What is Stimming & Why Do Autistic People Stim?

What is Stimming? – this week’s video is on the much requested topic of autistic stimming.



What is Stimming & Why Do Autistic People Stim? — Neurodivergent Rebel

May 2, 2018

Transcript/Subtitles by: @SeekingSara174 (An Autistic’s Journey Toward Self-Discovery), https://seekingsara174.wordpress.com/

(uplifting guitar music)

(sighs) Deep breath. I don’t know why, like, I’m…intimidated by this topic. So…there’s always the question:

“What is stimming?” or there are questions about stimming… and I haven’t really  personally shared a lot about stimming. I haven’t written anything or done a video about stimming. I usually will kind of point people to other people’s videos and articles about stimming that are already existing… but since it’s something that people ask about a lot, I thought it was probably about time that I sat down and did a video and talked about stimming. So if you’re interested in learning a little bit about stimming in some pretty plain English, stick around.

(groans) (sighs) Stimming is a really big topic and I don’t wanna ramble because I could talk about it a lot. Ergh! So… (groans softly and bounces interlaced hands up and down) This is stimming, technically, I guess. Um…what is it? What is stimming or what is it?

So let’s start with what it looks like or how you know stimming when you see it. Uh, stimming is—it can be a lot of things, actually. It tends to be something that’s tied to the senses and movement and it can also be kind of tied to a person’s emotions. And I’ll talk about how those kind of things go together.

Uh, but first I’m gonna explain like what the stimming looks like… Uh, for some people it can be like rocking; it can be like hand stuff (hand flaps) (claps hands), clapping your hands, rubbing your hands (rubs hands, then intertwines them and stretches)… just different things like arm motions… (jiggles shoulders) And it —it tends to… by “medical definition” (makes air quotes) be a um… What do they say? “Repetitive motion.” (air quotes)

It can be spinning in circles or pacing; it can be making sounds with hands (rubs hands) or body o the mouth—and that would be for like to listen to the sound…back. It can be like with the senses— sight! Staring at things, watching pinwheels and glitter… or looking at the road at a beautiful—just starting, you know, at the road as things pass by, um. That’s a visual…stimming.

And…the thing that I want to also note before I dive in deeper is that stimming is very natural to all people and actually I think, all mammals: dogs and um, if you see animals in the zoo…the pacing —stimming.

Uh, cats are stimmy little critters—always (silly voice while mimicking cat rubbing) rubbing their faces on stuff! Um, so… it’s—it’s something that, you know, everybody does at least to some extent.

Uh, you know, it might be subtle for most people. The—you know, the majority of the population… Like it might be like clicking your pen or just maybe something like… (wiggles fingers discreetly) You know? Real, real minor.

Um, but the main difference with Autistic people is the frequency at which Autistic people stim and the, I guess, urgency and necessity for Autistic people to stim. And I’m throwing that in there, you know. So if you, uh… have thoughts on that, *please* let me know ‘cause I don’t wanna talk for everybody. I like to know what you think!

Um…It’s just like I said—It’s a big topic. Um…*but* with Autistic people, stimming is such a big part of their—our neurotype that it is part of the diagnosis. Autistic people stim more frequently than the rest of the general population, for the most part.

And it…seems to be something that is used to regulate energy. Like, energy in, energy out. Uh…I hope this makes sense!

Like, for example, if you scare me or like, I get really excited about something or just, this is like an inward rush of emotion—be it you know, happy, sad, whatever… The energy—It’s a lot of energy flowing through my body and my brain and if I’m scared, (raises hands above head) my hands are going to start doing some really weird stuff.

And then for a while, while I calm down I’m probably gonna like…I don’t know. I’m gonna be weird for a little and I’m gonna be like really twitchy and weird and I dunno know. I just—it’s gonna take me a little while to like simmer down. I can’t chill out.

Or if I get really excited about something and I’m talking, I talk with my hands (flaps hands in front of camera) or my hands will just… My hands will do whatever they wanna do! (makes big hand gestures) And it’s…not something that I am very aware of. Um, when I’m relaxed it’s just (singsong voice) something that happens!

Um, and…it can also be something that people seek out and it can be pleasurable. When I was a kid I had all of these pinwheels and I had like a wand with glitter in it and I actually still have it ‘cause my Grandmother gave it back to me not to many years ago.

And it can be something that people can seek out, uh…and then it can—because it is [a] pleasurable or distracting sensation, it can be something that someone does when they are in pain or distress and it helps regulate the pain or the distress.

For example, I slammed my thumb in the door earlier this week and I think I really hurt my thumb. It’s in a lot of pain still and…oh my gosh, it hurt! And so I was biting my other hand (bites hand) and just like biting it biting it biting it.

And…maybe that’s not logical to some people, like “You’re gonna hurt your other hand! Why are you biting your other hand?” but (points to injured thumb) this is still in a lot of pain. This was in so much pain… I (shakes head) can’t even articulate it.

When I slammed it in the door (laughs) and the biting, you know… I didn’t break the skin; you can’t tell, you know. But some people may hurt themselves. Um, [the biting] is like a distraction from the pain in the other part of my body which was much worse but it actually channeled the pain away from this pain. (gestures at hurt thumb)

And I don’t know if that makes any sense. Um, so that’s kind of also my concern with Autistic people who may not have a good way to communicate when they’re in pain because… people are always mentioning non-verbal Autistics with self-injurious stims…

And—at least it’s been my experience— that’s something that’s gonna happen when you are in extreme pain or extreme distress and I’d love for the community’s input on this as well, uh, because that’s kind of what I’ve read too. You know, this isn’t just my opinion but I don’t wanna talk for everybody. So, I worry the non-verbal Autistics who are hurting themselves may be in extreme pain or distress and just can’t communicate it. So that’s a worry.

Uh…but… Dadada (sings absentmindedly) What was my triangle here? (traces triangle shape in air while thinking) I was talking about “what it is”, “what…”, “what it’s like”…(continues to talk to self under breath)

Um…“Why?” Um…and then something else, you know, I wanted to, you know, talk about is how, you know, stimming is a very—like I said—very natural energy in, energy out thing that happens for me in my body.

Although, you know, I do notice that there are things that I do at home that I wouldn’t do like, everywhere. There are certain things that just aren’t appropriate everywhere you go.

Like, I’m not gonna… like, I—I talk to myself and I make (silly voice) funny noises and (rubs hands together, clicks fingers) you know, dance around and I love to sing to myself and I make up little songs in my head when I’m going around doing stuff. Uh…and I sing things to David (laughs) a lot.

And I wouldn’t like, sing things to my boss and I wouldn’t go around the library making noises and like quiet office making noises…uh, and being disruptive. Although I can be as disruptive as I want at home, so I do. Poor Dave has to deal with my off-key singing a *lot*!

Um, and you know, like, you wouldn’t run through the hallways singing off key in a quiet place. Maybe you would, I don’t know. Uh, but it’s just not appropriate, you know? So there’s like a time and place for certain things, but I don’t want people to feel ashamed like they have to hide it out of shame.

I think, you know… I just think, you know… I just— we should be respectful to other humans around us and other people should be respectful to us and um… you know, like certain things that are maybe like (flaps arms widely) I don’t know…that shouldn’t bother anybody. I don’t know why people uh… should have to like, hide it or feel embarrassed by it. It—It’s just natural.

And so hopefully having this conversation about stimming will…bring a little understanding to what it is so next time, you know, someone who doesn’t like—or sees someone stimming and they’re like “Ugh. What’s that weirdo over there doing?!” And they’re like, “Oh look, someone’s stimming. Ok, cool!” And they can just go about their day and it it’ll just be no big deal.

Wouldn’t that be great!? And that way, people wouldn’t be like, (rocks gently) “Oh, shoot! Was I rocking just now?” (looks around and smooths hair nervously) “That’s weird. I should—I should stop doing that.” ‘Cause that’s—that’s what you learn to do…when you’re—especially if you’re like growing up undiagnosed and you just kind of learn like…you’ll do something like (flaps arms and gestures) something randomly and someone will be like, “What the fuck was THAT?!” or “That’s WEIRD! What—What—Why?!”

You know? People like (laughs) have that reaction and so you learn (sits rigidly) “Okay, try really hard not to do thattttt!” and your body’s like…full of energy and it’s like… trying to do that. So like, the minute you walk into the bathroom alone you’re like “Blehhhhh!” (shudders and flails arms all around) “Phew!”. Like a dog when they shake and they reset. Um… (laughs)

And I don’t want people to have to do that; I want people to just be able to feel comfortable being themselves and being relaxed and…you know. I just—That’s—So, that’s my dream about stimming, my thoughts about stimming… um…I’d love to know your thoughts on stimming. Uh… and anyway, guys, if you liked this video give me a thumbs up so maybe I’ll talk more about stimming. (guitar music begins to play with gentle soprano voice crooning) More…we’ll be do more with stimming. And be sure to stay tuned.

I’ll talk to you next week! Bye, guys!

10 thoughts on “What is Stimming & Why Do Autistic People Stim?

  1. It caught my attention when you mentioned biting your hand to focus your attention away from your jammed thumb–and talked about how non-verbals pain can be confusing. In my late twenties, I was in terrible anguish about having to give up a creative profession I loved that sustained me amid a world that did not “get me” at all. I am asexual and neurodivergent without having any idea those things existed at that time–to my family I was not with “the program” and shame was the way to get me in line. I cut myself a few times one day, and their reaction was to have a psychologist (I use that term loosely) shame me, prescribe drugs and try to lock me up. I had enough together to realize I could not depend on them for support, and fled. I can only imagine the panic and despair of those who can not escape that situation. Perhaps you were talking about non-verbal people not being able to communicate that they are in physical pain–I would add that mental pain is possible also, and “cutting” is a form of stimming.
    Thanks for your wonderful work and for finally talking about stimming.

  2. First, your hair color is amazing. I see a lot of my behaviors and attitude in your videos. Until this video, I hadn’t heard of stimming. I’m in my late 20s and wonder if I’ve been on the autism spectrum, but undiagnosed. I make hand farts, rub my hands, wrist, face and neck. I use my fidget cube to minimize this at work. I have to use both of my hands – mouse and computer. I usually go back and forth from rubbing, to working, to rolling my cube in my hand and working while doing that. I rock back and forth. At home, I make weird sounds, songs and repeat words. I say Yargadarga, oinkaboinka and strange things like that. I often pace and my husband lets me know when I do it. Going back to stereotyping. I’ve always been picky with food when it comes to texture. I know this last part doesn’t have to do with stimming. I appreciate your knowledge and insight. I always chalk it up to, “in a weird mood”. I look foward to watching more of your video blogs.

    1. I apologize if I was at all offensive. I meant to show that I relate to what you’re saying. You’ve given me some understanding. I like how you said anyone can stim. It’s not just people with autism. I found that interesting and helpful. Wishing you the best. 🙂

  3. Hey Rebel,
    I don’t understand much about what you are talking about, that’s why I watch your explanations I guess. But just want to say, I love your blog and courage! Quite inspirational stuff and how you present your content. I’m still new to blogging and never even wanted to blog-blogge-dee-blog-blog-blog… But I am just doing it my way, no matter if “right or wrong”. There is no right or wrong when it comes to telling your story I guess. I hope.
    Keep ’em coming those inspirational thoughts.

  4. Hi!
    Thank you very much for sharing your experience and explanation, you are amazing and so very brave to be able to talk about it.
    My eldest child seems to be autistic, and he does all the mentioned things, it certainly can be a very annoying thing to watch, but now I understand his needs to stim!
    Thank you very much once again!
    Good night!

  5. Thank you for this. My husband still asks me what the hell im doing when I stim, despite knowing I’m autistic and knowing that I stim. When I’m at home I’ve developed this habit of flexing my hips/pelvis back and forth which isn’t very noticeable, but very satisfying for me. I also tense certain muscles and relax them over and over when I want to be subtle but need to stim. I also wear a telephone cord bracelet that I can wrap around my fingers for some deep pressure when I am distressed in public (thanks, Stimtastic!). I also rub my feet and legs together for the sound and sensation. I’ve kind of learned to not stim with my hands too much because people treat me like I’m nuts, so what I do actually do with my hands is always very subtle and people rarely notice it.

    I wish the world understood how important stimming is to us. My husband is a wonderful man, very understanding, and knows quite a lot about autism but he still asks me “what the hell are you doing” and rolls his eyes when I tell him I’m doing it because it feels good. It hurts to have him not get it with the stimming. I wish he would get it though his head that my “weird” movements are necessary for my sanity. Our son is also autistic and I have to defend his stimming or people including my husband will tell him to stop it or the very common and much hated “quiet hands”.

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