What to Know About Stimming in ADHD

Boy with fidget toy.

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When it comes to ADHD, stimming is a common and often misunderstood behavior. But what is stimming, and why do people with ADHD do it? Stimming is essentially a self-stimulatory behavior that helps people focus or cope with stress or anxiety. It can involve anything from making repetitive movements to saying specific words or phrases over and over again.

For people with ADHD, stimming can serve as a way to focus their attention and control their impulses. It can also help them calm down when they're feeling overwhelmed or stressed out.

If you have a loved one with ADHD, it's important to understand why they stim and how you can help support them. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Stimming is not necessarily harmful and does not always need to be discouraged.
  • Try to understand why your loved one is stimming and what they are trying to achieve.
  • Be supportive and understanding. Let them know that you accept them for who they are.
  • If stimming is causing problems or interfering with daily life, talk to your loved one's doctor about ways to help manage it.

Why Does Stimming Help ADHD?

There is some debate about why stimming helps ADHD, but most experts believe it has to do with the way the brain processes information. For people with ADHD, stimming may help them focus and pay attention to tasks at hand.

It's also possible that stimming can boost mood and help reduce stress levels. This is particularly true for kids and teens who may not have many other ways to express their emotions.

ADHD Stimming vs. Autism Stimming

There is a common misconception that stimming is only present in people with autism. While it is more common in people with autism, stimming can occur in anyone.

ADHD and autism are both neurological disorders, but they affect different parts of the brain. This means that the symptoms and behaviors will be different in each person.

For people with ADHD, stimming may help them focus and control their impulses. For people with autism, stimming may help relieve anxiety or sensory overload.

Types of Stimming

Below are some of the different types of stimming that might be engaged in by people with ADHD.

  • Visual: This type of stimming includes looking at specific objects or watching repetitive movements.
  • Auditory: This type of stimming includes making specific noises or repeating words or phrases.
  • Movement: This type of stimming includes making repetitive movements with the hands, feet, or other parts of the body.
  • Taste/Smell: This type of stimming includes tasting or smelling specific things over and over again.
  • Tactile: This type of stimming includes things like touching different textures, rubbing one's hands together, or hugging oneself.
  • Oral: This type of stimming includes things like chewing on objects, licking one's lips, or biting one's nails.
  • Movement: This type of stimming includes things like walking in circles, bouncing up and down, or shaking one's body.
  • Mental: This type of stimming involves repeating certain words or phrases in the mind. Common examples include counting down from 10, reciting the alphabet, or saying the same thing over and over again.

Examples of ADHD Stimming Behaviors

Below are some examples of common stimming behaviors in people with ADHD:

  • Fidgeting or tapping fingers
  • Spinning around
  • Walking or running in place
  • Making repetitive noises, such as clicking a pen or humming a song
  • Biting fingernails or lips
  • Picking at skin or clothes
  • Looking at objects or flipping through books over and over again
  • Drawing or writing in a specific pattern
  • Facing a specific direction for an extended period of time
  • Eating the same thing every day

What Is Happy Stimming?

There is a type of stimming called "happy stimming." This is when people stim to express pleasure rather than to focus or calm down. Happy stimming can involve any type of self-stimulatory behavior, but it's typically done to express enjoyment rather than to manage negative emotions.

People with ADHD may engage in happy stimming to relieve boredom or stress. It can also be a way to express creativity or feel more connected to the world around them.

If you see your loved one engaging in happy stimming, try not to discourage them. Instead, support and encourage their interests and activities. Let them know that you love and accept them for who they are.

How Do I Know if I Stim?

If you're not sure if you stim, ask someone who knows you well. They may be able to spot behaviors that you're not aware of.

If you do stim, try to keep track of when and why you do it. This can help you understand your own behavior and find ways to minimize or avoid stimming when it's not necessary or might be disruptive.

How to Manage Stimming Behaviors

If you or someone you know stims to focus or calm down, there are some ways to manage the behavior:

  • Set aside a specific time and place for stimming. This can help reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Try to find activities that don't involve stimming, such as socializing, listening to music, or playing sports.
  • Distract yourself with other activities when you feel the need to stim. This can help break the habit and improve focus.
  • Talk to a therapist or counselor about your stimming behaviors. They may be able to offer helpful tips and strategies.
  • Consider using a sensory tool or toy to help manage stimming. These can be found at most stores that sell special needs products.

How to Help Someone Who Stims

If you see someone stimming, there are some things you can do to help:

  • Don't judge or criticize them. Stimming is a way for people with ADHD to manage their symptoms.
  • Try to understand why they are stimming and what it does for them.
  • Be supportive and accepting of their behavior.
  • Encourage them to participate in other activities, such as socializing or exercising.
  • Help them find ways to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • If applicable, work with them to create a plan for managing their stimming behaviors.
  • If the person stimming is a child, talk to their parents or caregivers about your observations and offer help.

Stimming is a common way for people with ADHD to manage their symptoms. It can help them focus and calm down. If you see someone stimming, try not to judge or criticize them. Instead, be supportive and understanding.

A Word From Verywell

Stimming is a normal behavior for people with ADHD. It helps them focus and calm down. There are ways to manage stimming behaviors, and loved ones can provide support. If you see someone stimming stay, try to stay calm and be positive.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kapp SK, Steward R, Crane L, et al. 'People should be allowed to do what they like': Autistic adults' views and experiences of stimmingAutism. 2019;23(7):1782-1792. doi:10.1177/1362361319829628

  2. Center for Autism Research. Stimming: What Is It and Does it Matter?

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.