What is stimming? When I casually mentioned stimming in conversation about our daughter to my husband the other day his puzzled look said it all, he had no bloody clue what I was on about. But he isn’t there for all the appointments and isn’t surrounded by the different language and terminology, so if you have made it here simply by typing in stimming meaning or stimming behaviours then welcome. You're not alone.
Stimming is a repetitive behaviour that occurs when someone may be feeling nervous, frustrated or bored. Autistic stimming is a repetitive body movement/behaviour that self stimulates one or more of the senses in a regulated manner. It assists in calming anxious behaviours and managing overwhelming sensory information. It provides much needed comfort and relief for those who have autism.
On the way to school my daughter often bites her nails.
She has picked at her wheelchair cushion so much that it now has a hole.
We had to replace her fitbit as she bit through the strap.
She repeats phrases constantly.
Often makes unusual sounds with her mouth.
I could go on but you get the gist. These are examples of her repetitive movements and stimming behaviours.
Once stimming is used as a coping tool it often becomes familiar and will become a constant and repetitive behaviour that begins to occur naturally. Stimming does not need to be stopped unless it is harmful or becoming a distraction for the participant involved or for those around them.
Stimming behaviours can be mild and not noticeable or they can be quite visible and sometimes aggressive or harmful. They may be in the form of finger and hand movements, unusual body movements, repetitive behaviours, visual or oral stimulation, self-injurious actions or any other type of recurring movements or mannerisms. Below are some stimming autism examples.
Hand and finger mannerisms
-Scratching at things
-Picking at nails
Unusual body movements
-Walking on tiptoes
-Jumping or bouncing aggressively
-Constantly moving things
-Jumping, bouncing or twirling repeatedly
-Repeating phrases or words
-Smelling objects or people
-Turning lights on and off
-Turning switches on and off
-Staring at moving objects such as a fan
-Fixating on something
-Eyes tracking or peering from the corners of the eyes
-Moving fingers in front of the eyes
-Chewing crunchy foods
-Biting or chewing cheeks or lips
-Placing dangerous objects in mouth
-Swallowing dangerous objects
-Scratching or rubbing skin excessively
-Picking at sores or skin
-Banging head against things
Stimming is such an important calming and self-regulating tool for those with autism and shouldn’t be stopped unless it is harmful or dangerous. There have been many times that I catch my daughter stimming and feel relief as I know she has found her way to ‘cope’. Sometimes a misunderstanding of stimming can lead autistic people to become isolated and restricted from what they need to do which can be harmful and damaging to their needs. It is therefore important to educate one another on its importance and understand that it is a necessary calming self-stimulating tool.