Stimming

Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or words, or the repetitive movement of objects

 Stimming – Wikipedia

“Stimming is a way that we can help ourselves feel calm, soothed, or focused, but it can also be a huge source of joy and beauty.”

What Applied Behavioral Analysis Gets Wrong About Stimming and Children – Pacific Standard

Stimming is a necessary part of sensory regulation. Stimming helps keep me below meltdown threshold. “Stimming is a natural behavior that can improve emotional regulation and prevent meltdowns in stressful situations.” “Let them stim! Some parents want help extinguishing their child’s self-stimulatory behaviors, whether it’s hand-flapping, toe-walking, or any number of other “stimmy” things autistic kids do. Most of this concern comes from a fear of social stigma. Self-stimulatory behaviors, however, are soothing, relaxing, and even joy-inducing. They help kids cope during times of stress or uncertainty. You can help your kids by encouraging parents to understand what these behaviors are and how they help.

I’m Autistic. Here’s what I’d like you to know.

We have five external senses:

  1. Taste
  2. Smell
  3. Touch
  4. Sight
  5. Hearing

And three internal senses:

  1. Proprioception
  2. Vestibular
  3. Interoception

We engage those senses with stimming for a few reasons:

  1. Self-regulation
  2. Sensory seeking
  3. Expression

while stimming I am able to unravel the everyday ordinary barrage of sensory and social information that becomes overwhelming. 

The Predictability, Pattern and Routine of Stimming | Judy Endow

Most of us stim because it calms us and helps alleviate our high levels of anxiety.

Siena Castellon

We have five external senses and three internal senses. All must be processed at the same time and therefore add to the ‘sensory load’.

Understanding the sensing and perceptual world of autistic people is central to understanding autism.

Autism is viewed as a sensory processing difference. Information from all of the senses can become overwhelming and can take more time to process. This can cause meltdown or shutdown.

“It’s Not Rocket Science” – NDTi

I will never understand how people can justify the use of “quiet hands”. If you are unaware of what this phrase means, or of the implications for autistic people, you need to read Quiet Hands by Julia Bascom.

When a parent, sibling, educator, therapist, medical professional, etc justifies the use of quiet hands, it baffles me. Do they understand what stimming is? Do they realize that my hands are the key to helping me see the world? Or do they just see my movements as separate from me, as a source of embarrassment for them? I tend to think it’s the latter, that it’s because stimming draws unwanted attention that people want to quiet my hands in the first place. They don’t understand the point of stimming, or I think (hope) they wouldn’t try and prevent it.

So this is what happens when you “quiet hands” us. It’s the equivalent to duct taping an NT person’s mouth shut or preventing a nonspeaking D/deaf person from signing. You are taking away our natural language. You make interacting with the world that much harder.

On Stimming and why “quiet hands”ing an Autistic person is wrong

Autistic adults highlighted the importance of stimming as an adaptive mechanism that helps them to soothe or communicate intense emotions or thoughts and thus objected to treatment that aims to eliminate the behaviour.

Furthermore, more recent theories have suggested that stimming may provide familiar and reliable self-generated feedback in response to difficulties with unpredictable, overwhelming and novel circumstances (e.g. Lawson, Rees, & Friston, 2014; Pellicano & Burr, 2012). As such, stimming may provide not only relief from excessive sensory stimulation, but also emotional excitation such as anxiety (Leekam, Prior, & Uljarevic, 2011). Consistent with these suggestions, autistic adults report that stimming provides a soothing rhythm that helps them cope with distorted or overstimulating perception and resultant distress (Davidson, 2010) and can help manage uncertainty and anxiety (e.g. Joyce, Honey, Leekam, Barrett, & Rodgers, 2017).

Reflecting the aims of popular interventions, language surrounding the topic of stimming is often pejorative (Jaswal & Ahktar, 2018). Researchers sometimes assume that stimming falls within voluntary control and has asocial or antisocial motivations (Jaswal & Ahktar, 2018; Lilley, in press). For example, a prominent review of repetitive behaviours in autistic people attributed the onset of stimming to a ‘self-imposed restricted environment’ (Leekam et al., 2011, p. 577). Stimming has become so associated with autism that some scientists and clinicians use the term ‘stims’ interchangeably with ‘autistic behaviour’ (Donnellan, Hill, & Leary, 2013). Furthermore, therapies continue to treat stimming despite lacking strong evidence of efficacy or ethics (Jaswal & Akhtar, 2018; Lilley, in press). While researchers increasingly acknowledge limitations in the under- standing of, and interventions for, stimming (e.g. Harrop, 2015; Patterson, Smith, & Jelen, 2010), treatments may remain popular, in part because many parents regard it as noticeable and stigmatising (Kinnear, Link, Ballan, & Fischbach, 2016).

Autistic people have become increasingly mobilised and vocal in defence of stimming. Autism rights or neurodiversity activists believe that stims may serve as coping mechanisms, thus opposing attempts to eliminate non-injurious forms of stimming (e.g. Orsini & Smith, 2010). They decry practices such as ‘quiet hands’ (which teaches the suppression of hand flapping), instead using ‘loud hands’ as a metaphor both for using such non-verbal behaviour to communicate and for cultural resistance more broadly (Bascom, 2012). In addition, autistic scholar-activists denounce attempts to reduce their bodily autonomy (Nolan & McBride, 2015; Richter, 2017) and declarations of their stimming as unacceptable or as necessarily involuntary (Yergeau, 2016).

‘People should be allowed to do what they like’: Autistic adults’ views and experiences of stimming – Steven K Kapp, Robyn Steward, Laura Crane, Daisy Elliott, Chris Elphick, Elizabeth Pellicano, Ginny Russell, 2019

My son stims. He performs repetitive motions in order to generate sensory inputs that he experiences as fun, aesthetically pleasing, soothing, exciting, or otherwise necessary. The word comes from the clinical term, “self-stimulatory behavior,” but there’s no need to be that clinical about it. His stimming is beautiful. To get him to stop stimming would require intensive coercion that, even if successful, would likely result in irreparable psychological harm.

What Applied Behavioral Analysis Gets Wrong About Stimming and Children – Pacific Standard