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Embracing Stimming

posted on February 08, 2019

What is Stimming?

Self-stimulatory Behaviour.

Stimming is a way that that people help themselves feel calm, soothed, or focused, but it can also be a huge source of joy. Stimming behaviours are repetitive, predictable actions that occur as a result of expressing or redirecting an emotion or sensory output. You are likely to see these behaviours during times of stress and anxiety, or even during times of heightened emotions like excitement.

These behaviours are incredibly meaningful for the individual. They will find what they like and what works for them, and will naturally gravitate towards the appropriate aids/ behaviours.

Who Stims?

Everyone has unique sensory needs. Even those who are seen as neurotypical may have their own ways of processing the world around them. For instance, someone could be high-functioning and have high-faculties, but some external stimulus could bother them so much that it ultimately creates an impairment.

Another mainstream example comes in the form of ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) videos; a super popular phenomenon online that demonstrates the effect sensory experiences can have on people.

We are all on a spectrum and have differing degrees of sensory needs. This can even include the common habits of scribbling in a notebook, pacing, or bouncing your leg – these are examples of small things that are not necessarily obviously visible or noticeable, but do definitely fit in the realm of stimming!

“We are all on a spectrum of being human.”

Why do Autistic Individuals Stim?

Autistic people have brains that work differently than a neurotypical individual so their stimming behaviours tend to be more obvious and noticeable because they are engaging in them more often and the behaviours tend to be more unusual.

Stimming enhances the potential to learn and increases focus on the task at hand. Executive functioning like paying attention, organizing, prioritizing, and planning are all more readily enabled because of stimming behaviours. 

Individuals with special sensory needs tend to process a lot more sensory information, meaning that these individuals may have a hard time controlling their impulses of may have heightened emotions. The world can be an intense place for someone with special sensory needs and self-regulation can be challenging; stimming helps in coping with it all!

What Do These Behaviours Look Like?

Stimming takes the form of textile, visual, auditory, movement, and taste behaviours or needs. Repetitive behaviours like hand-clapping, humming, spinning, or rocking. 

Here are some aids that we find our clients gravitate to:

  • Bean bags
  • Adhesive blackboards
  • Glow Sticks
  • Fairy Lights
  • Lava Lamps
  • Music
  • Water Play

Should Stimming Behaviours be Reduced of Prevented?

“Behaving appropriately”. This very notion is ill-informed, and demonstrates that many people still do not understand the underlying reasons and necessity behind stimming. Generally:

Positive Stimming is NOT:

  • preventing or deterring the person from being "normal".
  • a bad behaviour.
  • something that needs to be fixed.

This isn’t to say that all stimming is healthy, there are negative stimming behaviours that cause self-harm; anything that inflicts injury are behaviours that need to be managed. This doesn't mean punishing or stopping the individual’s way of actually communicating that they are in distress, but instead shifting over to identifying why these behaviours are occurring and how they can be replaced with positive self-stimulating behaviours.

Accept them for what they need; if it is a tool that works for them then that is entirely OK.

Stimming is a Part of Being Human.

This world wasn’t set-up for those who are neurodiverse. We need to look beyond the realm of age appropriate aids and supports and what is deemed 'normal' behaviour, and support and honour people for who they are. Whatever helps someone deal with the world around them, is a positive thing!