Stimming. Where do I start with stimming? Maybe I should give you guys an overview on stimming before I go into talking about it and my experience. It’s not really something everyone knows much about.
Stimming is basically short for self-stimulatory behaviours. This means, technically, that somebody is doing something to give themselves sensory input – but what does that mean? Think of it this way: when most people say something, it’s usually to communicate; when they do something, it’s usually to have an effect on the world or themselves; when they look at something, it’s usually because they’re getting information from it. You do something because you want to achieve a consequence. When someone is stimming, they’re speaking, moving or gazing purely to enjoy the sensation it creates, and the state of mind that sensation produces.
Common areas of stimming include:
Visual. Staring at lights; doing things to make the vision flicker such as repetitive blinking or shaking fingers in front of the eyes; staring at spinning objects.
Auditory. Listening to the same song or noise, for instance rewinding to hear the same few notes over and over. Making vocal sounds, tapping ears, snapping fingers etc.
Tactile. Rubbing the skin with hands or with another object, scratching, unusual hand movements and flapping, hands near or in mouth, hand clapping.
Taste/smell. Sniffing objects or people; licking or chewing on things, often things that aren’t edible. Pica can overlap with stimming.
Verbal. Echolalia, basically: repeating sounds, words or phrases without any obvious regard for their meaning.
Proprioception. Rocking side to side or back and forth, swinging, jumping, pacing, running, tiptoeing or spinning , walking in circles.
There’s no one reason why someone stims. It can be a way of shaking up ‘hypo sensitive’ senses – that is, senses that need stronger input to feel things. We all need a certain amount of sensory stimulation to feel comfortable, and if it doesn’t happen in the ordinary run of things, stimming can be a way to get it. It’s also, according to the people who do it, just a nice experience, something that you do because it feels good, calming you down and helping you relax. During stress and anxiety or emotional trauma, a person also reverts to stimming in order to shut things out or self-soothe. Tiredness can also trigger stimming behaviours. Stimming behaviours are likely to occur in those with autism, sensory processing disorders, mental health problems, and someone experiencing current trauma or distress.
[Information provided by ambitious about autism]
In terms of stimming in relation to me; I didn’t really notice it until about a year and a half ago. I remember rocking in one of my college classes because I felt extremely uncomfortable and distressed in the environment. I’m not sure how long I’d been doing it before then, but it only became prevalent and part of everyday life about a year ago. I am usually oblivious and unaware of my stimming behaviour unless somebody points it out. Sometimes, I am able to notice the stimming and stop it or at least slow it down.
When I first started stimming, I would only tactile stim. I would often rub my hands together or wring my hands. I would sometimes scratch at my skin absentmindedly. I would also do what is known as ‘teepee hands’ which basically means interlocking the fingers into a stiff position. These stims were noticeable to me years before I even realised what stimming was. If someone noticed these behaviours, I was able to stop them. Hand scratching was the most prevalent – occurring when I had panic attacks.
Over time, I’ve developed more stims, targeting more sensory areas in order to fulfil my sensory processing needs. These stims were not noticeable to me until people began pointing them out. One of the biggest stims that people usually notice about me is rocking. I’m not sure when or why I started ‘rocking’ but when people told me I was doing it, I would stop. Eventually rocking became a ‘natural’ stim. I rock about 60-80% of the day where as I used to rock about 10% of the week. From what people have told me; I rock most of the time, more so when sitting. When standing I either bounce from one foot to the other, walk in circles or resort to other stims.
I have noticed recently that I involuntary clap my hands when severely anxious or tired. I clap twice and then stop. It’s almost like an involuntary muscle reaction that my body does when stressed. I also tap my fingers together rapidly, shake my hands, put my hands near my chin or in my mouth, or less frequently; flap.
I fiddle almost all the time, mostly with my tangle but other objects include pens, sleeves of a hoodie, and small stationary equipment.
I find it extremely difficult to open up about this behaviour on my blog because I struggle to tell people about it. I already have enough reasons why people would not consider me ‘normal’ and to stim at this age just looks ‘weird’ and frankly ‘crazy’. After deep thought I realised that I NEEDED to write this blog post because people don’t understand stimming or even realise the reasons why a person does it. Stimming is a self-soothing mechanism that a person does when clearly distressed, tired, emotional, going through trauma or struggling. It’s the body’s natural instinct; after all your mother rocked you as a baby so you could fall asleep.
From a young age, I have been hypersensitive and ‘fussy’ with the senses. People with sensory processing disorder are oversensitive to things in their environment. Those with SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) and sensory issues often struggle with people touching them, hate mess and having stuff on their hands, fidget often, are bothered by changes (especially those involved with senses), are over sensitive to certain noises, are fussy with food textures and are easily anxious. They also take part in stimming and repetitive behaviours.
If you’ve read until here; thank you. Thank you for trying to understand stimming.
To the person in class who saw me rocking last Monday and then went on to mimic my behaviour to your friends to laugh at me; please understand the reasons why a person stims in the first place. It’s not for fun. It’s not because you’re bored. It’s the body’s natural reaction to trauma, stress, severe anxieties, mental illnesses, processing disorders and various other conditions.