One of the most telltale signs of autism in young children is autistic spinning. Read on for an explanation of autism spinning and how to handle this stim behavior as a parent.
What is autistic spinning?
Spinning is a self-simulatory behavior, also known as a stim, which helps the offset person self-regulate. Autistic people may either spin themselves or spend other objects.
Spinning is a vestibular stim, which activates the vestibular system.
Spinning one’s own body may present as full body spinning, only spinning their head, or spending certain body parts such as hands, arms, or legs. Autistic children may enjoy sitting in a chair and being spun as quickly as possible.
Autistic kids don’t experience the same kind of dizziness as other people. Instead, the body craves the stimulation of spinning. It is a soothing act of sensory processing.
Another form of spinning stimming is spinning objects or watching objects spin.
For example, they might spin a wheel themselves, while watching a ceiling fan spin as it cools the room.
The autistic people who prefer spinning objects often do not enjoy spinning themselves. However, autistic people can also enjoy both.
How to stop autistic spinning
Spinning is not inherently a bad, dangerous stim. Therefore, it does not need to be reduced or stopped unless it poses a risk to someone.
When autistic people spin, they are fulfilling a need. Forcing autistic people to stifle stims causes masking and trauma, both of which can be avoided by embracing your child’s autism.
Sometimes, autistic spinning does not directly harm someone, but can sometimes create long-term harm.
Hair twirling is not inherently bad. It is safe until they start pulling out their hair.
Trichotillomania is a hair-pulling disorder and not an autistic trait. It may actually belong to the compulsive-impulsive spectrum or sensory issues.
Signs of trichotillomania include patches of baldness, hair thinning, and fewer eyelashes. The child may not even realize they’re doing it.
In fact, stimming is so second nature that autistic people seldom realize they’re stimming unless someone brings it up or unless they are masking.
Even if they do pull out their hair, it might only be part of the stim and less related to a hair-pulling disorder. Pulling your hair and twisting it around creates different textures in your hair. Sometimes, all the twists hurt your head and you have to take it out.
Most of the time, it is truly a cathartic feeling. This stim cannot be easily replaced, because nothing quite compares to it.
Here are potential redirections if this stim behavior is causing bodily harm:
- Silicone bubble bracelets offer auditory stimming and may also help with nail biting.
- Chain fidgets provide an auditory sensory input, while bending every which way.
- Chew fidgets may supplement the need to twist and/or chew on hair.
- Grip fidgets simulate the sensory input of fingers moving throughout hair.
- Wrist fidgets that wrap around the entire wrist immigrate the sensory input of fingers tangled in hair
These redirection methods are not cures. Every neurodivergent individual is different and so their needs should be addressed accordingly.
If you have noticed that your child is spinning or especially interested in spinning objects and you are wondering if they have autism, click here to learn more about signs of autism at age 2 and signs of autism at age 3.
Frequently asked questions
Does your autistic child spin? Share about it in the comments below.
Autism Parenting Resources
Here are helpful resources for parenting an autistic child.
5 Strategies to Calm a Screaming Child – help your autistic child calm down.
What To Do When Your Autistic Child Won’t Stop Talking – support and boundaries for this common problem.
How Can I Get My Autistic Child to Stop Hitting? – How to help an autistic child with physical aggression and outbursts.
Can my Autistic Child Become Normal? – Can an autistic child become normal with therapy or other interventions? Read to find out.
Ways to Get an Autistic Child to Sleep – How to help your child calm and go to sleep.
Autism & Picky Eaters – How to help an autistic child expand their diet.
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