Some peeps think stimming — aka self-stimulating behavior — only affects those who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). But IRL, stimming is also super common in those who have ADHD.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a well-known condition that affects millions of folks across the globe. Symptoms can vary a lot from person to person which can make stimming hard to spot.
But don’t worry, here’s everything you need to know about ADHD stimming. We also have a rundown of the possible causes and triggers, along with tips on how to cope.
Self-stimulating behavior usually involves repetitive sounds or movements. The exact behaviors are broken down into different types like:
- vestibular stimming
- tactile stimming
- olfactory stimming
- taste stimming
- visual stimming
- auditory stimming
There are lots of reasons why people who have ADHD stim. Some say it helps them focus on tasks, cope with feelings, or deal with uncomfortable environments. For others it’s involuntary.
Stimming on its own isn’t necessarily an issue. However, it can become a problem if interferes with your day-to-day life or causes physical injuries.
ADHD is a spectrum disorder. That means it’s an umbrella of symptoms that can appear in very different combinations. Despite the near-infinite variety, there are certain types of stimming reported by large numbers of peeps who have ADHD.
Here’s a rundown of the most common types of stimming.
Vestibular stimming relates to balance, motion, and spatial orientation. Some examples are:
- head shaking
- rocking back and forth
There’s some research to suggest that vestibular stimming can actually be beneficial for folks who have ADHD.
In a 2018 study, researchers set out to see if vestibular stimulation can improve motor skills, concentration, and emotional control in a small group of kids with ADHD. The tl;dr of the results? It can. But obvi, we need more research to show the potential benefits.
Tactile stimming is self-stimulation through touch. This includes:
- stroking fabrics
- biting your nails
- twirling your hair
- grinding your teeth
- tapping your fingers
- rubbing objects on your cheek
- hand movements like clenching the fists or cracking the knuckles
Olfactory is a fancy word for smelling stuff. Some ADHD olfactory stimmers prefer special smells. It might be a soothing sniff of perfume nana used to wear or a deep whiff of that new book scent. But for some stimmers, the act of smelling is more important than the smell itself.
Taste stimming is exactly what it sounds like! Like olfactory stimming, some peeps have certain tastes they prefer to stim with. Others are all about the action of tasting and aren’t too fussy about specifics.
FYI: Taste stimming and oral stimming can overlap. Oral stims might be purely tactile, exclusively taste-based, or a combo of both.
Visual stimming focuses on your sense of sight. Some examples include:
- lining up objects
- repetitive blinking
- moving objects close to your eyes
- staring at moving objects or flashing lights
- watching or peering at things from the corner of your eyes
Auditory stimming — sometimes referred to as vocal stimming — uses the ears, throat, or a combo of both. Some common auditory stims include:
- fits of laughter
- throat clearing
- repeating unusual sounds
Why do people with ADHD stim? TBH, we still don’t know the exact reason. But we’re not totally in the dark, either.
Some experts think stimming can stimulate the nervous system and trigger a release of beta-endorphins. Beta-endorphins help your bod make dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a part in pleasure and memory. This might be why stimming can have a calming effect and can help a person feel less overwhelmed.
BTW, it’s not just folk with ADHD that stim. Have you ever chewed a pen when concentrating or hummed a tune while anxious? Congrats! You’ve stimmed.
Also, spectrum conditions like ADHD are often associated with Tourette syndrome, ASD, and OCD. But not everyone who has one of these conditions stims.
ADHD isn’t a one-size-fits-all condition. Symptoms can be triggered by tons of different situations or emotions. Here are some common culprits:
- Emotional triggers. Stimming can provide a temporary sense of relief when someone is feeling stressed, sad, or anxious. However, happy emotions like excitement or joy can trigger stimming, too.
- Environmental triggers. Loud background noise, bright lights, or large crowds can be overstimulating and lead to a sensory overload. Focusing on a familiar stimming pattern can help a person feel less overwhelmed.
- Need to focus. Stimming can help people concentrate or focus on a specific task or assignment.
In most cases, stimming is not linked to risky behavior. However, stimming can have a negative physical, emotional, or social impact for some people. For example, some folks who stim engage in high risk behaviors like scratching their skin until they bleed or banging their head into a wall.
If you’re looking for some healthy ways to manage ADHD stimming, here are some great options:
- ADHD medications. Stimulant and nonstimulant medications are often prescribed as a way to treat ADHD.
- Family-based therapies and ADHD support groups. Living with ADHD is a personal journey, but it’s not one you have to travel alone. Many find that group therapies such as family sessions or ADHD support groups provide stimming management support.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). While there’s not a lot of research into stimming specifically, a 2020 review found that CBT can help reduce the effects of ADHD symptoms. CBT can also help you redirect the thoughts that might trigger a stim sesh.
Stimming, or stimulating behavior, is common in kids and adults who have ADHD. It usually involves repeating movements, sounds, or behaviors to trigger the brain in some way. Some say stimming can help them concentrate on a task or makes them feel less stressed.
Science still isn’t clear on exactly what causes stimming and not everyone with ADHD stims. Additionally, not everyone’s stimming needs to stop.
In most cases, stimming is harmless. However, you should talk with a healthcare professional if stimming becomes disruptive or dangerous to your health or your life. They can suggest a management plan that works with your unique needs.