Vocal Stimming: Why Autistic Adults Make Noises

Cam Russo
Vocal Stimming: Why Autistic Adults Make Noises Vocal Stimming: Why Autistic Adults Make Noises

Autistic adults often engage in self-stimulatory behaviors, also known as stimming.

These behaviors can involve repetitive movements or vocalizations. Vocal stimming, in particular, has been observed in many individuals on the autism spectrum.

This comprehensive guide will explore the reasons behind vocal stimming in autistic adults, its impact on communication, and strategies for supporting and managing these behaviors.

Vocal Stimming in Autistic Adults

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What is Vocal Stimming?

Vocal stimming refers to self-stimulatory behaviors that involve the use of the mouth, lips, vocal cords, and ears.

It can manifest as repetitive sounds, words, or phrases, such as humming, repeating quotes from movies or TV shows, or making random vocalizations.

Autistic adults may use vocal stimming to self-regulate, express emotions, or seek sensory stimulation.

Examples of Vocal Stimming in Autistic Adults

Vocal stimming behaviors can vary widely among autistic adults, but some common examples include:

    • Repeating phrases or words (echolalia)
    • Humming or making random sounds
    • Groaning or grunting
    • Shouting, yelling, or screaming
    • Finger-snapping or tapping on objects
  • Throat-clearing
  • Covering and uncovering ears

It’s important to note that vocal stimming can be unique to each individual and may change over time.

Some autistic adults may have specific vocal stimming patterns or preferences that provide comfort or serve a particular purpose.

Reasons for Vocal Stimming in Autistic Adults

Emotional Self-Regulation

Vocal stimming is often a tool for emotional self-regulation in autistic adults.

Many individuals on the autism spectrum experience sensory processing challenges, which can result in either hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sensory input.

Vocal stimming can help block out excessive sensory input or provide additional stimulation when needed.

It can also serve as a way to manage overwhelming emotions or distract from physical discomfort.

Sensory Seeking and Sensory Avoidance

Autistic adults may stim vocally to seek sensory input or avoid certain sensations.

Some individuals may find certain sounds or vocalizations pleasurable and use vocal stimming to satisfy their sensory needs.

On the other hand, vocal stimming can also help autistic adults reduce sensory overload by focusing on a specific sound or blocking out other noises in their environment.

Communication Challenges

Communication challenges are common among autistic adults, and vocal stimming can affect their communication strategies.

Some individuals may use vocal stimming as a form of self-expression when they struggle to communicate verbally or effectively convey their thoughts and feelings.

Vocal stimming can serve as a way to assert control over their thoughts or create a sense of familiarity and comfort in social interactions.

Coping Mechanism

Autistic adults may use vocal stimming as a coping mechanism for various situations.

It can help them cope with anxiety, stress, or uncertainty, providing comfort and stability.

Vocal stimming can also be a way to regulate emotions, especially when facing overwhelming or intense feelings.

Additionally, it can serve as a means of adaptation to unfamiliar environments or a response to boredom.

Impact of Vocal Stimming on Communication

Social Acceptance and Understanding

Vocal stimming behaviors in autistic adults may be less socially accepted than other forms of stemming.

Often, people with autism talk to themselves when stimming.

This can lead to misunderstandings and misconceptions about the individual’s communication abilities or intentions.

Neurotypical individuals must recognize that vocal stimming is a natural part of an autistic person’s self-expression and should not be stigmatized or dismissed.

Communication Barriers

Vocal stimming can create communication barriers between autistic adults and neurotypical individuals.

It may make it challenging for others to understand and interpret the individual’s verbal communication, leading to potential frustration or misinterpretation.

Autistic adults may also rely on vocal stimming to communicate, especially when verbal language is difficult for them.

Understanding and accommodating these communication differences is crucial for effective interaction and inclusion.

Strategies for Supporting and Managing Vocal Stimming

Creating a Supportive Environment

Creating a supportive environment is key to helping autistic adults manage vocal stemming.

This can involve:

    • Reducing sensory triggers: Identifying and minimizing environmental factors contributing to sensory overload or discomfort, such as loud noise, bright lights, or exposure to extreme temperatures.
    • Establishing predictable routines: Providing a structured and predictable daily routine can help autistic adults feel more secure and reduce anxiety.
  • Providing sensory outlets: Offering alternative sensory outlets, such as fidget toys or sensory-friendly spaces, can help redirect stimming behaviors in a more socially acceptable manner.

Communication Strategies

Effective communication strategies can enhance understanding and facilitate interaction with autistic adults who engage in vocal stemming.

Some strategies include:

    • Active listening: Paying close attention to the individual’s non-verbal cues and body language to better understand their intentions and emotions.
    • Visual supports: Using visual aids, such as visual schedules or social stories, can support comprehension and communication.
    • Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC): Introducing AAC systems, such as picture communication boards or speech-generating devices, can provide additional means of expression for autistic adults who struggle with verbal communication.

Promote Self-Advocacy and Autonomy

Supporting autistic adults in advocating for their needs and preferences is crucial for their autonomy and well-being.

Encouraging self-advocacy can involve:

    • Providing opportunities for self-expression: Creating a safe and accepting space for autistic adults to express themselves through vocal stimming or other forms of communication.
  • Teaching self-regulation strategies: Equipping individuals with tools and strategies to manage their emotions and sensory needs in socially appropriate ways.

Professional Support and Therapy

Professional support and therapy can play a vital role in helping autistic adults manage vocal stemming.

Some therapies and interventions that may be beneficial include:

    • Occupational therapy: Occupational therapists can help develop sensory integration strategies and support managing sensory challenges.
    • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): ABA therapy can help individuals learn alternative behaviors and skills while reducing the impact of challenging behaviors, including vocal stimming.
    • Speech therapy: Speech-language pathologists can work with autistic adults to improve communication skills and find alternative ways to express themselves.

Wrapping it Up

Understanding and supporting vocal stimming in autistic adults is essential for fostering communication, inclusion, and acceptance.

Vocal stimming serves various purposes, including emotional self-regulation, sensory seeking or avoidance, and communication strategies.

Creating supportive environments, implementing effective communication strategies, and providing professional support and therapy can empower autistic adults to navigate their world and express themselves authentically.

Embracing neurodiversity and promoting acceptance are crucial steps toward a more inclusive and understanding society for individuals on the autism spectrum.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered an adequate substitute for medical or therapeutic advice. It is important to consult qualified professionals for personalized recommendations and support.

Article References

    1. Longo, S., BA (2022, May 16). What is Vocal Stimming in Children with Autism? Retrieved August 18, 2023, from https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/autism-children-vocal-stimming/
    2. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Retrieved August 18, 2023, from https://www.asha.org/njc/aac/