Coping mechanisms are necessary for everyone. It’s easy to get lost in our own thoughts and emotions. So we need something to bring us back to ourselves and our bodies. For neurodivergent individuals, stimming is a common coping strategy to help alleviate nerves and stress, as well as express excitement and joy. In the same way that neurotypical people feel the urge to shout with joy when something incredible happens, neurodivergent individuals may also feel the urge to shout or make other vocal stims to express their emotions; it just may “look” or sound differently and often serves a much deeper purpose for the individual.
Stimming refers to repetitive behaviors that help autistic people cope with situations or feelings. Stimming may be associated with feelings of anxiety and overwhelm but can also be helpful during times of large emotions, whether good or bad. Stimming can manifest in a variety of ways, including vocally. That’s what we’re here to explore.
We’ll talk about the basics of vocal stimming as well as the different types of vocal stims. We’ll also discuss how they differ for autism and ADHD.
Stimming is short for self-stimulating behaviors, but some people also call it self-soothing. Stimming refers to repetitive behaviors that work as a coping mechanism for neurodivergent individuals. Stimming is often associated with autism but people with ADHD are also coming forward about how stimming presents for them. It helps to calm their nerves when they are feeling overwhelmed, and to express emotions that may otherwise be difficult to express.
At its core, the act of stimming involves physical (including vocal) gestures to meet the body’s sensory needs.
Neurotypical people can also use stimming as a coping mechanism during high-stress situations or in response to trauma triggers, but it’s more seen as a habit that can be broken, which isn’t the case for neurodivergent individuals.
There are different types of stimming, all of which are based on the human senses, such as touch or smell. But some stims appeal directly to the ear. One of the most common is vocal stimming, which comes from the auditory sense. A vocal stim is any repetitive behavior that involves using your mouth or vocal cords to make noise. Not only is vocal stimming appealing to the ear, it can also feel good to the throat, vocal cords and mouth.
Stimming of any kind can serve a variety of purposes, including:
Reducing sensory overload
Gaining enjoyment or decreasing boredom
Communicating emotions, either positive or negative
Adapting to an unfamiliar environment or situation
Alleviating nerves and uncertainty
Meeting a sensory-seeking need
Stimming shouldn’t be seen as a negative behavior. It can be used as a way to express yourself and your joyful emotions while also helping to alleviate anxiety or overstimulation, which is always a good thing. It can also help with understimulation and hyposensitivity when the body actually needs that additional stimuli.
There’s even happy stimming, which refers to vocal stims that communicate happiness and excitement. This can happen when someone is so enthusiastic about something that stimming becomes a medium to channel or release all that extra positive energy.
While the word “vocal” may lead some people to assume that the stim must involve words, that’s not always the case. This is why the term “vocal stimming” is more inclusive than “verbal stimming” to encapsulate all the different sounds a person can make that span far beyond just verbal language. Vocal stimming can refer to any sort of noise made with the mouth or throat, including saying words and phrases as well as repeatedly making sounds.
Here’s a list of common vocal stims:
Repeating words and phrases
Grunting or groaning
Making or mimicking sounds
Making up words
Everyone can feel overwhelmed or nervous from time to time. But for autistics, stimming is a safe coping mechanism and medium of expression that helps them through complex thoughts, emotions and circumstances that they may encounter on a daily basis. It’s also a protective response to overwhelming situations that can increase impulsivity and uncertainty. Vocal stimming is also just a pleasurable activity that an autistic person can engage in even when they are regulated.
Vocal stimming can help alleviate anxiety. People with ADHD are more likely to use a vocal stim as a way to improve their focus during a task or situation. For example, the bored/restless ADHD brain may need some extra stimulation and an individual may sing or hum to get through a mundane task.
While the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5-TR) doesn’t list stimming, of any kind, as an ADHD symptom, more and more ADHDers are coming forward about how stimming manifests for them. Classically, repetitive behaviors such as stimming are explicitly listed and widely recognized as a trait of autism.
If you’re autistic or have ADHD, it’s important to embrace every possible option that feels natural and regulating for you. If repeating a word or humming feels good and provides your body and brain the stimuli it needs, that is exactly what you should do. t
Our one-on-one coaching and neurodivergent-affirming therapists can help you gain insight about the tools and behaviors that work for you, and affirm your methods of self-regulation.. At NeuroSpark, stimming is welcomed and encouraged. We appreciate your ability to honor your sensory system during sessions, whether it’s through assessment, therapy, one-on-one coaching, or accommodations consulting. Please feel free to have your fidgets and sensory items accessible to you so that you are comfortable. Low-light-friendly, pet-friendly, snacks, whatever it is that helps you feel less stressed — our priority is that you have what you need to feel safe and comfortable. Our team will do the same.