Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects one’s social interaction, communication, interests, and behavior. It’s a spectrum condition, meaning it affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. One of the many manifestations of autism is ‘stimming‘, and stims are an often misunderstood but essential aspect of the condition. Today, we will delve deeper into one specific type of stimming in autistic people – vocal stimming.

boy reading

What is Vocal Stimming?

‘Stimming’ is short for self-stimulatory or repetitive behavior, which refers to repetitive body movements or behaviors. These can involve any of the senses, but when it comes to vocal stimming, it involves the sense of hearing. Vocal or auditory stimming may include behaviors such as humming, grunting, shrieking, repeating words or phrases, or sounds, or even speaking in a particular tone of voice.

It’s important to note that while these behaviors might be unusual or even disruptive in certain social settings, they serve a purpose for those on the autism spectrum.

kids playing

Why Do Individuals with Autism Engage in Vocal Stimming?

There are several reasons why an individual with autism might engage in vocal stimming:

  1. Self-regulation: Vocal stimming can help regulate their internal emotional states. It can serve as a calming mechanism when they’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, and as a way to express excitement or happiness.
  2. Sensory Stimulation: Some people with autism may be either hyposensitive (under-sensitive) or hypersensitive (over-sensitive) to sensory input. In the case of vocal stimming, making certain sounds or noises can provide the sensory input they’re seeking.
  3. Communication: Sometimes, vocal stimming is a form of communication. Even if the sounds themselves don’t convey a traditional message, the act of making them might signal the individual’s current emotional state or needs.

girls talking

How Should We Respond to Vocal Stimming?

Understanding verbal stimming is the first step. Instead of trying to suppress vocal stimming, it’s crucial to acknowledge its importance for the individual. Here are a few strategies:

  • Patience and Acceptance: Remember that vocal stimming serves a purpose. Be patient and accepting of the individual’s needs.
  • Create a Safe Environment: If certain environments seem to provoke anxiety and increase vocal stimming, try to create a safe, quiet space where the individual can retreat and self-regulate.
  • Communication Techniques: If vocal stimming is a form of communication, work on developing alternative communication techniques. This could include the use of visual aids, sign language, or speech therapy.

Communication serves several essential functions in our daily lives and society at large. Firstly, it enables the exchange of information and ideas, fostering understanding and collaboration among individuals. Secondly, communication aids in decision-making by providing the necessary data and insights. Thirdly, it is crucial for expressing feelings and emotions, building and maintaining relationships. Additionally, communication plays a vital role in education and learning processes. Lastly, it’s an indispensable tool for persuasion and influence, often used in politics, marketing, and everyday interactions.

  • Professional Guidance: Seek advice from professionals such as occupational therapists or speech-language pathologists who can provide strategies and tools to manage and understand vocal stimming better.


Preventing vocal stimming and autism

Vocal stimming, often observed in children with autism, serves as a coping strategy to handle challenging environments, emotions or situations. Here are some strategies to manage it:

  1. Focus on Reducing and Replacing: Instead of solely focusing on stopping the behavior, work towards reducing vocal stimming and replacing the behavior with something else. This can be a more comfortable and less overt action like squeezing a stress ball or hands together. 
  2. Establish Rules and Routines: Make rules around when and where engaging in vocal stim is appropriate. Also, establishing familiar routines can help manage vocal stimming by removing triggers and stresses. 
  3. Use Visual Supports: Visual supports can help reduce a child’s reliance on vocal stimming by providing an alternative means of communication. 
  4. Reduce Demands: Lowering the pressure and lessening anxiety can help in reducing vocal stimming. 
  5. Reinforce Quiet Behavior: Reinforce “Quiet Mouth” behavior (i.e., lips together, no sound) whenever there is a moment of quiet. 
  6. Redirect, Substitute, or Change Environment: These are considered the best ways to manage vocal stims. Redirecting the child’s attention, substituting the stimming behavior with another less disruptive behavior, or changing the environment to suit the child’s needs can be very effective6. 

Remember, the goal isn’t to completely eliminate vocal stimming, but rather to manage it effectively and replace it with less disruptive behaviors.

Wrapping Up

Vocal stimming, like other forms of stimming, is an integral part of the experience for many individuals with autism. It’s not a behavior to be suppressed or stigmatized, but understood and accepted. By understanding why an individual with autism might engage in certain activities or vocal or stimming behaviors, we can better support them in their journey.

Remember, every person with autism is unique, and what works for one child might not work for another child. Patience, understanding, and flexibility are key as we navigate these waters together.

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