Stimming is a term that refers to stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, which are often seen in people on the autism spectrum. But why do people on the autism spectrum do this?
In a recent UK study, adults on the autism spectrum were interviewed about their experiences with stimming. Many of them agreed that this behavior often resulted from feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated, and that stimming helped them self-soothe. For example, the stim was helpful for some because the rhythm enabled them to self-regulate their mind and body with the predictable movement. Others said that stimming was a way to relay their feelings to others. For example, their families knew that if they were stimming in a particular way, they were feeling happy, but if they were engaging in another repetitive movement, they were feeling sad.
Overall, most adults on the autism spectrum said that they did not view their behavior as a negative part of themselves. However, many of them expressed that they have had people tell them to stop, or have been considered strange or inappropriate for stimming. As a result, adults on the autism spectrum reported feeling badly about how they are seen and therefore suppressing their behaviors, covering them up, or only stimming in private. They expressed that they did not like having to do this, but felt that it was necessary in order to be accepted by others.
So what can we do? The first step is to be aware that this is how people on the autism spectrum experience their repetitive movements. They find stimming to be both useful and enjoyable. They also experience a lot of stigma for their behaviors. The best we can do is accept them for who they are!
By Sophie Manevich, M.A.