or stare whenever some atypical mannerisms start to show. They quickly become anxious and nervous being around other people.


  1. Showing graphic representation or starting the conversation with a story helps an individual with autism understand the topic. This story may be your experience throughout the day or personal anecdotes.


  1. A person with ASD lacks the interpretation of emotions. Using the tone of your voice in the conversation makes it easier for him to interpret the feelings you have in your stories.  Doing hand signs also improve how he perceives what the story is about and will benefit him to know the amount of the emotion in the story.


  1. Be aware of the shifts in his mood by paying more attention to what he is doing or what his reaction is before engaging to make a conversation. Being patient with an autistic person is tough, especially, when you have no idea about his emotions.  You have to maintain a good mood by keeping things organized.


  1. Listening and understanding what the person is trying to say will give you insights on what his motives are in having the conversation with you. Listen while making eye contact intently, but never in a judging manner, and never make fun of what he is trying to tell you (not unless he’s trying to be funny).   It can help him open up during a conversation.




“People with ASD are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).” Eva A. Mendes LMHC explains. Yes, socializing with an autistic person may be tough, but guiding and helping him to cope with his anxiety despite the many changes and interventions of ASD is worth a lot especially if what they want is to be able to contribute to our society and not be a burden.