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Autistic Stimming: What is it?

A woman doing a handstand in between the Vatican pillars

By Chris

This article is part of My Plan Manager’s guest blogger series.

Hello again, Chris here. 

What is ‘Stimming’?

The short answer is ‘self-stimulatory behaviour meant to calm or soothe’. If you’re interested in a longer explanation then read on. 

There are many different types of stimming. Some of the more commonly known ‘stims’ are rocking back and forth, hand flapping, verbal ticks, knee bouncing and fidgeting with objects. None of these behaviours are harmful and both children and adults exhibit them. They become more common during times of increased stress, fear or when something upsets us.

They’re ways of self-soothing and calming ourselves down.

They help regulate our feelings and behaviour during upsetting experiences or situations that make us uncomfortable or things that give us a fright.

Parents of children who prevent these behaviours are not helping their kids to “learn how to behave better”. In actuality, they’re preventing their children from performing actions that reduce their stress & anxiety and are causing them to become more distressed than they already are.

In the long term, preventing stimming can cause actual psychological damage later in life.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of disinformation out there, written by non-Autistics (some of whom have no experience with Autism at all) which provide harmful advice on how to ‘stop your child from stimming’ or ‘how to change your Autistic child’s behaviour’. I’ve recently read some of these articles and was appalled at some of the suggestions. Punishing your child for behaviour that is beyond their control is never acceptable. Neither is rewarding them when they don’t stim.

That teaches them that it’s not okay to be who they are, that it’s not okay to be what they are.

This can set them up to experience severe cognitive dissonance later in life. Cognitive dissonance is “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change”. 

As someone who has experienced the difficulty of living with cognitive dissonance, I can tell you how painful, debilitating, confusing and invalidating the experience can be and I wouldn’t wish those feelings on anyone.

It can cause irreparable erosion to our self-esteem, self-confidence and can ultimately lead to a dark and unhappy life unless we’re lucky enough to find a good psychologist. Fortunately for me, I have. 

What is the main take away from this article?

Stimming is completely normal behaviour for Autistic People, whether they’re children or adults and it should be accepted as being part of the individual’s normal behaviour and personality because it is

Stimming helps us to deal with stress, anxiety, boredom, grief and a host of other difficult to process emotions.  

It may seem strange to someone who isn’t Autistic, but I guarantee non-spectrum behaviours can seem just as odd and mysterious to us. It’s all a matter of what’s normal to the individual and their own personal experiences, point of view and worldly exposure.

Hi I’m Chris. I’m a 44 year old Autistic Person. Originally from California, I ran away to Australia as soon as I could. Raised in the country, life wasn’t easy with an invisible neurological difference especially when that difference wasn’t even widely known about. On top of that I didn’t even get a diagnosis until I was 39 years old. Looking back I now realise how miserable I was and how badly I was being treated by everyone. Looking forward I want to leave behind some small piece of myself that maybe, if I’m lucky, might make a positive impact.




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