“Stimming is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in autistic people/people with autism spectrum disorders.” (Wikipedia)
Everyone has some sort of stimming behaviors, but we typically only do them occasionally, like biting our nails if we are nervous, or playing with a pen or pencil when we are bored or agitated at school.
For some people with autism, however, it can be difficult to stop stimming. Some autistic children will stim multiple times a day, and it can greatly impact their ability to learn. They may stim because they are excited, happy, anxious, overwhelmed, or because it feels comforting. Under stressful circumstances, they may stim for long periods of time.
People who are not autistic aware of and can control our stimming (for example, we wouldn’t bite our nails while on a date or a job interview). If we are in a stressful situation and need to stim, we are usually subtle about it. For example, we might shake one leg under the table rather than rock our whole bodies back and forth. People with autism, however, may not be aware of and responsive to others’ reactions to their stims, and many are not able to control it.
We don’t know enough about autism right now to be able to say for sure why stimming almost always goes along with this disorder, but we do know that it has something to do with an autistic calming themselves, and self-regulation.
People with autism stim as a way to manage their anxiety, fear, anger, excitement, anticipation, and other strong emotions. They also stim to help themselves handle overwhelming sensory input (like too much light, noise, heat, etc.).
Stimming can actually be really useful and make it possible for an autistic person to manage difficult and stressful situations.
However, when stimming is a distraction, creates social problems, or causes physical harm to the autistic person or to people around them, it can get in the way of daily life.
Common forms of stimming among autistic people include hand flapping, body spinning or rocking, lining up or spinning toys or other objects, repeating phrases or certain sounds, and flicking the mouth. There are also other forms of stimming that are less common.
It’s important to remember that more subtle forms of stimming are part of most people’s behavior patterns. For most people, this would be tapping your toes, biting your nails, twirling your hair or tapping your pen or pencil.The biggest differences between autistic and typical stimming are the type of behaviors and how frequently they occur.
In general, behaviors are described as “stims” when they go beyond what is culturally tolerated. In other words, a “stim” is a behavior that is culturally unacceptable. There’s really no good reason why hand flapping should be less acceptable in our society than nail biting, but in our society the person that is flapping his hands receive negative attention and the person that is biting his nails is commonly tolerated.
It is my hope that through these blog posts and through my children’s books in The Independence Series, more people will be educated about autism. People are normally afraid of what they don’t understand. I am hoping that when people begin to understand more, they will be more accepting. I understand that some symptoms of autism should be eliminated through therapy and correction to help that individual obtain a high level of functioning (if possible) and a good quality of life, but I think that a lot of things about autism don’t need to be changed. I think it is for the most part, the way we view autistics that needs to change.