Stop Stimming with Occupational Therapy at Home

There is so much to consider when it comes to treating special needs and self stimulatory behaviors are high on the list of symptoms parents wish to eliminate. There are simple things you can do at home to assess and treat your child’s stimulatory behaviors (stimming). All it takes is a little know-how…

The first thing that parents must to do in order to begin this process is simply pay attention. It helps, and is preferred, when parents keep records and corresponding documentation. For an easy way to achieve both, you can quickly create a form in Microsoft Word that allows you to fill in the time and a description of each stimulatory behavior. It is helpful to also record what took place immediately before the stimming began and your reaction to it. (anyone recognize ABA; applied behavioral analysis or the ABC contingency?).

You may wonder why this is important, since you know your child like the back of your hand. Truth be told, things can look different on paper and, since exact memory can fade with time, having these records will allow you to accurately asses whether your child has made progress or not. So, for a few extra minutes of your time, you can create records that have many benefits.

Whether using records or mother’s intuition, you want to focus on the sensory system most pronounced during stimming. A common behavior is that of rocking or spinning. Taking this as an example, consider that the sense here is ‘movement’; I know that is not a scientific description, but work with me!

For whatever reason, whether triggered by emotion, environment or none of the above, your child is rocking to give their body input it is craving. We all have stimulatory behaviors; nail biting, chewing on pencils, tapping our fingers, fiddling with long hair, and more. For some reason, that input calms us and we subconsciously seek it out. Our children are no different, with the exception that there behaviors and sensory needs are more intense.

To help your child balance their system, you need to follow their lead and provide them whatever input they are seeking. Ideally, your child is getting the input in appropriate ways, on a schedule that prevents stimming, instead of managing it (let me know if you need help with this if you don’t do this already, as it is key to so many other areas).

If your child is rocking then provide that input in an intense way, right away and make it as appropriate as possible. Start somewhere; anywhere is better then standing by while stimulatory behaviors occur. Some children, my son in particular, become immersed in the activity and are terribly difficult to “pull out” of the behavior once it begins.

It is difficult, and it a little too lengthy, to discuss each system, sense or behavior individually, but I will answer any questions you have and help you in anyway possible begin to implement this at home.

As a consultant to families like mine and the professionals that serve them (families that include children with disabilities), I promote sensory integration as the fundamental component to all programs; it’s implications reach far beyond stimulatory behaviors and affect learning and more, so I hope you begin to take action or at least consider paying closer attention.

As always, I love to hear your stories and comments, so keep them coming by posting below. Ditto for questions and help with starting or implementing this process.