Friday, February 18, 2022

Vocal Stimming & Verbal Stimming: What You Need to Know

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What is vocal stimming and how is it different from verbal stimming? Let's take a closer look at these types of auditory stimming and learn all about vocal and verbal stimming.

Does your hyperlexic and/or autistic child repeat a lot of noises or specific sounds over and over? If so, they might be doing what's called vocal and verbal stimming.

Since hyperlexic kids, and many autistic kids as well, are gestalt processors and use language rich in intonation, vocal and verbal stims tend to be quite common.

Why is that? Well, gestalt processors often focus on intonation instead of the actual words (see sign #10 here). 

So, that paired with their strong auditory memories make it not only easy to replicate and mimic the fun sounds that they hear, but rewarding as well. When they vocally stim, they get to reward themselves by hearing that intonation pattern over and over. They are giving themselves the sensory information that they love and crave.

I know my son loves to stim vocally and verbally, often repeating and mimicking sounds that clearly bring him immense joy. He went through a phase for months - or maybe it was even years - where he would make these "oo-loo" type sounds over and over. Lately, he's been stimming with a sound that sounds like "bee-doo," where he puts a lot of emphasis on the second syllable and says it quite loudly, often making me jump. Although I scare easily. Just ask my husband or my kids.

Anyway, let's take a closer look at these specific types of auditory stimming called vocal stimming and verbal stimming. You'll see common examples of both, learn why these types of stims are used, and find out why you shouldn't discourage them.

Vocal stimming & verbal stimming: what you need to know

What is Vocal Stimming?

Vocal stimming is a type of stimming that involves repeating noises or sounds using your mouth, lips, and vocal chords. As the name implies, you are repeating certain vocalizations.

What is vocal stimming? A definition

Some common examples of vocal stimming include:

  • Humming or singing without words
  • Making or mimicking noises
  • Groaning
  • Grunting
  • Squealing or shrieking
  • Shouting, yelling, or screaming
  • Repeating specific sounds
  • Whistling
Common examples of vocal stimming

What is Verbal Stimming?

Verbal stimming is a form of vocal stimming where actual words are used instead of just sounds and noises. It is similar to echolalia. However, their functions and purposes differ slightly.

Verbal stimming is often done because repeating the words feel good or because the person stimming likes the sound of the words. It isn't necessarily being used to communicate like echolalia is. 

There is also usually some element of control to both verbal and vocal stimming vs echolalia in that the individual can decide how much, how often, when, and where to vocally stim. 

What is verbal stimming? A definition

Here are some common examples of verbal stimming:

  • Singing a song or even just specific lyrics
  • Repeating words, phrases, or lines from media (books, TV shows, movies, poems, etc.)
  • Repeating a single word over and over because it sounds good
  • Speaking in accents
  • Repeating alliterative phrases or tongue twisters
Common examples of verbal stimming

Reasons Why Your Child Uses Vocal & Verbal Stimming

Now that you have a better understanding of what both vocal and verbal stimming are, let's talk about the reasons why your child uses these vocalizations.

1. Self-Regulation

Stimming is often used for self-regulation purposes. Something I talk about in depth here. So the same applies to vocal and verbal stims as well. These stims can be used to block out sensory input when overstimulated or they can be used to stimulate the senses when understimulated.

I mean how often have you repeated certain phrases to yourself when overwhelmed or anxious? It's the same thing here.

After all, repeating certain vocalizations just feels good! 

2. Self-Expression

Vocal and verbal stims can be a good way to express oneself and how they're feeling. They might repeat a specific phrase or sound over and over not only because it feels good, but because it makes them feel happy (or some other emotion). The vocal stim essentially becomes a way for them to express their emotions and their interests. To them, it's pure joy, loads of fun, and a great way to express themselves.

3. To Explore Sounds & Language

Vocal and verbal stimming is also a great way to explore sounds and language. It gives these individuals an opportunity to just have fun playing around with language. I particularly like how this autistic adult describes their verbal stims as "a massage for my language circuits." I simply love that!

Reasons why your child might use vocal and verbal stims

Should You Discourage or Stop Vocal & Verbal Stimming? 

So now that leads to the big question that I see and hear a lot. Should you discourage or stop these vocal stims?

The answer is no. Like other forms of stimming, you should not discourage or try to stop these vocal stims. 

Stims serve a purpose and they likely aren't harming or hurting anyone. So despite what some other autism specialists (ahem, behavior therapists in particular) might say, you shouldn't stop stimming. 

However, I also know what it's like to have to hear the ear piercing shrieking types of stims on a regular basis...There are days where I cannot cope or handle it and that's a me issue, not my son's fault. It's just that some days our sensory needs conflict and compete and the vocal stims simply overwhelm me. 

So instead of discouraging the vocal stims, we usually try one of two things in these instances:

  • Redirect or substitute - Things like encouraging a different vocalization or offering a piece of gum or a chewable necklace instead can be a good way to redirect or substitute a vocal stim.
  • Change the environment - Either I will remove myself from the room and find somewhere else to go or I will encourage my son to go to another room in the house to continue his vocal stims. It depends on the situation. Or I might just pop in some ear buds and listen to an audiobook instead.

The thing is I recognize the value and importance of his stims, but it's also important to find a balance between his needs and the needs of the rest of the family. 

Quote about balancing the needs of the child who vocally stims and those of your family

So while you shouldn't discourage vocal stims as a general rule, sometimes you might have to compromise. And the best ways to do that are by redirecting, substituting, or changing the environment as needed.

You shouldn't discourage vocal stims

A Helpful Video to Learn More About Vocal & Verbal Stimming

If you'd like to learn more about vocal and verbal stimming, I highly encourage you to watch this video from Ask an Autistic. I've also embedded it below for convenience.

A Quick Recap on Vocal Stimming & Verbal Stimming

Okay, I know that was a lot of information, but here's a quick recap on vocal and verbal stimming. Perfect for those of you who skim read.

  • Vocal stimming involves repeating noises or sounds using your mouth, lips, and vocal chords
  • Verbal stimming is a form of vocal stimming that uses actual words instead of just sounds and noises
  • Verbal stimming is similar to echolalia, but their functions and purposes differ slightly
  • Vocal and verbal stimming are used for self-regulation, self-expression, and to explore sounds and language
  • Vocal and verbal stims should not be discouraged
  • However, there are instances when you might have to redirect or substitute them or you could change the environment instead

Hopefully you found this information on vocal stimming and verbal stimming helpful!

Other Stimming Resources You'll Love

Stimming Behaviors in Autism: A Look at Common Types & Examples

What You Need to Know About Your Autistic Child's Stimming

Free Printable Stimming Social Story

Vocal stimming & verbal stimming: what you need to know