Autistic Stimming / Self-stimulatory Behaviour

Stimming, or self-stimulatory behaviour, is defined as repetitive, rhythmic actions that a person engages in as a way of releasing emotional tension. Importantly, it isn’t exclusive to those on the spectrum! Everybody stims, including neurotypicals: bouncing your leg when you’re anxious or concentrating? Fidgeting? Jumping up and down with excitement? Chewing a pencil while you do your homework? That’s all stimming, and it helps you release internal tension.

The stimming of people on the spectrum differs only in that our behaviours (‘stims’) are often more visible. This is because of the way our brains work; for example, autistics are prone to taking in a lot more stimulation which can lead to a greater build up of tension which we need to release. As a result, our stimming can be more visible, and is often deemed less socially acceptable than the normalised behaviours which neurotypicals engage in. Unfortunately, this frequently leads neurotypicals to think that there is something wrong with us — they think we are being rude when we make loud noises, or flap our arms around.

In an effort to combat this misconception, I thought I’d give a review-style explanation of some of my own stims, explaining a bit about how they feel, and why I engage in different ones. Different people have different stims, but there are a few common ones, including hand flapping, yelling, rocking and clapping. Most of mine are quite discreet, but they are still essential for me in releasing emotional tension. I’ll talk a bit more at the end about what you can do about stims, and hopefully I’ll be able to explain why stimming (as long as it’s not self-injurious) generally shouldn’t be restricted.

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