I Stim, Therefore I Am

I Stim, Therefore I Am

Stimming is very important to me. I stim when I’m happy, when I’m nervous, when I’m thinking, and when my senses are overloaded.

First of all, what is stimming? The verbose name is self-stimulation, and that sums it up without actually describing it at all. It is a repetitive action that stimulates — provides sensory input.

What purpose does it serve? Well, for me it is generally a form of negative feedback that allows me to regulate my senses. Negative in the sense that it modulates other sensory input and makes it easier for me to process: the input might be sound, touch — even emotion, which as I’ve described before has a large component of physical sensation.

Some examples: when I’m thinking I will often hum, rock in my seat or jiggle my leg. This provides a comfortable background signal that helps prevent distractions by allowing me to better ignore what is going on around me.

When I’m nervous or struggling to cope with a noisy environment I stroke my hands and fingers which is a very calming sensation for me. I find that I am able to last much longer before the overload on my senses forces me to withdraw either physically or mentally.

And when I’m happy or excited I flap my hands. I don’t do this as much or as often as I’d like because I developed an inhibition against doing it as a child when I was teased: I find it sad that I’m reluctant to behave naturally and so I’m working on doing this more often.

Flapping is more than just a stim for me: it is an expression of joy. Unlike my other stims this one is a form of positive feedback that intensifies the pleasure I feel: it can’t just be coincidence that flappy rhymes with happy.

As part of an effort to raise awareness of stimming I have become involved in Night of the Living Stim a Twitter-based live event this Thursday 17th from 7 to 9pm EST (that’s 18th October from 1am to 3am in the UK). Using the hashtag #LvngStm in conjunction with Lynne Soraya’s weekly LIAS chat (check out @LynneSoraya and #LIASchat) this will be an opportunity to talk about stims, ask questions, post links to blogs and videos about stimming and just generally celebrate everything about it.

For further stimming-related awesomeness check out The Stimming Checklist. This is a website that was the brainchild of Autisticook and Nattily of Notes on Crazy and myself have been lending a hand. It’s early days yet, but we’ve gotten some great ideas and it will be taking shape over the coming weeks…

9 thoughts on “I Stim, Therefore I Am

  1. Now I understand something that I didn’t understand before, thank you. I notice that Christian Horner jiggles his leg while sitting at the Red Bull pit wall: I do that too, but I didn’t know why!


  2. Okay. I am autistic, too. The fact that I do not waggle my hands in the air like I am being electrocuted at intervals I am not going to bother quantifying does not make me any less autistic.

    I am not going to conform to your stereotype. It is no less a harmful stereotype from my point of view than was the Rain Man stereotype. I am genuinely frightened to have nervous tics mistaken for hypoglycaemic symptoms, with all of the resultant assaults on my person it entails.

    Waggle your extremities in public to your heart’s content. I will not try to stop you. But stop making that out to be a qualifying condition of being autistic. It is not, and nor will I submit to suffer the effects of people mistaking it for such. I am very sick of what I refer to as the Involuntary Breakdance being confused with such.

    You are doing me more harm this way than the Rain Man pushers ever did. They at least admitted their stereotype is a stereotype, and apologised in public for it.


    1. First, apologies for taking so long to moderate your comment: I’ve been offline most of the day.

      Second, while I appreciate that not everyone has a positive view or experience of stimming, this blog is about my personal experiences. For me stimming is very positive, and I regret that teasing and bullying led to me developing inhibitions against what is my natural behavior.

      Nowhere do I suggest that stimming is an exclusively autistic phenomenon or a prerequisite for autism, so please do not accuse me of doing so.


    2. Can I ask you something? Why the anger? Is there a line you draw between hand flapping and tapping a pen on your desk? Do you ever rub your eyes when you’re tired? What would you do if you won a million dollars? Would you scream and jump with joy?

      And why the dismissal of people who DO waggle their hands in the air? Are they any less human than you are? Am I less human or less functional when I twirl a lock of my hair or bite my nails? Are you afraid of being treated as lesser if you ever do something like that?

      It’s not a qualifying condition of autism. We all have behaviours like that to some degree. If you have absolutely no need to self-regulate, that’s marvellous. But I don’t think that gives you the right to be so derogatory towards people who do flap their hands, autistic or not.


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