What is stimming?


When I first started reading about autism, so many things in my life seemed to fit the description. I looked at experiences that I’d never linked together and suddenly things made sense to me. I was sure I was autistic.

But I was convinced I didn’t stim. Stimming is another word for self-stimulating behaviour, or as the DSM refers to it, stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech. It actually rather worried me, because I was afraid that without stimming I wouldn’t be autistic enough to get diagnosed.

Alright, I did have a tendency to get very bouncy when I was excited about something. But that’s not really stimming is it? Stimming is the flapping and the rocking, right?

And then I read somewhere that playing with your hair is a stim. And I thought, “Hey, I do that. A lot. Actually a whole lot. In fact, my mum was always telling me to leave my hair alone.” And then I read another blogger who stroked the satin binding on her blanket as a stim. And I thought, “Mmm satin binding, that feels nice, I need to buy more stuff wi… Hang on. That’s stimming too? I do that.”

I’m not the only one who reads the standard descriptions of stimming and thinks it doesn’t apply to me. I’ve heard dozens of other autistic adults say the same thing. So I have taken the initiative to compile a list of stimming behaviours, based on a survey with over a THOUSAND responses. Yes, you read that right. Not just autistic stims, but ADHD stims, OCD stims, Tourette stims, manic stims, depressed stims, stressed stims, and any other stim you can think of.

A list showing all our unique ways of coping with our environment. A list that might help others recognise the same things in themselves.

If you want to know more about stimming, please visit The Stimming Checklist at http://what-is-stimming.org.


4 thoughts on “What is stimming?

    • I do the same thing, although for me it seems more of a tactile/touch thing than pain related. However, I believe it’s very similar to people who scratch their arms or chew the insides of their cheeks to get more focus or shut out overload in other sensory areas. That thing you describe, where the sharp little pain helps you cope with nervousness, rings very true to me. Besides: the whole point of stims is that they help you cope, and this obviously fulfills that function for you.

  1. I was convinced when I first about Asperger’s that I didn’t stim. Then I realised that all the leg twitching I do is stimming. And having worked that out I realised a, quite how much leg twitching I do and b, all the other stimming I do too. I like rocking as a destressor, leg twitching is my norm and I flap my right hand / arm (which I’d have sworn blind I didn’t do) when I’m enjoying myself (in private, and usually for some reason in my kitchen). And despite having told my dentist that I didn’t grind my teeth (I’m wearing part of my front teeth down and we couldn’t work out why), gee actually I do big style, normally when I’m leg-twitching and humming to myself! I’ll have to confess that to her at the next check-up. And I’m big on drumming on the worktops, slapping my hand against my side and stomping on a hard floor. So I guess that I’ve been remarkably unobservant for quite some time!!
    I don’t how long I’ve been doing all these things (the drumming at least 10 years, the leg twitching at least 5) so I’m now wondering what I did as a child…

    • I think it’s not so much being unobservant, as it is a sort of coping mechanism that we develop in order to fit in. Sort of like, if I can’t see it, it’s not there. I believe this is directly due to the incredible amount of censure our stimming behaviours receive from the people around us. “Stop twirling your hair. Stop biting your nails. Sit still. Don’t tap your foot. Don’t run around in circles. For god’s sake, BE QUIET for once.” So we get taught over and over that our behaviours are bad and get extremely negative reactions, and since it’s nearly impossible to completely suppress them, we just train ourselves to pretend that we don’t have them. So it becomes a very secret thing that you only do in private and even then can’t admit to yourself that you’re doing so.

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