Stimming: Understanding This Symptom of Autism


It’s almost always a sign of autism and the most obvious. After all, very few people with typical development skills rock, flail, pace, or hand flapping regularly. Although autistic stimming may seem unusual, it is a common part of many people’s daily behavior. You’ve probably stimming if you have ever touched your pencil, bit your nails, twirled or tapped your feet, or even tapped your toes.

Which Behaviors Are Considered Stims?

autismBehaviors are considered “stims” when they exceed culturally acceptable norms. A “stim” is unacceptable behavior. It is acceptable to twirl your hair or bite your nails in the United States, but it is considered offensive to flail one’s hands.

Although it is acceptable to rock lightly, rocking your entire body back and forward is considered a stim. Some stims are quite extreme and can cause serious distress or even be frightening for the average person. Autistic people may stim by making loud, frightening noises. They might even hit their head against the wall or use their hands to scratch their heads. These types of stims can be problematic for many reasons.

Why Do Autistic People Stim?

According to experts, autism sufferers resort to stim to manage anxiety, fear anger, anticipation, and other strong emotions. To deal with sensory overload (too many noises, light, heat, and so on), stimming can also be used. Stimulation can be performed repetitively, much like neurotypical people who twist their feet and bite their nails. For autistic people, stimming can help them deal with difficult situations. It can also be distracting and cause social problems, or harm others.

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