Guest Blog - What is Stimming?
This weeks blog post is from Amazing Albie
I get asked a fair bit about Albie’s Stimming, so I thought I would try to do a brief explanation.
What is stimming?
Well the term “Stimming” is short for self-stimulatory behaviour.
Stimming can manifest in many different ways, but some that are typical for a person with Autism, include; hand-flapping, rocking, spinning, repetition of words and phrases, or humming. Anyone that has watched any of Albie’s videos, will recognise that he usually has a constant stream of noise, a sort of hum like sound, coming from him. This is a stim. When Albs is excited, it becomes louder and changes pitch, when he is just chilling, its almost like he’s singing, and when he is distressed, his noises take on a more frantic and upset tone.
Stimming is almost always a “symptom” (I hate to use that term as it sounds like he has some sort of disease, but I’m sure you get what I mean) of Autism. Albie’s hand-flapping and noises, which we later learned were stimming, were amongst the reason we sought a diagnosis for him. That and his speech regression, which I mentioned in my blog “The Diagnosis”.
Neuro Typical (NT) people rarely rock back and forth, spin or flap on a regular basis. So it is clear to see why Stimming is so closely associated with Autism. However that being said, there are other and far more discreet types of stimming, which most people wouldn’t recognise as being a “Stim”, for example, biting your nails, tapping your pen, twirling or playing with your hair, tapping your foot, all of these are examples of “Stimming” but are things that NT people regularly engage in.
I think what sets NT Stimming apart form Autistic Stims, is the regularity, type and obviousness, or the “Social acceptability“ of the behaviour.
But in all honesty, what makes nail-biting more acceptable than flapping and humming? I mean its pretty gross.
Why do people with Autism stim?
I think its important to understand why people with Autism Stim, in order for NTs to be more accepting and empathetic. Whilst its not entirely clear why Stimming is so synonymous with Autism, experts say that it’s a tool for self-regulation and self-calming.
I’ve certainly noticed with Albie that he will stim more when he is excited, anxious, scared or happy. He will stim to help himself cope with overwhelming sensory input, this could be; too much noise, light, heat etc. Stimming can be a really useful tool in helping Autistic people to cope in challenging situations. Output often blocking input, thus helping someone with autism minimise the chances of becoming overwhelmed.
When is Stimming a Problem?
Generally Stimming is not a problem, whilst many NTs may find the behaviours distracting, perhaps uncomfortable or out of the ordinary to see, the Stimming itself, is not causing harm or distress to the Autistic individual or people around them.
There are however, times when it can become problematic. Some stims can become so habitual that it can hinder / stop an autistic person being able to interact, enjoy a situation, or even function effectively. Some Stims can also become harmful, an example of these would be the individual; hitting themselves or banging their head. Of course for many NT people, these behaviours may feel a little uncomfortable to see, or even somewhat distressing.
Should we encourage Autistic People to stop Stimming?
If anything we should be supporting and normalising the Stim. Stimming for many people with Autism is a survival / coping tool. So what if that person is flapping their hands? So what if they need to run up and down a few times? So what if they are humming or making lots of noise? Just because its not viewed as “Socially Acceptable”.
I have a very strong view that NT people should be doing all they can to include and accommodate people with Autism. NT people are far more adept to change, and being able to make allowances, (for want of a better word), than people with Autism.
For someone with Autism, many situations can be utterly exhausting. Having to concentrate far harder to ensure they don’t miss social cues, block out back ground noises, smells, or any other sensory input that many NTs don’t even register, so if they are able to use a tool to minimise their stress and anxiety, absolutely this should be embraced and encouraged.
The reason I post videos of Albie and write about him, is to increase understanding and therefore acceptance of Autism. I want people to see that happy, excited little boy, flapping his arms and making his noises, and know that it is perfectly ok, so that when they see other people doing this, they can recognise this as something completely normal and not stare, or even worry.
I love seeing Albie flapping with excitement and happiness. To me seeing him so happy is just beautiful, however he expresses that.
As always please feel free to ask any questions, at all. We genuinely welcome them
An insight into life in our family with our beautiful, clever, happy little boy Albie, who also happens to have Autism. The idea behind amazingalbie is to spread understanding and acceptance of Autism and the triumphs and challenges it brings.