Ask an Autistic #4 - What is Vocal/Verbal Stimming?

Author: Amythest Schaber

Hi, I’m Amythest, and welcome to this episode of Ask an Autistic. [music] Today I’m going to be discussing vocal and verbal stimming which was requested by a viewer, Chad, so let’s get started. Vocal stimming is stimming that incorporates the mouth, and lips, and vocal chords, as suggested by the name. Vocal stimming can take a wide array of forms but some common vocal stims are humming, making sound effects, mimicking noises in the environment or from television shows or movies, singing without words, so singing the tunes of songs, and yelling, shouting, any other form of making noises with your mouth that can be vocal stimming. Carly Fleischmann is an autistic advocate, and she’s great, I love her, if you get a chance to go to her facebook page which I will link to below.

And she has put it very eloquently in that autistic people use vocal stimming to block out bad or negative sensory input from the environment and in this way they can balance themselves and self-regulate, so vocal stimming can serve that person. Say you are an autistic person and you are someplace where the noises are very loud or perhaps there’s a particular noise that really bothers you, it could be the electronic whine of a TV, or an air conditioner turning on, or feedback from a microphone. Whatever it is, it sucks and you don’t like it. One way to deal with it and to withstand the pain or discomfort of it is to block it out. Vocal stimming can also be used as a form of expression. I find that a lot of non-verbal vocal stimming and expression is often misunderstood by neurotypical people because it might not be the way they communicate fear or happiness or joy or excitement. But I think that when you are around an autistic person a lot, like a family member and you love them and you want to get to…to know them and speak their language, so to speak, you can start to learn the nuances and you know what kinds of vocal stimming they do in situations where they’re happy or when they’re stressed and what the different exclamations or sounds mean. You know, vocal stimming, it isn’t pointless.

It can either be a method of self-regulation, you know, blocking out bad input with good input or it can be a form of self-expression that is very, you know, unique to autistic people, but still I think a valid form of self-expression. I know that parents of autistic children can have trouble with vocal stimming when it reaches ear splittingly loud. So, say you have an autistic child and they vocal stim in a variety of ways but one of those ways is screaming. They say, you know, “should I stop this vocal stimming? Should I prevent them from screaming? And if so, how?” And to that, I say, “Unless the vocal stimming is ear splittingly loud screaming, please don’t stop vocal stimming”.

Because, you know, it is a method of self-expression and a great way to self- regulate. So, you know, unless you really have to, please don’t. If you do need to, say, you know, you just can’t handle the screaming yourself or you’re in a public place. Then, I would suggest methods that aren’t clicker training. Yes, I actually found a post on the internet, came across it accidentally, wish I hadn’t, of a mom who had, and she claimed, effectively trained her autistic child to shut his mouth or to not vocally stim or scream by using a clicker, like, one of those things you train dogs with and treats. Well, ok, maybe it… worked for her, but, you know, please don’t use methods to train animals on your children. Autistic people are people still and, you know, animal training methods on humans, not cool. Anyway, this mom who trained her child with a clicker to stop any kind of vocal stimming expression suggested that all vocal stims are bad and should be stopped because they’re, you know, an autistic behaviour.

Ask an Autistic #4 - What is Vocal/Verbal Stimming?

Nope, nope, please don’t do that. If you really do need to prevent your child from screaming, the best way is to redirect the stimming and give them something better. If your autistic child is screaming for self-stimulation purposes they want the sound, or they like the vibrations in their throat, then you might want to give them something oral to fixate on. You know, like give them really awesome Chewelry or a chewy pendant or something, ‘cause if you’re chewing on something that’s really awesome to chew on, you’re going to enjoy that, and you’re probably not going to be screaming. So, that’s one method, you know, substitute something better.

Every child is different, so if you can find something that entices your child and has to do with, you know, the mouth, lips, teeth, throat area, then that can be a good way to redirect the stimming while still allowing them to…stim and self-regulate. For myself, I find chewing gum is very effective. I won’t vocal stim when I’m chewing gum, probably because I can hear the sound of the… of the gum being chewed in my ear and I can feel the really good deep sensory input in my jaw. So, gum might be another option. Verbal stimming is like vocal stimming, except that it employs the use of words.

Now, this is very closely connected to echolalia. If you have never heard the word before, echolalia is when an autistic person repeats words or phrases. So echolalia might look like a child being asked, “what do you want for lunch?” and they may repeat back “what do you want for lunch?” or they might get fixated on a certain word and really enjoy it and so they might say, you know, “basketball, basketball, basketball” and that’s echolalia. Verbal stimming can look like echolalia, individual words or phrases, but it can also look like singing, lyrically, you know, songs with lyrics and it can also look like chanting, or reciting poetry, you know, it can be all kinds of things and I found the methods of verbal stimming are as varied as autistic people are. Myself, I verbally stim by repeating poetry to myself. I’ll verbally stim to think to myself and to process what I’m reading. I also verbally stim by singing…Disney songs. And I will just sing to myself, and not so much for, you know, singing the singing to sound good, but just because I really enjoy it.

I can hear it, gives me something to listen to, also I really enjoy the sensations of the vibrations in my throat when I sing. So, in that way, it’s soothing and self-stimulating. Verbal stimming, like vocal stimming, can take a wide variety of forms. And I think that, um, verbal stimming is really important for the development of autistic children, like echolalia is. And I don’t think that verbal stimming should be discouraged. I know it can be a little bit embarrassing for neurotypical parents and people, because echolalia and verbal stimming is a very obviously autistic behaviour. And so, say you’re in public and your child is verbally stimming by just repeating one word or one phrase over and over, you might feel slightly uncomfortable with that.

But then it’s more an issue of the parent’s embarrassment. As far as development and expression goes, it’s really important to allow both vocal and verbal stimming and echolalia. And I find that some parents don’t like verbal stimming because they think of it as meaningless and they, they say “well, you know, if I allow him to verbal stim and just repeat words or just repeat what I say back to me, what is he learning?” But, autistic people, we develop in a slightly different way, and verbal stimming is a really important part of that. I do not think that verbal stimming is detrimental to the development of autistic children, and I don’t think that verbal stimming or echolalia will impede language skills. So, the fact is, that both verbal and vocal stimming are important parts to the development of language in autistic children. And, I feel like, they’re not meaningless either, because it’s a, it’s a form of self-expression and it can often signify that the autistic person is listening and, you know, tuning into their environment and I think that’s, that’s important to take into consideration. And even if verbal and vocal stimming did just exist for the purpose of self-stimulation and blocking out negative sensory input. Then, you know, it’s still not meaningless.

So, I’m a big advocate of both verbal and vocal stimming, and I think it’s great. I’m, I’m happy to see other autistic individuals and children verbally and vocally stimming in public. Most of the time, it really doesn’t bother anyone, it’s just the parents might be a little embarrassed. But I think that maybe they shouldn’t be and I think maybe if we all work together, we can move society towards a direction where autistic differences are accepted and even celebrated, and not shamed. So, this has been my video on verbal and vocal stimming.

I hope you found it informative. If you liked my video, feel free to thumbs it up and, if you want to see more videos about autism, you can subscribe to my channel. I’m updating Ask an Autistic on Thursdays now, but next week, my husband and I are going on a short trip, so there will be no video update next week, but the following Thursday, there will be a new Ask an Autistic. So, if you have a question that you would like answered via video, feel free to post it in the comments section below. Thanks for watching my videos. [music].

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