A common question I get is how to teach a child with autism how to stop vocal stimming. When a child needs to be quiet during certain activities, vocal stimming or scripting can be disruptive.
What is Stimming?
Have you ever been to a lecture where the material is way too easy? Or maybe you’ve been to one that’s gone completely over your head? What do you do? Perhaps you doodle, play with your hair, or scroll through your Facebook newsfeed on your phone. This is the equivalent of people with autism engaging in self-stimulatory behavior (otherwise known as “vocal stimming”).
We all stim. In fact, our solitary leisure activities are actually stimming. For example, stimming behaviors include shooting hoops, playing the violin, or watching reality TV. These repetitive behaviors keep the neurons in our brain firing while we are not meaningfully engaged with others or working on a task where we need to concentrate.
Since children with autism spectrum disorder usually have poor language, social skills, and are sensitive to sensory input, some kids with autism engage in stim behavior for long periods each day. These stim behaviors are often very disruptive across a variety of settings.
Stimming can take very different forms. Some kids might engage in stimming by rocking their bodies, hand flapping, or by making loud vocalizations. Kids with higher language abilities might script lines from movies, build the same Lego structures over and over, or watch the same YouTube clips for hours.
Claim Cheat Sheet
Some stims, such as head banging or eye-poking, can be dangerous or even life-threatening. I started with a 2-year-old client several years ago that banged his head repetitively on hard surfaces for 3 or more hours per day and it was difficult to stop him. It caused an open wound on his head. With proper ABA/VB intervention and with regular supervision and oversight by me as the BCBA, we were able to get this young boy’s head banging down to under 5 minutes a day and his head wound eventually healed.
Replacing Harmful Behaviors with Functional Behaviors
As both a BCBA-D and a mom of a son with autism, you might be surprised to learn that unless a stim behavior is dangerous, I almost never work on decreasing minor stim behavior directly.
Instead of focusing on decreasing the stimming (rocking, moaning, scripting, etc.), I work on improving language and learning skills and eventually replacing very odd and immature stim behaviors with more socially appropriate leisure activities.
I also suggest that if there are activities that verbal stimming (also known as vocal stimming) is high and disruptive, to stop the activities or add additional supports so the child can be more appropriately engaged. This could be a church service, inclusion math class, or some other activity that takes up some time.
The key to stopping a stim behavior is not to focus solely on stopping one behavior. Instead, work towards reducing stimming and replacing the behavior with something functional and equally valuable.
For more information on how to reduce stimming, download my cheat sheet with 6 Steps to Reduce Minor Self-Stim Behavior in Children with Autism.
Claim Cheat Sheet