Stimming: The Good and Bad Side of Anxious Behaviours | Taming the Data Monster
 
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Stimming: The Good and Bad Side of Anxious Behaviours


My most read post this month on Facebook was one about stimming. Stimming – or stims – are a wide variety of self-stimulating behaviours that people with ASD may exhibit when experiencing sensory overload or high levels of anxiety. Stimming can be a repetitive motion such as hand flapping or rocking, repetition of words or phrases, vocalizations, or even the repetitive movement of objects. Stimming still puzzles many neurotypicals, who often want to eradicate or control stims. While stimming may seem alarming or strange to the rest of us, these behaviours do serve a purpose for those on the spectrum.

What Does Stimming Do?

A very good blog post from The Mighty explains in detail what those with ASD experience when stimming and why they need to do it. Some examples are rocking, hand flapping, head banging, stroking a piece of cloth; all can serve as a calming strategy. As one woman explains:

“Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed, upset or angry, I need to let it out. I feel antsy when I’m over stimulated, so I need to move around and let out some noise. It’s the only way I know how to cope. It calms me down. A common one for me is humming loudly to myself (sometimes with my ears plugged or covered) and most commonly, I’ll bounce my leg. It’s involuntary, so I don’t always realize I’m bouncing my leg. It bothers some people, but I can’t help it.”

Temple Grandin described stimming this way:

"When I did stims such as dribbling sand through my fingers, it calmed me down. When I stimmed, sounds that hurt my ears stopped. Most kids with autism do these repetitive behaviours because it feels good in some way. It may counteract an overwhelming sensory environment, or alleviate the high levels of internal anxiety these kids typically feel every day."

Chris Bonnello from Autistic Not Weird points out that many non-autistic people exhibit stimming behaviours as well, they just aren’t as visible.

“What’s it like to stim? You tell me. Most non-autistic people impulsively tap their feet, drum their fingers or let out exasperated sighs. They’re all natural forms of self-expression. The theory behind autistic stimming is the same — we’re just the ones who get called out for expressing ourselves more visibly than you!”

What is harmful stimming...

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