We might have heard countless stories from parents whose children were teased or mocked in public by adults who misread autistic behavior as naughty behavior. One mother described a woman who approached her son who was squealing and started shaking him, while yelling at his mother for not being able to control her child. For some adults such experiences are simply too overwhelming especially if they have little or no knowledge of autism or other sensory processing difficulties.
Individuals engage in self-stimulatory behavior for a variety of reasons. In persons with autism, self-stimulatory behavior may:
● Provide internal pleasure,
● Help them cope with stressors in the environment,
● Enhance their focus or
● Help them express their emotions.
Vocal stimulation is often a fun rhythmic pattern that is fun to produce, listen to, and feel. It is predictable and easy for the child to control. In some cases where the vocal stimming is repeating words or phrases.
Generally, interventions to reduce or eliminate stereotypical behaviors should be used only if these stims interfere with learning, community inclusion, or are dangerous to themselves or the people around them.
Here are few prerequisites before we step towards managing the behaviour
● Assess: It is important to first assess the function of the behavior and situations/events
that may trigger more intense self-stimulatory behavior.
● Knowing the function(s) will determine your intervention as well as replacement
behavior(s). Completing an A-B-C chart (A- Antecedent; B- Behavior and Consequence)
may assist with determining possible triggers for the behaviors, time the behaviors are
most likely to occur, and maintaining consequences.
● Vocal and/or motor self-stimulatory behaviors sometimes interfere in learning or
community inclusion. Finding a competing replacement behavior or a less obvious
behavior which serves the same function(s) will limit interference of such behaviors.
When planning a competing replacement behaviour take into consideration your child & age, if he/she can follow simple instructions and can imitate to certain degree.
● Process: Try to determine the possible function of the vocal and hand stimming by
conducting observations; you may want to consider seeking help from professionals from
special educators or a psychologist. Having a better idea of when the behavior is most
likely to occur can assist with implementation of strategies.
Some general strategies based upon different functions of the behavior include but are not limited to:
You don’t have to stop the behavior, just teach when and where it is appropriate.
1) Make a few rules around engaging in vocal stim. You might want to write a social story
around when it is appropriate and when it is not. Make sure to acknowledge and validate
the importance the stimming has for the child, while teaching him when and where it is
2) Review these rules frequently, especially before entering into events where vocal stim is
not acceptable. Let him know when it is not acceptable, but also when and where it will
be allowable. If the setting, or activity, has a place and time for which the child can
engage in the stimming, then review that with him.
3) When entering stressful situations, if the vocal stimming is used to either mask or avoid
stimulation, or to cope with being overwhelmed, then identify a safe area where the child
can go to stim and regroup as needed. By being aware of your child’s state of being, and
whether the vocalizing is for fun or coping with stress. Respect the need behind the
stimulation before trying to suppress it.
4) Address the child's emotions. If your child is stimming because of their feelings, then try to identify that feeling and respond to it appropriately. Think of emotional stimming like a facial expression—it is a way for them to express something. Here is an example of how to respond; Well, you look excited today! Are you flapping because you're excited to see Grandma?
In addition to all the above strategies it is helpful and mandatory to refer to an Occupational therapist or related professional to assist with sensory related needs as further evaluation may be necessary. With the help of an Occupational Therapist, individualized strategies can be developed for your child.