Lyric, happy flapping in front of a wall mural of blue and teal mountains that match their blue and teal Colorado Rocky Mountain outfit. They have a BIG teethy Grin.

Autism and the Wonderful World of Autistic Stimming – What IS Autistic Stimming and WHY do Autistic People Stim?

Stimming is essential, helpful, and necessary, but I didn’t understand it for most of my life.

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When I discovered I was Autistic, all the little pieces of my life finally began to fall into place. For the first time, I had answers to questions about why I am the way I am, and stimming was a big piece of my personal puzzle. 

Stimming explained my troubles in school with teachers who wanted me silent and immobile (and why I could not provide the stillness that was demanded of me). 

Stimming explained my hunger and constant need for sensory input, why pinwheels and other sensory tools had always been my favorite toys growing up, and why I still loved so many of these items just as much as an adult. 

People can be cruel to those who are different. Even without knowing I was Autistic growing up, the other kids picked up on something in how I moved, communicated, and maneuvered through the world. They bullied me, harassed me, and called me names (Twitch Witchy, Creepy Chris-, weirdo, freak). In reflection, my stims were likely one of the big things the other kids saw, as I didn’t know how to hold them in when I first started school. 

As an adult, I’d become a good chameleon, disconnected from my body and tense (because tense and still was the alternative to loose and stimming). 

My stims evolved from jumping, spinning, and screaming (things that got me into trouble in childhood, that I still do from time to time even now, are frowned upon as adult behavior by many) have evolved into stims that are more “socially acceptable” keeping me safe from judgment and harassment from less than understanding onlookers (pacing, chewing, toe-tapping, small finger gestures in a pocket or under a table out of sight, visually stimming with anything within the eye line of the project I should be looking at, listening to music with headphones repeating a minimal selection of one song or album on a loop for hours on end). 

Knowing I’m Autistic has given my stimming context, meaning, and appreciation. I’ve learned that stimming, something I once considered an annoyance and felt a lot of shame over (since I was teased and scolded for it), is essential. It’s part of who I am and serves a great and beautiful purpose in my life as an Autistic Person living in an overwhelming and often hostile world.  

What IS Autistic Stimming?

According to the National Autistic Society, stimming or “self-stimulating behaviour includes arm or hand-flapping, finger-flicking, rocking, jumping, spinning or twirling, head-banging and complex body movements.

That’s a medical definition of stimming. I like to look at Autism and Autistic People from a more balanced human experience and perspective. 

Stimming, for me, is like breathing, something I do naturally. Like my breath, I can hold my stims, restricting myself tight, winding and bottling everything up, but eventually, the pressure builds, and the pinned-up energy must escape. 

Stimming, when left to flow and not withheld, is the human body’s natural way of regulating energy when emotions, sensations, or discomfort is high.

Everybody stims, but Autistic People stim MORE. 

I want to point out that the world is more uncomfortable and stressful for Autistic people than non-autistic people (because non-autistic people designed the world for themselves). Venturing into the NeuroTypical world, my senses are on high alert, ready for the inevitable assault on the senses. Anxious and excited, I enter the world with the pressure of a shaken Coke bottle.

Charged by the anxiety and sensory stress, like one of those solar sunflower toys, my body begins to move subconsciously as my energy (emotional and sensory) levels rise, or I find myself visually stimming with plants and leaves outside the windows. 

Through movement or sensory seeking, I can regulate, get excess energy out, relax, deflect my nerves, and release some tension and discomfort. Stimming is essential, helpful, and necessary, but I didn’t understand it for most of my life.

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One thought on “Autism and the Wonderful World of Autistic Stimming – What IS Autistic Stimming and WHY do Autistic People Stim?

  1. Until I was a half-century old, I didn’t know about my own crippling ASD condition. It’s still an unofficial [self-]diagnosis due to the large fee charged within our [Canada’s] supposedly universal health-care system; for, within it are important health services/treatments that are universally inaccessible, except for the high-incomed to access in for-profit clinics.

    While low-functioning autism seems to be more recognized and treated, higher-functioning ASD cases are typically left to fend for themselves, except for parents who can finance usually expensive specialized help. … But a physically and mentally sound future should be EVERY child’s fundamental right, especially considering the very troubled world into which they never asked to enter.

    I’m sometimes told, “But you’re so smart!” To this I immediately agitatedly reply: “But for every ‘gift’ I have, there are a corresponding three or four deficits.” It’s crippling, and on multiple levels! …

    As a boy with an undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder [not to mention high sensitivity and resultant also-high ACE score], my primary-school teacher was the first and most formidably abusive authority figure with whom I was terrifyingly trapped.

    I cannot recall her abuse in its entirety, but I’ll nevertheless always remember how she had the immoral audacity — and especially the unethical confidence in avoiding any professional repercussions — to blatantly readily aim and fire her knee towards my groin, as I was backed up against the school hall wall.

    Luckily, she missed her mark, instead hitting the top of my left leg. Though there were other terrible teachers, for me she was uniquely traumatizing, especially when she wore her dark sunglasses when dealing with me. … Thus, a school environment can become the autistic child’s traumatizer; the trusted educator, the abuser.

    But rather than tell anyone about my ordeal with her and consciously feel victimized, I instead felt some misplaced shame: I was a ‘difficult’ boy, therefore she likely perceived me as somehow ‘deserving it’.

    Perhaps not surprising, I feel that our educators could/should receive mandatory training on children with ASD, especially as the rate of diagnoses greatly increases.

    There could also be an inclusion in standard high school curriculum of child-development science that would also teach students about the often-debilitating condition (without being overly complicated).

    If nothing else, the curriculum would offer students an idea/clue as to whether they themselves are emotionally/mentally compatible with the immense responsibility and strains of regular, non-ASD-child parenthood.

    From my observations, while low-functioning autism is relatively readily recognized and treated, higher-functioning ASD cases are basically left to fend for themselves [except for parents who can finance usually expensive specialized help].

    It would explain to students how, among other aspects of the condition, people with ASD (including those with higher functioning autism) are often deemed willfully ‘difficult’ and socially incongruent, when in fact such behavior is really not a choice. And how “camouflaging” or “masking,” terms used to describe ASD people pretending to naturally fit into a socially ‘normal’ environment, causes their already high anxiety and depression levels to further increase.

    Of course that exacerbation is reflected in the disproportionately high rate of suicide among ASD people.

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