a silhouette of 4 slender framed figures in a vibrant sunset, one of the three is doing a star jump and the other s are less enthusiastic, one looking almost disapprovingly at the jumper

International Day of the Stim: What IS Stimming?

Stimming is short for self-stimulating behaviors. – SELF-STIMULATING??? What? It’s not what you may be thinking.

It’s about stimulating the senses – sight, taste, touch, sound, sight, smell, the sense of bodily movements.

Stimming is, typically, a very G-rated activity. It’s energy regulation – energy in energy out.

Stimming is characterized as “repetitive movements” that someone may use to help themselves cope with rising energy levels in the body due to an increased emotional or sensory response.

Examples of MY stimming include:

  • Bouncing my feet under a table while working, eating, or talking.
  • Biting the inside of my mouth when anxious or pressed – sometimes until I bleed.
  • Playing with or twirling my hair, stroking pieces of fabric, or playing with zippers and ties on my clothing repetitively.
  • I flap my hands one way when I’m excited and another way when I’m scared.
  • I jump up and down, clapping, and spinning when I’m really happy.
  • Watching similar visuals over and over again, such as lines on the road, telephone poles, or grass and plants, when riding in a vehicle.
  • As a kid I loved pin wheels, and would stare into box fans and ceiling fans.
  • I would also verbally stim by yelling into box fans.
  • Talking and singing to myself – verbal stimming is something I do a lot of without even realizing. Just yesterday, I kept meowing along to a song in the car while reading on my phone and didn’t even realize I was doing it. (I stopped because I was annoying people, then accidentally started again and caught myself two lines in.)
  • If I’m feeling anxious, or something or someone is too loud or overstimulating around me, I may rock in place or pace back and forth to block it and work out the energy from my discomfort.

You may read this and say, “I do some of that? I stim too. am I Autistic?” 

Maybe, but also maybe not, Because stimming is not unique to Autistic or even NeuroDivergent People.

Everybody stims from time to time if they are feeling pressed or overwhelmed. Heck, even animals stim, especially in captivity when they are mentally understimulated. Stimming is a reasonably natural response for many people and creatures, but Autistic People stim MORE.

Non-autistics may have a stim or two they use to self-regulate; often, these stims are more discrete, as non-autistic people tend to be more aware of their stimming than many Autistic people are. Non-autistic people are also usually better at controlling their stimming behaviors, though some Autistics may learn to mask, suppress, or hide their stims as well.

For us Autistic and NeuroDivergent humans, often, our stimming is much more apparent.

On the outside, it may appear as if we are having significant reactions to “small things,” but, in reality, because Autistic people experience our emotions and senses differently (often more intensely than NeuroTypicals do), our experience of life and the world around us is also more intense.

I experience great joy and excitement from things most people take for granted, so when I jump and flap for joy, people often tell me to “calm down” and tell me that I shouldn’t be so excited about the thing that’s bringing me great happiness.

To people who can’t find the joy in life’s little things as I do, my overly enthusiastic response to things seems like an “overreaction to something small,” but the “little things” feel much more significant to me.

I also stim and sensory seek to regulate my senses and my energy. If something is hurting me, I may stim to block out the pain. If there is not enough sound in a room or the wrong sounds, I often make my sounds to fill the silence.

Content Warning: HARMFUL STIMS

Most of my stims are harmless, beneficial to my health, and essential for the natural ebb and flow of my NeuroDivergent energy regulation system.

However, some of my stims are harmful; for example, last time I had a toothache, punching my leg until it was bruised and banging my head on the wall because it was the only thing that could make the tooth pain stop.

These are the stims people complain about, the ones that cause harm. Even these stims have a function, most frequently appearing when I am in extreme distress or have a need that’s not being met.

Redirecting and suppressing stims is also bad for me because it often leads to more damaging stims, such as biting the inside of my mouth, grinding my teeth, and clenching my jaws. I can experience physical pain from sitting still and holding my body tense until painfully tight and filled with knots and aches.

Stimming is something my body does naturally (if I let it). It’s something that I can control, to some degree, but at a high cost. It’s something I’ve always done, and something that got me in trouble a lot in elementary school – because my teachers expected me to have more control over my arms body than I do even today.

It’s something that caused me a lot of pain and shame over the years, but I’ve decided to take it back for my health and for anyone else who struggles to hold themselves together in ways many Autistic brains cannot.

Spend enough time with me when I’m relaxed, and you will realize how much I stim and why normalizing stimming is so important to me. IT ALL COMES OUT when I’m at ease, and I can feel as if my NeuroDivergence is on display, even when I want to be invisible.  

I’m learning to be comfortable with that for the first time in my life, but still, there are situations I find my body growing tight and tense when I feel unsafe. This feeling of being on display, standing out, and that it’s NOT SAFE to be yourself is one many people can relate to. As a Queer, Autistic in Texas, I feel unsafe often for multiple reasons.

One day, I hope it will be safe for all Autistic people to unmask and not hide how their bodies move naturally. Still, the ability to stim freely and openly is one I am grateful for, as I’m well aware not all Autistics have this freedom.


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With gratitude,


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