‘Self-stimulatory behaviour, known as stimming’
Stimming is something done to calm, stimulate and express one’s emotions. It is most prevalent in autistic people, but also people with ADHD, SPD, anxiety and various other disabilities may stim.
Although on a minor level everyone regardless of disability stims. Ever clicked your pen in a meeting or lesson? Ever swung your leg? Ever tapped a table, your leg, or a chair? All these are small examples of how all people stim on a minor level. You may feel anxious and the tapping your leg, or clicking the pen helps calm you down. You may feel angry and swinging your legs can reduce the feeling of anger.
For us autistic people stimming is a much larger part of our lives and we often seek out ways to stim. Stimming, for me anyway, is kind of my replacement of having social ‘chit-chat’ or my ‘talk through my emotions’ with someone. I hear allistic people say these things regularly and to me this seems the most bizarre thing. I am not saying I never speak about my emotions to those close to me or professionals, as I do, but it is a struggle and in fact some times to calm down talking things through is more stressful for me than stimming and calming myself that way. Stimming is an integral part of my life.
You may think of stimming as ‘hand/arm flapping’ ‘spinning in circles’ ‘rocking’ and that is it, these can all be stims, but stimming is far more than these.
I stim pretty much always, but if a sudden emotion (good or bad) happens there may be a more obvious stim suddenly to get me through that time, but I do stim pretty much constantly in some form to just get me through every minute.
There are so many ways and types of stimming.
The stims I do pretty much constantly are most likely to be tactile (feel), visual, and auditory stims. I have certain textures I like and I rub my hands and fingers over them and they feel so amazing. This can range from the back and sides of my hair when it has just been cut, to a blanket, to stroking a dog, to raised writing on a book cover, to so many materials. I can be sat and just rubbing my trousers and this is a way of me stimming, not obvious, but it is helping me.
Visual stims are the way I like the look of something that moves, whether it is a bath bomb being put into the bath and changing the colour of the water gradually, whether it is a particular video etc that I like seeing the movement in. A few months ago I was constantly watching the video of a stage production of ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ that I had seen at the cinema and was on YouTube. I was visually stimming, I massively enjoyed the show, but I was watching it 2/3 times an evening (over a 2 hour video) because the visual elements that were calming me, were helping. I stim by watching bubble lamps, certain videos of paint being mixed etc.
Auditory stimming is about sounds, this could be any sort of sound. So there are days where I listen to the same one piece of music over and over, constantly on repeat, this is a way of stimming for me. I like things that crunch, especially crunchy leaves in autumn, I like the rustle of the wind through the trees, the sound of rain on a tent, these things can make me feel calm and soothed.
Then there are the maybe more obvious stims, the way I tap my fingers in a certain pattern over and over, the leg jiggling up and down or the swinging legs or rocking body, the squealing.
I may do these generally throughout the day, but these are also the the ones I tend to do, when an emotion has come on and I need to express that emotion or calm down. So take me to the Tower of London and I’ll likely squeal, flap my arms and swing my legs, I am happy stimming and this can continue all day.
The other month we went to the cinema and several of the trailers were scaring me, lots of flashing and loud bangs etc and I was getting really distressed; I was rocking in my seat, hitting my forehead with my fist, scratching at my scalp,I was really distressed. Suddenly the Bridget Jones trailer came on and I started to squeal and flap, my self injury stims stopped and I was giggling as a happy stim. Now I felt really distressed during those other trailers and yes some of the ways I was stimming were self injury stims and that isn’t good, but actually stimming kept me in there, I was some how able to get through the distressing feelings with the help of my stims and then suddenly something appeared which made me happy and my emotions came out as happy stims.
Each autistic person will have different stims, one may have similar ones, but we aren’t all just hand flapping and rocking, there is so much more to stimming than that.
A texture which I may seek out to stim with for someone else may cause great anxiety if they touch it and cause them to stim to calm down from the distress of touching a texture that is hell for them.
Stimming shouldn’t be stopped or discouraged, stimming helps. I couldn’t get through anything or any day without stimming, whether you think I am stimming or not I likely am, it may just be subtle. The only time a person should try to encourage an autistic person to find a different stim to one they do is if it is a self injury stim, but it shouldn’t be forced out of someone as that can only make things worse. Don’t stop someone from stimming. If I am stimming in a self injury way the best thing is to try and make it so I can still do that stim but I am protected, so pillows or a padded hat etc. I have a stim where I am stressed where I scratch viciously at my scalp, I don’t mean to do it, I just do and before I know it, I have a bleeding, sore, tender and gunky scalp. It is very hard to change a stim that has been part of you for years and helps you get through tough situations.
Stimming is a part of me and it always will be. Stimming gets me through everything, so like with my tics, never, ever ask or tell me not to stim.