ADHD Stimming

ADHD & Stimming

Finger-flicking, hand-flapping, and leg-bouncing - these are just some of the examples of stimming behaviors a person with ADHD may do. What’s the purpose of these repetitive movements and sounds? Find out here. 

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The Stimming Behaviors of People with ADHD

When I am idle and have nothing else to do, or I have to think well and concentrate on a task that I find boring, you'll most likely see me chewing my pen (when I'm holding one) ✏️or humming the last TV commercial that I saw a few hours ago (may be that catchy jingle from the 80's that's been running through my head all day). I don't often notice that I am in the middle of doing a self-stimulating behavior, but when I do, I realize that I'm doing it to calm myself down or to focus my thoughts 💭.

Stimming is often associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It can be one of the relaxation techniques they do to relieve stress, distract them from their current situations, or calm them from being overwhelmed. However, according to recent reports, some people with ADHD also tend to do these self-soothing behaviors. Even though the brain differences 🧠between these two neurodivergent conditions are pretty pronounced, both groups have difficulties with executive functioning. This may include difficulty focusing, regulating emotions, and controlling impulsive behaviors.

But why do some ADHD people stim? Do these repetitive movements cause harm or self-injury to us? Or does stimming interfere with how we think and function? What stimming behaviors do we tend to do as someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? Let's try to know more about these self-stimulatory behaviors 🤔. 

What is ADHD Stimming?

Stimming, or self-stimulatory behavior, is a movement or noise an individual does repetitively that seems to serve no purpose. It is often done in response to certain stimulations or just as a way to relieve boredom or stress 😫. This can also be triggered by sensory overload or feeling understimulated. When we stim, it feels as if our brain is trying to calm itself down by releasing some internal tension.

what is stimming?

Some people with ADHD do stimming behavior as often those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. These behaviors or urges can be as simple as excessive bouncing of legs 🦵, hand-flapping, finger-flicking, or making repetitive sounds. Sometimes, it can go as far as biting nails or peeling off skin to self-soothe. When these activities are used for more than self-stimulation and already cause harm to you and the people around you, it can be considered destructive behavior 😭.

But, more often than not, ADHD stimming behaviors can be a simple way to improve focus, ease ourselves in an unfamiliar or unpleasant environment, or alleviate boredom. These activities help redirect negative energy and impulses more positively. What matters when it comes to these stimming behaviors is self-awareness: knowing the trigger stimming behaviors that can harm us. This way, we can better manage and cope with these behaviors 👌.

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The Types of ADHD Stimming We Often Do

A person with ADHD stims as much as those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) - it’s a possibility. However, stimming behavior is still unique to everyone, even if developmental disorders share some commonalities. Here are some of the stimming behaviors we may often do as someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder:

Oral Stimming

Types of stimming: Oral Stimming

One of the most common self-stimulatory behaviors, oral stimming, can be characterized by repeatedly biting off anything (as in anything) that can fit our mouths 😮. This can be our shirt sleeve, a lock of hair, or even the skin around our nails. Chewing on inedible things such as pens and pencils can also be a part of this category. In more severe cases, oral stimming can go as far as eating hair strands, which can cause hairballs called trichophagia.

Verbal Stimming

Types of Stimming: Verbal Stimming

Blabbers, mumblers, and stutterers, oh my! Repetitive sounds or noises characterize verbal stimming. This can be grunting, clicking our tongue, whistling, or humming 🎶. Some people with ADHD often do vocal stimming when they are lost in thought or trying to focus on something. We tend to do this when we are having trouble with our ADHD symptoms, particularly while doing repetitive tasks for long periods. I repeat sounds or words in my head to ease my anxiety.

Visual Stimming

Types of Stimming: Visual Stimming

Our self-control to arrange things perfectly symmetrically is often tested when we stim. This can be done by lining up toy cars or books on a shelf, folding and refolding clothes, or organizing everything in our backpacks 🎒. We also like to do this by tracing the patterns on a carpet or staring at moving objects. Common stimming triggers related to visual stimming include patterns, symmetry, and bright colors.

Auditory Stimming

Types of Stimming: Auditory Stimming

Common auditory stimming behaviors include listening to music or other sounds at a high volume to block out external stimulations. Some may repeat words, mimic sounds our environment makes, or hum to themselves. We often do this when we need to focus on something or to relieve boredom. Listening to music is one of the best stimming behaviors for a lot of people with ADHD because it can help us focus and relax simultaneously 📻.

Vestibular Stimming

Types of Stimming: Vestibular Stimming

This self-stimulating behavior focuses on our balance and motor skills. Sometimes, when walking, we either step on our tiptoes or maintain the patterns made by the lines or shapes of the floor 🚶. We also like to swing our arms when we walk or spin around in circles. These stimming behaviors help us focus on the task and ease our anxiety while exhibiting our hyperactive ADHD traits.

Olfactory Stimming

Types of Stimming: Olfactory Stimming

When someone triggers self-stimulation by sniffing or smelling anything, they probably have an olfactory stim. Some people with ADHD often do this by sniffing strong-smelling objects 💐or repeatedly smelling their own hands or clothes. Their nasal sensory input is often heightened, and they tend to seek out strong smells to calm themselves down.

Tactile Stimming

Types of Stimming: Tactile Stimming

Tactile stimming is characterized by the need to touch everything around us. This can be done by rubbing fingers against textured surfaces, brushing our hair or skin compulsively, or fidgeting with clothes. The self-soothing behavior of touching any textured object can give us a sense of calmness and focus.

These stimming behaviors vary from person to person, and each stimulatory behavior may or may not be experienced by everyone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Though stimming can be done for different reasons and may have other effects, the common goal is to provide self-soothing and focus.

Why Does ADHD Stimming Seem Negative for Some?

Stimming behaviors aim to relax, give focus or energy, or provide a sense of control. The repetitive, self-stimulating behavior we do is often seen as unfavorable because stimming can be disruptive, intense, and seemingly out of control 😞. When someone with ADHD is stimming, they may be perceived as uninterested, spacey, or disrespectful. Others may find our ADHD stim annoying because it can be repetitive and distracting.

When we fail to manage stimming, it can affect the people around us. Tapping our fingers loudly or frequently bouncing our legs can bother the people sitting next to us. In other scenarios, it can make us appear unprofessional or childlike 😥. That's why it is essential to understand more about our ADHD stimming and learn to manage stimming behaviors when necessary.

ADHD and Stimming: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Is stimming common in people with ADHD?

Stimming is more commonly associated with people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but reports say some people with ADHD also stim. 

Why do some people with ADHD stim?

The main goal of stimming is to self-soothe, usually when a person is unable to control their symptoms, faced with a stressful or unfamiliar scenario, or required to focus. However, some stimming behaviors - when done excessively - can be destructive and harmful.

Why do some people find stimming behaviors undesirable or unfavorable? ‍

Repetitive movements can be seen by others as a sign of disinterest or disrespect. Also, they can be bothersome when other people also need to focus. This is why some people find it annoying when a person stims.

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