Why Do Children with Autism Like Spinning Around in Circles?

Witnessing a child with autism spectrum disorder engaging in repetitive movements can be a common sight for many parents and caregivers. An autistic child spinning around in circles is a prime example. This behavior, often a form of self-stimulatory behavior or “autistic stimming,” is not a quirk but a meaningful way for the autistic child to regulate sensory input and manage sensory overload. Download your FREE guide on  AUTISM STIMMING: CAUSES, MANAGEMENT, AND TYPES Why do autistic children spin? Autistic people may spin as a way to interact with their environment uniquely, finding comfort and joy in the sensation and control it offers. This behavior is part of a broader range of stimming activities that serve various functions, including self-regulation and sensory exploration. Sensory issues For the autistic child, the world is an onslaught of sensory challenges, from the buzz of fluorescent light to the sounds of loud animals. Spinning in circles is one of the most common symptoms that allows these children to engage their vestibular system, aiding in spatial orientation and balance. As autistic children navigate space and balance through spinning, it’s no surprise spinning might specifically help some manage their sensory experiences and achieve a sense of balance and calm in an otherwise overwhelming sensory world. This action can be a source of sensory stimulation that helps the autistic person self-soothe in environments that might otherwise feel overwhelming. Self-stimulatory behavior Beyond sensory regulation, stimming behaviors like spinning, hand-flapping, or even repeating words play crucial roles in early childhood development for those on the autism spectrum. Stimming is recognized across a wide range of autistic people regardless of cognitive ability, serving not only as a coping mechanism for sensory and emotional overload but also as a critical part of autistic identity. Experts also believe self-stimulatory behavior is done both purposely and for communication. They are not only a mechanism to cope with anxiety but also a unique way for autistic individuals to express themselves and interact with the world on their own terms. Should you stop a child with autism from spinning around in circles? Understanding when to intervene and when to allow autistic spinning is essential for parents. Early intervention programs and advice from developmental pediatricians can provide guidance on encouraging social skills and managing challenging behaviors in social situations. However, it’s also crucial to recognize the value of these behaviors in helping autistic children regulate their sensory processing needs. Autistic people often feel stimming helps as a valuable coping mechanism, contrary to traditional treatments aiming to eliminate it. One study suggests people should accept and understand stimming instead of suppressing it, emphasizing the need for societal understanding and acceptance of autistic behaviors. How to manage autistic spinning Creating a sensory diet tailored to the child’s specific sensory input needs can significantly reduce the need for spinning as a regulatory mechanism. Incorporating toys that engage the child in sensory-friendly activities or using auditory stimming aids can offer alternative sensory stimulation, helping to manage the urge to spin while supporting developmental milestones. This approach addresses the immediate need for sensory regulation and supports broader developmental goals. Recognizing and understanding the reasons behind behaviors such as spinning enables caregivers to provide more empathetic and effective support, promoting an environment where autistic children feel valued and understood. Supporting children with autism and spinning behavior Recognizing the early signs of autism and responding with supportive strategies can make a significant difference in the lives of autistic children and their families. By understanding the purpose behind behaviors like spinning, caregivers can better support their child’s need to self-regulate, ensuring that they grow and thrive in a world that appreciates their unique ways of experiencing their surroundings. Click here to find out more FAQs Q: Is spinning around in circles a sign of autism?  Q: Is spinning around in circles a sign of autism? A: Spinning can be a part of the broader spectrum of stimming behaviors common in autistic individuals, though it is not solely indicative of autism. Q: How do you stop spinning in autism?  Q: How do you stop spinning in autism? A: Rather than stopping the behavior, providing safe and supportive ways to fulfill the sensory or emotional needs driving the spinning is recommended. Q: Why is my child with autism obsessed with spinning things? Q: Why is my child with autism obsessed with spinning things? A: This interest can be related to sensory processing needs, seeking comfort, or finding joy in the sensation and predictability of spinning. Q: Is spinning a common behavior in children with autism? Q: Is spinning a common behavior in children with autism? A: Yes, spinning and similar stimming behaviors are common and serve important roles in sensory regulation and emotional expression for those on the autism spectrum. References : Autism Parenting Magazine. (2023, October 18). Best Sensory Toys for Kids with Sensory Processing Issues and Autism . Autism Parenting Magazine . https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/best-sensory-toys/ Autism Parenting Magazine. (2024, January 15). Hand Flapping and Stimming in Autism. Autism Parenting Magazine . https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/autism-stimming-causes-management-and-types/. Kapp, S. K., Steward, R., Crane, L., Elliott, D., Elphick, C., Pellicano, E., & Russell, G. (2019). ‘People should be allowed to do what they like’: Autistic adults’ views and experiences of stimming. Autism, 23(7), 1782-1792. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361319829628. Kufleitner, Ashlynn Rae, “Perseveration or Perseverance: Investigating Interpretations of Echolalia, Self-Stimulatory Behaviors, and Intervention Approaches for Children Who Have Autism” (2019). Senior Independent Study Theses. Paper 8581. https://openworks.wooster.edu/independentstudy/8581. Mansour Yusra, Burchell Alyson, Kulesza Randy J. Central Auditory and Vestibular Dysfunction Are Key Features of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, Volume 15, 2021, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnint.2021.743561, 10.3389/fnint.2021.743561, ISSN=1662-5145. Meredith J. McCarty, Audrey C. Brumback, Rethinking Stereotypies in Autism, Seminars in Pediatric Neurology, Volume 38, 2021, 100897, ISSN 1071-9091, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.spen.2021.100897. Rebecca A. Charlton, Timothy Entecott, Evelina Belova, Gabrielle Nwaordu, “It feels like holding back something you need to say”: Autistic and Non-Autistic Adults accounts of sensory experiences and stimming, Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Volume 89, 2021, 101864, ISSN 1750-9467, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2021.101864. Tollan K, Jezrawi R, Underwood K, Janus M. A Review on Early Intervention Systems. Curr Dev Disord Rep. 2023;10(2):147-153. doi: 10.1007/s40474-023-00274-8. Epub 2023 Feb 18. PMID: 36845328; PMCID: PMC9937857.

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