What is Stimming?

A big topic about the autistic community is that of stimming. Some people have been often known to refer to it as fidgeting. I would say for me, and likely for many other autistic people, that’s where a line would be drawn.

You see, most people stim. But it is often referred to as fidgeting. It’s often excess energy being burned off.

So what is stimming, and why is it different for the neuro-divergent community?

A stim is short for self-stimulation behavior or actions. I feel the need to address two sides of the same coin. Two conditions in particular share stimming as a trait. Autism and ADHD. I fall in both columns. In conversations I’ve had with other autistic individuals, I rarely hear them say identify a reason for stimming that is anywhere near my oft used main reason.

But in talking to individuals with ADHD, there is some commonality.

My main reason for stimming is for focus. I need actions that can occupy enough of my brain so I don’t go in a million different directions for the task at hand. These stims can take many different forms. Sometimes I do them at the same time as my task. Sometimes, i hop back and forth between my stims and my task.

However, I also stim for other reasons. If I’m nervous, happy, sad…

From the autistic perspective, stimming can almost be considered additional forms of communication. Considering I often find myself unable to find words that I think are an accurate depiction of how I am feeling, stimming is part of body language that communicates as loud, if not louder than my words.

Also, stimming can alter sensory perceptions. Given that sensory processing is a big highlight of the autistic experience, adjusting your sensory perceptions can be helpful. For instance, even when I am supposed to be standing still, I am never really standing still. I’m readjusting how I stand. I’m shifting weight back and forth…almost swaying at times.

Stimming is also related to masking, because the regulation that stimming provides. It allows autistic people to keep level enough to mask in front of others.

When I think back to my childhood, I can’t necessarily identify one particular stim. My mother would always tell me “STOP FIDGETING!” But, there is one thing that comes to mind. It is a stim, but not one of physical movement.

I always had this propensity to ask the question “What if?”.

I drove my mother crazy with it at times. But even now, I am inquisitive. I always want to know what’s going on, why it’s going on, and how exactly it works. My imagination ran a little more wild as a child though.

My mother always swore up and down that she was going to write a children’s book one day with all of my best “What If” hits. She’s already a published author, and an accomplished artist. Hopefully she sees this and decides to work on it now that she’s retired.

Thanks for reading through this one. This is week two of the “Take The Mask Off” campaign. Please search this hashtag on social media and read, watch and listen to perspectives from other autistic people.


Also published on Medium.