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December 2010



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First Published Friday, 4th April, 2008.

Tell me, do you ever find yourself sitting at your desk, maybe tapping your leg or foot away or twirling your hair in your finger? Tapping that pen on your desk right there? How about stuck in traffic, no end in sight? Are you by any chance tapping that finger on your steering wheel? Pushing the button on your window, up and down, up and down … ? Well, that’d be stimming behaviour right there.

So what is stimming and why do we do it? Stimming is repetitive movement of parts of one’s body that produce stress relief or pleasure. Stim behaviours are coping mechanisms. Both neurotypical and non-neurotypical people stim and it’s a very necessary tool in self-calming. It’s often misunderstood as meaning one thing at all times to all people labelled ‘autistic’ when in fact it has many uses and meanings and is something all people do, though many don’t realise it.

Some therapies seek to reduce or prevent stimming, particularly in regard those on the autism spectrum. If you attempt to suppress the stim behaviour, stress will inevitably build up, until it possibly reaches meltdown stage. Stimming should not be thought of as undesirable or abnormal. It is vital for stress release and part of the neurology of all autistic people, and neurotypicals. If you want to reduce the stimming, it’s best to find out what’s causing the stress and reduce that.

Liane Holliday Willey once wrote “Many aspies rely on stim behaviour to still their nerves. A stim may be defined as a self-stimulated repetitious behaviour intended to provide and regulate sensory information. A stim may include behaviours such as rocking, hand-flapping, pacing, hand rubbing, spinning, jumping, echoing noises from the environment. I encourage my daughter and myself to practice our favourite stims when we feel the need. I tend to rely on my own stim behaviours when I am alone or in my own home. For me, there is nothing more calming than a drift in our pool. Floating under water like a lazy dolphin is a perfect tension releaser for me. I cannot do that in public pools, and before we had a pool of our own I used to float under the water in my bathtub. Things on land work well, too. I have Aspie teen friends who enjoy walking in circles, walking in squares or simply moving about as if they are floating on a cloud. Movement, it seems, free or regimented, often works well to release tension.”

Over on Autism Today when a parent asked “As I’m new to autism terminology, could someone please tell me what stimming is?

Donna Williams replied:

“Stimming stands for ‘self stimulatory behaviours’. Something non-auties imagined they didn’t have.

Stimming is a word created by non-auties with often negative connotations. It was a word created by non-auties who didn’t understand that some folks had compulsory but involuntary tics, some had self calming tools they didn’t understand, some had sensory fascinations they couldn’t relate to, some need to tune out to tune in, some needed a tool for social distance in the face of compulsive social invaders, some needed to be repetitive in order to download, some needed to compensate for a non-autie multitrack world they couldn’t process in their mono-tracked reality, some needed something to get lost in when utterly blowing all fuses…. and, anyway, the non-auties labelled, as is their tendency, this vast array of experiences with one word as if it was one thing at all times to all people labelled ‘Autistic’.

Forgive them. They know not what they see..”

As for me, I’m more of a ‘pacer’, whether upset or happy. I pace, book or notes in hand study-wise and retain information best this way. I pace, tea or wine in hand while listening to music via ipod/headphones. I also do precisely what Liane does water-wise. Have always felt an affinity with water and was a water baby, swimming morning, noon and night throughout childhood and adulthood. So wonderful to have a pool all to yourself at the end of a hot Summer’s Day. For me, it’s about gliding through the water, repeatedly, totally immersed. The sensory aspect is amazing. Sacred time alone to destress or to simply get lost in your favourite stim is heaven!

1. Carol and Eli Surber left…

Monday, 4 May 2009 2:26 am

Stimming…the movements of calming. Eli flapped his hands, rocked and rubbed his face when young. As a teenager, he jerked his head, clapped his hands, and still rubbed his face. Now as an adult, he twists his fingers, hums, and still….rubs his face. His speech has been absent since age three, and he has NEVER cried, not even as an infant. Before the ativan, he stimmed constantly and wildy…now his movements are slow but always there. Carol

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