To “Stim” or Not to “Stim”: Could You Be Autistic?

How many times have you seen someone in a chair, with legs crossed, rocking one leg back and forth or rotating their ankle? Sometimes they’re not even aware they’re doing it.

What about other actions such as twirling of the hair or pulling on one’s ear lobe in response to stress or boredom?

Most likely you’ve engaged in similar behavior either intentionally or subconsciously. Either way, you have “stimmed” before.

To “stim”, “stimming” or have “stimmed” is very common for an Autistic yet we all do it on occasion.

Autistics (those on the Autism Spectrum) perform self stimulatory behavior that was portrayed in the film Rain Man by Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman’s character had an extreme case (thanks to poetic license of the director) of “stimming” but the point was made.

The extent of “stimming” varies depending upon the functional level of autism one is afflicted with.

Nonetheless, before pointing fingers, please note that we all have “stimmed” off and on and for various reasons during our lives. Of course, not as extreme as Hoffman’s character but “stimming” in the pure sense of the word that is deemed more socially acceptable.

Autistics “stim” by rocking back and forth, twirling around in circles, flapping hands and so forth.

When Jonathan was smaller he did lots of these things and even got inside the dishwasher and would spin the spraying mechanism round and round.

Much to our dismay, Jonathan would also spin the chandelier out of the ceiling and we had to have it repaired on numerous occasions.

Fortunately, with much correction, we finally convinced him that there were other ways to “stim” as well as have fun.

As is true with the onset of Autism itself, it’s very important to address these types of “stims” early on and modify or replace them with more socially appropriate motions. Doing so significantly reduces or eliminates any ridicule an Autistic child may encounter in school or elsewhere in the community.

What unique “stimming” have you witnessed?

How did you react and what did you do to address “stimming” in a positive manner?

Share your story about “stimming” now, leave your comment below.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

Karen Simmons
Mother, Wife, Author, Founder & CEO of AutismToday.com

P.S. Here are recommendations of tips, strategies, and tools you need to help understand and cope with “stimming”.

To download a video presentation that will help you understand the nature of and simple solutions to “stimming”, click this link:
http://www.on2url.com/app/adtrack.asp?MerchantID=22629&AdID=616314

 

8 Comments
  • Dipti says:

    My autistic son’s favorite activity is rotating wheels of toy car or blades of toy fan. We got him a small spinning wheel which spins threads from cotton balls ( the one used by Mahatma Gandhi in Indian history) from which hand woven cloth can be made. Now he spends lots of time every day on the spinning wheel without getting bored. Once adequate legth of thread is spun we’ll send it to be woven into cotton cloth!

  • Ingrid says:

    I am on the autism spectrum myself and my stimming took the form of rocking, flailing, etc. My mom’s solution was simple and I use it to this day. Music. Now I always listen to music and dance to the music. No more flailing or rocking, just dancing!

  • cynthia preston says:

    There are many “stims” that may accompany a child with a neurodevelopmental or mental health disorder, but ASD has certainly increased awareness of the condition. As a professional, stimulatory behavior is just that, a drive to obtain a certain type, threshold or degree of stimulation to either heighten or calm one’s system. Often these behaviors manifest as part of a self regulation difficulty. Thus many children and or adults with various neurological disorders often display these actions. This can be treated in the relm of a self regulatory or underlying self regulation difficulty. As an occupational therapist treating self regulatory issues many significant movement stims can be the result of a drive to tap into the vestibular system (movement system). Children with dampened or irregular vestibular processing can exhibit excessive behaviors such as the spinning that you mentioned or perhaps watching something that spins. Vestibular processing is an underlying neuromuscular mechanism that develops as part of normal developmental milestones.

    After treating many children with ASD, there is a clear difficulty in this brain based system. I must admit there is very little research in this area, but we do no that there are abnormalities in the olivary branches of the cerebullum, which is the brain based mechanism of the vestibular system as well as other structures. There are many strategies to address this issue and an occupational therapist may assist in treatment of the vestibular system and to provide appropriate strategies to balance one’s regulation. This is one of the most important aspects of sensory processing and in integrating one’s system.

  • chris weid says:

    My 30 year old son with Asperger’s Syndrome, always did a jaw thrust and then up and down motion with his jaw while it was thrust out, like an exaggerated chewing motion. He would do this during times of stress or extreme concentration like in a computer game. I brought attention to it when he was home and with just his family and explained to him what it looked like to me and others and how other people might think it strange to see him do that elsewhere. He told me later that he stopped doing it when other people were around. Just like many other things with Asperger’s, if we have the knowledge of the neuro. condition and know soon enough what is going on, we can teach our children about it in a matter-of-fact way and then help them by drawing attention to these things, find a way to be acceptable in society. They have to make an extra effort, but I have found that my son can do that if he wants to strongly enough, and he has made many changes in his behavior that has led to a happier, and more accepted place in Society. He is now a manager of a small retail store. I hope he can maintain his position and continue to learn and grow and be motivated enough to be open to changes that he needs to make and the extra effort he has to take to make those changes, so that his life will continue to be rewarding to him and others.

    I am sure within myself that the key to Asperger’s syndrome and maybe Austism also, is early detection and then having people around the child who can learn, and teach patiently, skills that they can and do learn to become a contented member of society. I know they will always continue to need loving support of at least one person and preferably the whole community, in order to grow and thrive and not become so discouraged and depressed that they do unimaginable things in their overwhelming frustrations.

  • Marci says:

    I had a little girl in my class who would fidget with her fingers when she would get nervous (like prior to a test or new activity). She had a Rubik’s cube in her desk. She could take it out and fidget with it until it was time to start the test and this actually helped her to focus. It was popular at the time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she still has one in her office desk or purse today. It was viewed as more acceptable than finger fidgeting or pencil twirling and tapping.

  • Idilian says:

    I use stemming episodes as an opportunity to teach my child about autism. A teacher asked me once, “when are you going to tell him that he is autistic?” My answer was to write a book about it called, “I like to flap my hands,” showing that no matter what he does, he is still a good person. The above link is me reading it in youtube before publishing and tweaking.

  • Ann Wingate says:

    Both stimming and disociating are patterns of behaviors that have been “assigned” to people with varicous challenges -traumas or neurological issues. As a dance/movement therapist II often bring this to the attention of parents and people that attend my workshops. I want to share an experience early in my career about stimming and how I worked with a child.

    Before I went into a graduate program for dance/movement therapy i went to North Carolina to get a teaching certificate in dance in the schools. Because of my interest in working with special populations my advisor suggested that I volunteer in a program for kids with varying developmental needs. There was one boy on the autism spectrum who seemed very remote -his eyes having the appearance of not seeing, his gaze often down. This child did not display any connection to either adults or children in the classroom.

    The class had a large rocking apparatus which this child often gravitated toward, he would get in and rock back and forth. Noticing this I chose to join him -sitting next to this prop with my hand holding onto its side while I physically rocked my body back and forth in sychrony with his while singing a made -up -in -the- moment song about rocking together. HIs main teacher seemingly did not approve of this and would often whisk him away.

    Yet, on the final day of class we all went out for a walk around the school. I noted his slow pace and that he was falling further and further behind the rest of the students on his own. Again I chose to join him -walking alongside him. As we walked he would ocassionally do a light gallop or two. I started to pick up this movement behavior and gallop whenever he did. By the time we neared the end of the walk we were in sychrony -galloping side-by-side and he had taken my hand. We had also caught up with the rest of the class. His teacher expressed her appreciation to me sharing with me that this was the first she had seen him making contact with another person.

    Ann, dance/movement therapist

  • farhin says:


    Ann Wingate:

    Both stimming and disociating are patterns of behaviors that have been “assigned” to people with varicous challenges -traumas or neurological issues. As a dance/movement therapist II often bring this to the attention of parents and people that attend my workshops. I want to share an experience early in my career about stimming and how I worked with a child.

    Before I went into a graduate program for dance/movement therapy i went to North Carolina to get a teaching certificate in dance in the schools. Because of my interest in working with special populations my advisor suggested that I volunteer in a program for kids with varying developmental needs. There was one boy on the autism spectrum who seemed very remote -his eyes having the appearance of not seeing, his gaze often down. This child did not display any connection to either adults or children in the classroom.

    The class had a large rocking apparatus which this child often gravitated toward, he would get in and rock back and forth. Noticing this I chose to join him -sitting next to this prop with my hand holding onto its side while I physically rocked my body back and forth in sychrony with his while singing a made -up -in -the- moment song about rocking together. HIs main teacher seemingly did not approve of this and would often whisk him away.

    Yet, on the final day of class we all went out for a walk around the school. I noted his slow pace and that he was falling further and further behind the rest of the students on his own. Again I chose to join him -walking alongside him. As we walked he would ocassionally do a light gallop or two. I started to pick up this movement behavior and gallop whenever he did. By the time we neared the end of the walk we were in sychrony -galloping side-by-side and he had taken my hand. We had also caught up with the rest of the class. His teacher expressed her appreciation to me sharing with me that this was the first she had seen him making contact with another person.

    Ann, dance/movement therapist

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