Monday, 22 April 2019

What is Stimming?


One word or term that you may have heard when people speak about Autism is Stimming. But it is an aspect of Autism that many outsiders do not fully understand and it can be considered a taboo subject as not many outside of the Autism community fully understand what stimming is all about or why people stim.

Stimming or Stim is short for Self Stimulatory Behaviour and under the DSM-5 (the diagnostic tool for diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder) it is classed as a repetitive behaviour.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of stimming and why individuals who have been diagnosed with ASD, have a think about the things that you do when you're stressed or under pressure or bored even.

Everyone, regardless of if they have an ASD diagnosis or not, has at some stage in their life done a little bit of stimming. Some people tap their foot while seated at their work desk or at their school desk. You may have chewed on the top of your pen or pencil during examinations at school or university or during meetings. During meetings do you draw on paper or fiddle with your pens/pencils or ruler? Some people tap their fingers over and over on their work desk. These are all stims.

In most cases, a stim will come and go when you need it. You may only stim when you are stressed or under pressure or if you're bored. And just because you stim occasionally does not mean that you are on the spectrum.

For individuals who have been diagnosed with ASD, stims are there for good. And this isn't a bad thing.

Stimming is a way in which individuals who have been diagnosed with ASD are able to regulate their own emotions or calm themselves in stressful or exciting or other environments. And just as babies may suck their thumbs to relax or soothe themselves, some stims serve the purpose of soothing or comforting an individual.

Stimming is also a way in which individuals who have been diagnosed with ASD are able to gain sensory input.

Stimming can look like bouncing on the spot, flapping hands, wiggling fingers in front of their own face, stroking their hair, spinning, rubbing their clothing, fidgeting with their clothing and so on. Stimming may sound like humming or making noises.

Both L and O have a variety of different stims that they use. And when you get to know O and L, you'll see that depending on the emotional state that they are in, they have a stim for their different emotions. O and L's different stims tell us when they are frustrated, excited, nervous, happy, scared, overwhelmed, contented and so on.

O and L stim to help themselves to calm down when they are anxious. They both stim when they are in sensory overload. They both stim to express different emotions. Stimming assists O to focus on one thing and gets her mind away from the sensory overload going on around her at school.

O has told us that if she can bounce her feet in class, then she can keep her mind still so that she is able to concentrate on what her teacher is saying. While doing her homework in the afternoon, O needs to move. When she is moving, she does her homework in record time.

O and L don't stim for the sake of it, they stim because they need to. Stimming is a necessity. And this is also the case for others who have been diagnosed with ASD. Stimming for individuals who are on the spectrum has been likened to breathing. Stimming is just as natural and just as important.




In most cases, individuals who stim should not be stopped, unless the stim is inappropriate or they are in danger of injuring themselves or others. It is important to remember that if a child, or an adult is exhibiting a stim that is inappropriate, they are not being malicious. They're just doing the stim out of habit.

If the stim is inappropriate, then you can attempt to redirect the child to another more appropriate action. You could attempt to replace the perceived negative stim with a more positive stim but you do need to explain to the child why the stim that they were doing was inappropriate. If you find that you are needing to stop a child from stimming, you do need to provide the child with an alternative to the stim as in more cases than not, the child will replace the stim themselves and possibly with another inappropriate stim.

If you find that you are needing to stop a child from stimming, you also need to figure out what the child is trying to tell you. Stimming can be considered a communication form - expressing emotions.

But if the child is not hurting themselves or others and the stim is not inappropriate, why stop them?

And if you spot a child or an adult spinning or flapping or bouncing, please do not stare. They are expressing or regulating their emotions or assisting themselves to remain calm.

Respect the Stim!



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