“Stimming”, “stims” – or stereotypies as they are correctly known, are a variety of habits which people on the autistic spectrum indulge in. It’s more than a habit that an NT would have, it’s like a compulsion, and it can increase at times of stress and also at times of excitement or happiness.
Stims range from twirling one’s hair, fiddling with an object, to noises and whole body movements. Often the more severely on the spectrum someone is, the more obvious their stimming will be. The higher-functioning among us will often hide our stims, we are well aware “other people” don’t do it, we are busy masking and trying to fit in, so many of us will do our stims in the privacy of our own homes, like some shameful secret.
Wouldn’t it be nice, if we could stim all over the place without anyone minding! However, it’s hard enough “pretending to be normal” in the words of Liane Holliday-Willey, without drawing additional attention to ourselves. Some stims might be small enough to do in public without anyone noticing, in which case, lucky person! I think if you need to stim, holding it all in until you get home might result in the necessity for a long stimming session (ooer missus!) to regain one’s equilibrium. Jokes aside, stims really can be satisfying, like a refreshing cup of tea, or changing into your comfy PJs. For me, my stims (which are pretty unobtrusive as stims go, but some of them would still be noticed by others all the same) are a way of releasing stress, but also they are part of me, I need to do them just like I need to blink or yawn, and I do them when I am relaxed also. The stim I have had for the longest, since childhood, I thought everyone did until I got bigger and started noticing they didn’t and then learned to hide it.
Stims are fine, so long as they don’t (1) involve injury to anyone or are (2) out of keeping with manners and propriety. Therefore it’s strange that we should feel the need to hide them, but people can be cruel and mean, and target people who show differences. Difference means you aren’t part of the tribe, you might be a threat, at the very least, you are weak and a potential object of ridicule.
Do all autistic people stim? No. My youngest child doesn’t appear to stim whatsoever, although she does twirl her hair round her fingers sometimes, something she used to do a lot as a toddler, but gradually grew out of. My other child stims, but she also doesn’t do it much in front of people, even the family. I wonder whether stimming has a connection to the OCD behaviours many autistics have, because coincidentally, myself and my child that stims, both have OCD behaviours. OCD is a compulsion, and apparently there are brain differences in people with OCD too, so maybe there is a connection. Although, as I have posted earlier in my blog, there could well be a difference between OCD in autism and OCD in non-autistic people, so that could get confusing.
Parents and teachers and other responsible adults should not try to stop stimming in an autistic child, providing they meet (1) and (2) above. To do so will place stress on the child and it’s about their needs not yours. Don’t feel you need to be embarrassed if your child stims when you are out and about. As you will know as a parent of an autistic child, there are already enough reasons you have learned not to meet the eyes of people staring when your child is behaving atypically compared to NT children. If you can survive a meltdown from your child, you can survive a stim!
So there you have it, that explains stims, for all those who were curious or just felt like absorbing some information you didn’t already know.
Thought for the day…
Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.~ Aristotle