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Q&A: Child with Visual Stimming Behaviors?


I am working with an autistic preschool child with visual stimming behaviors. We have worked on establishing relationships with the staff and his one-on-one aide as well as getting him to participate in class activities. Some examples are sitting in a designated work area and doing file folders for circle time activities such as matching. His sensory regulation/stimming behaviors are a problem. He constantly looks for items such as ribbons, toilet paper, or anything that he can wave or float. He’s very upset if he can’t carry a wad of material or other mediums with him. We have tried removing them and using them as a positive reward for work completion. When given items, he often throws or pushes them off the table while being fairly aggressive. Do you have any suggestions for replacement behaviors for stimming with the string/ribbon/toilet paper? Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!


Stimming behaviors are definitely tough to reduce or eliminate. Most often these types of behaviors are a symptom of visual over-responsiveness. Children with visual stimming behaviors are using a preferred type of visual input that they have control over to help them tune out competing and overstimulating forms of visual input they have no control over. I discuss visual over-responsiveness in a similar Q&A.

In addition to those recommendations, I also typically recommend building stimming time into their daily visual schedules. I typically title it in a way that makes sense to the child. For this child, you may be able to call it ribbon time and use a picture of his preferred forms of visual stim to represent this activity. Set a visual timer for 5–10 minutes or any length of time the team feels is appropriate. If he fusses when it’s time to put the ribbon away, show him on his visual schedule when he will get to use it again in the near future. At first, I would build in more frequent ribbon times and move toward lower frequency as he becomes less dependent.

I hope that helps! Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Best Wishes,