Stimming – What it is and what it’s for

Image depicting the quote "Stopping stimming does not help the autistic person. It only helps to keep the stigma alive." on orange background. This quote is by Autistictic.

I saw a beautiful video about stimming on youtube today. It was the first time I ever actually searched anything related to stimming on youtube and purposely started watching some of the videos in an effort to understand my own stims.


What is stimming?

“Stim” is short for “self-stimulation”. It means a repetitive behavior to self-stimulate sensory input.


Each person has their own stims

I do many things and I have only just started to notice and understand my own stims. From what I was able to research online it seems that each autistic person has their own set of stims. They are as unique as we are as people. Here are ten of my stims, explained as well as I can without filming them. I do hope to be brave enough to one day film them for everyone to see but more on that later.


Rocking

I mostly do this when I am very upset to calm myself down. I will usually sit and rock my upper body. When used to calm myself down the rocking is rather abrupt and fast at first, more like a jerking motion and gets slower and calmer the calmer I get.


Jumping

I do this when I am either extremely happy or extremely anxious. Either way what it does is give the intense emotions inside of my body an outlet. Intense emotions like happiness or fear are energy inside of my body and if too much energy builds up it needs to get out. Jumping propels that energy outwards.


Hand flapping

I do not do this as much as most autistic people seem to but I do flap my hands when I eat something really delicious. So far that is the only occasion that I know of that makes me flap my hands.


Humming

I have two kinds of hums. Happy hum is when I feel content or happy. I make up short melodies and hum them repeatedly over and over. I enjoy both the sound as well as the vibrations in my throat, mouth and ears.
Distressed hum is when I feel anxious or aggravated. I will sort of burst out short little “HM!” sounds. I believe this is my way of trying not to scream or cry.


Singing

I do this when too content or happy for humming. I make up short songs, usually only a sentence or two with a made up melody and sing my one or two sentences over and over. The sentences are about whatever made me so content or happy.


Making sounds with my mouth

I do this whenever really. It is one of my most prominent stims. I flick my tongue, click my tongue, do a sort of rapid breathing thing inside of my mouth – okay I cannot explain this in words! Go ahead and try making sounds with your mouth and you get the idea.


Flicking, pinching, and biting myself

I do this when in some kind of distress that I do not have another viable way of dealing with at the moment. It takes my mind off of what stresses me out and focuses my attention on the spot on my body where I am stimming. I also do this in very mild and gentle versions to just feel my body.


Opening and closing my fists

This is one of my most common stims. I do this to relieve tension and since I have a lot of tension this is one of my go to stims. It looks kind of like shortcut hand flapping. Instead of flapping my hands up and down I stop halfway and open and close my fists with a jerky motion.


Finger and hand movements

I do this even more than opening and closing my fists. I do it to relieve tension as well as when I concentrate hard or get very involved in something. I will move my fingers in specific patterns and also keep my fingers in a certain position for a prolonged time.


Swinging and spinning

I do this almost constantly when I am home. We have a hanging seat in our living room which I spend a lot of time in. It is wonderful and I strongly suggest getting one for yourself or the autistic person you know.
Here is a link because they are just so wonderful for vestibular stimming: Hanging Rope Chair


Stimming is like breathing for autistic people

We can not be healthy if we suppress our stims. I am currently working on undoing 25 years of training not to stim.

As you might know I grew up without a diagnosis. Unfortunately that included that nobody knew that what I was doing when I was little was called “stimming” and was a very essential part of my natural being. It was considered embarrassing and inappropriate behavior and thus I was taught not to do it.

I made a lot of negative experiences during my early childhood with people reacting to my stims and I learned very quickly that I should not be doing it, that it was wrong, abnormal and shameful.
I learned to stop and hide my stims in public and whenever somebody was with me. This process was very painful and sad for me as well as it was exhausting.

Forcing myself not to stim costs a lot of energy. Suppressing something that is as essential and natural to me as breathing often occupied my entire being.
I had to always pay attention, always have my guard up, never relax and never let go. Hiding my autistic self on the outside is a big part of why I struggle with additional disorders today.

I am married now which means I rarely ever am all by myself anymore. The need to stim is as dominant as ever, that has never changed no matter how normal I was able to appear on the outside.
I need to stim in order to relax, recharge and be healthy. Since I am never truly alone anymore I need to be able to stim with other people around. So I need to retrain myself to let go. To be myself.


Stopping autistic people from stimming only keeps the stigma alive

If you are autistic: Just stim. There is nothing else to be said about this.
As a friend, parent, caretaker etc. of an autistic person: Allow stimming. Accept it. Wait until it is over to do whatever you were going to do or if possible just carry on with whatever you were doing. Do not stop an autistic person from stimming unless that person is harming themselves or others.

Please note that I am often unaware that I stim and cannot always just stop. Often I catch myself stimming and stop because I feel embarrassed – if you are with me and you notice: encourage me to just keep going. It will make my day and help me to let go of the stigma I have lived under for so many years.

The only reason stimming is seen as weird is that people are not used to seeing it around in public. It was stigmatized a long time ago and has since been hidden from the public eye.
Stopping stimming does not help the autistic person. It only helps to keep the autism stigma alive.
The only way to make stimming a normal part of everyday life is to stim away. It is extremely difficult to do this is our society but keep in mind that stimming keep autistic people healthy. It should be encouraged not condemned.

And finally here is the youtube video that led me to write this post:
Amythest Schaber

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