I’m not going to do an elaborate description of stimming in this post. I’m going to assume that anyone reading already has a rough idea. The short version is, ‘stimming’ is the name for certain repetitive and/or not-otherwise-functional actions. It’s common among autistic people as a way to handle sensory input and process emotions. This post is all about me and my own stims, I’m really just writing it as a way to organise my own thoughts.
I have three main categories of stim.
I’m not quite sure ‘grounding’ is the best word for this, but I couldn’t think of anything better. These are stims which help me control and understand where my body is. They don’t actively feel good to do, but I feel uncomfortable when I’m not doing them. There are a few different categories:
- Pressure. I always want to have my legs and/or lower body under some sort of pressure. Most often I have my legs crossed, curled up, or folded under me. I am uncomfortable in bed without a duvet over me, or at least over my lower half (which is horrible in summer because I’m also extremely sensitive to being too hot). When I’m sitting at/under a table, I normally try to press my hips or legs against the underside of the table by pushing my chair in as close as possible.
- Movement. I rock back-forth or side-side a lot of the time when I’m sitting down. I frequently rearrange the position of my legs, or bounce one leg on the floor. I pick my fingers almost constantly, and fiddle with my hands in other ways a lot, too. I click and chatter my teeth together all the time (I get pretty bad TMJD symptoms as a result).
- Touching. I spend a lot of time touching things around me. Any small objects get picked up and fiddled with – anything disposable will probably be destroyed (I leave a trail of ripped-up shreds of paper everywhere I go). I tap on surfaces a lot, and generally grab and touch my surroundings all the time.
These are stims which are simply pleasant. Unlike the above stims, I don’t feel uncomfortable if I’m not doing them. It’s just that I can get sucked into doing them for a long time and don’t want to stop.
- Sounds. Probably the most common. Certain sounds make me feel incredibly calm and relaxed. Mostly they’re things like, tapping, scratching, crinkling, rustling. One of my favourites is the sound of someone shuffling through a box of jigsaw puzzle pieces. When I’m doing a jigsaw along with someone else and they are shuffling through the pieces, I end up distracted to the point of not being able to concentrate, because it makes me so sleepy and relaxed. I also like making these sounds myself. But because of the relaxing nature, I prefer when I’m not the one making them – so that I can flop and enjoy the sound without physical effort.
- Tactile/movement. I’m not quite sure how to describe these but they are definitely a category of their own. Certain specific movements of objects are really enjoyable. A simple example would be clicking a pen (although that’s not really one of my favourites). But also other things which have a clicky mechanism, like doing and undoing a clip or latch of some kind, or pushing something in and out of a clicking holder.
These are stims which help me handle and process anxiety. When I’m anxious, my usual ‘grounding’ stims aren’t enough. So I do different, more intense things in order to process.
- Impact. Hitting things. Generally myself, but it’s not self-harm in the sense of wanting to hurt myself. It’s more that: I need to punch something, and a pillow doesn’t provide enough resistance to be satisfying, and so my leg is the best target.
- Movement. I usually need to be pacing when I’m anxious, because if I’m sitting still I lose track of my body. I’m also likely to start waving or flapping my arms. It’s like I become even more distanced from my body than I usually am, so the input has to be more intense to have the same effect.
- Tension. I find ways to make certain muscles or parts of my body tense. I often pull my hair – by grabbing a fistful and squeezing so that it makes even pressure over my scalp. I twist and wring my hands and fingers together, often squeezing and crushing as hard as I can. I will also grip and crush objects around me if they’re available.