I hate the word because it sounds kind of ugly but haven’t been able to come up with anything better. According to Wikipedia stemming is “repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in people with autistic spectrum disorder.Therapists view this behavior as a protective response to being overly sensitive to stimuli, with which the individual blocks less predictable environmental stimuli. Sensory processing disorder is also given as a reason by some therapists for the condition. Another theory is that stimming is a way to relieve anxiety, and other emotions.”
I’m a 46 year old female diagnosed with Autism at the age of 40. I learned about stemming pretty quickly, but didn’t think it applied to me as I didn’t recognize it in myself. One of the most common forms of stimming is hand flapping. To this day I’m not sure what that really means but I knew it didn’t apply to me. Now and then I realized I would shake my hands as if trying to cool off burnt fingers, or wiggle my fingers when wound up, then when I realized I was doing that I’d just make a fist until the urge passed and that I’d been doing this for a long time. I realized this was stemming, that I’d been doing it for years, was self-conscious about it and learned to curtail the actions automatically by making a fist as soon as I realize what I’m doing. Unfortunately, once I made fists, I might then be misinterpreted to be angry or have an attitude. I suspect that had I allowed myself to show my agitation it would not have been seen in any more of a positive light than making fists.
I also tend to sway back and forth, sometimes when I’m at the used book store just reading the titles. I used to think it was a happy thing to do, like when a cat purrs, but now I think it might be a bit of happy at being surrounded by so many books and excitement at what I might find when I adore reading. It might also be a bit of being overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by what? Overwhelmed by all the books and titles to read, music in the background, the movement of people around, the bright lights, people talking, the occasional loud noise of a dropped book. I don’t know. Not that it really matters. I do it, it’s not even remotely disruptive and it’s not hurting anyone.
I tend to sway faster when I’m upset, agitated and I try not to do it, at least not in public. At home I let myself because my mom doesn’t insist I stop, she lets me be me. I caught myself doing it while waiting in line at the store. I don’t wait well.
I shake my foot when sitting my foot, the more agitated I am the faster it gets. I try not to do it, but in the last year or so I had a major revelation. I was at a monthly Autism support group meeting when a friend walked over and said she loved my scarf and wanted to stim on it (touch it and keep touching it, play with it). I never knew you could stim ON something but it made perfect sense to me. I had been doing that all my life.
I stim on dogs, especially their heads and ears. What does that mean? I pet them repeatedly because I find the softness of the fur comforting. When I was a child my grandparents had two blankets that had satin edges. I used to sit with the blanket and just run my fingers back and forth across the material. I also stim on songs. I may play a song 2-5 times in a row.
Stimming is connected to Autism. Stimming is repetitive movement that can be a sign of agitation. However, is it possible that people in general stim to some degree; tapping one’s foot, tapping a pen on the table, clicking and unclicking a pen, twirling one’s hair? I stim, do you?