Here’s Why Children with Autism Flap Their Hands

Most parents of children with autism have probably seen them flapping their hands, and their most voluntary reaction is to stop them from doing so. This repetitive behavior can be a bit irritating to witness especially if it’s excessive and sometimes may cause embarrassment for the family when they are in public places.

But the big question is, “Can we stop STIMMING”? STIM is short for SELF-STIMULATION. DSM-5 identified STIMMING or Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech as one of the diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder. STIM can also be present in neurotypical children like foot-tapping to cope with boredom or anxiety.The only difference is that the practice is more prevalent and pronounced in children on the spectrum.


Five Types of STIMS

  1. Auditory (e.g., Repeating similar phrases or words and humming)
  2. Olfactory (e.g., Licking at inedible things)
  3. Smell (e.g., Smelling people or things)
  4. Tactile (e.g., Extreme scratching and tapping fingers)
  5. Vestibular (e.g., Spinning, rocking and jumping)
  6. Visual (e.g., looking at objects, lining up toys or any objects)


Possible Causes

Experts have diverse opinions on the reasons why children with autism have stimming behavior. Some of the reasons cited are:

  1. To self-regulate.
  2. To overcome a frightening situation, anxiety or excitement.
  3. To adapt to a new environment or experience.
  4. A form of communication.
  5. Involuntary behavior due to a medical condition. 


How to Address the Situation?

Understand that STIMS can have soothing effects on children, and telling them to stop will not do more harm than good. Intervention is needed when STIMS start becoming harmful. Here are the things that we can do:

  1. Ask your child’s Occupational Therapist if there is a sensory diet you can start to lessen the behavior.
  2. Seek help from your Neuro Pediatrician. Medication is sometimes helpful in severe cases.
  3. Replace stimming behavior with socially acceptable activities.
  4. Identify the triggers for stimming to reduce if not eliminate the repetitive movements.




  • SPINNING – Be a fun parent! Go out with your child, play in the swing, play tag, jump on the trampoline, and dance together.
  • HAND FLAPPING – Children with autism usually flap their hands when feeling excited. Teach them to clap their hands and say “WOW” when something excites them. Squeeze your creative juices by doing fine motor activities that will surely catch your child’s attention. Come up with exciting activities like painting, drawing, coloring, and playing with building blocks. You can do just about anything that will make those little hands busy.
  • LICKING ON INEDIBLE OBJECTS – Find some food that your children can chew on. You can give them their favorite snack, chewing gum, or get him to talk. Think of activities that will divert their attention away from the undesirable behavior.
  • COVERING EARS – If a child is sensitive to noise, control his environment. Let him join small classes if loud noise triggers the STIM. Let the child listen to calm and relaxing music. 


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