I’ve written about my own stims before. Even when I wrote that post, I was a bit doubtful about the idea of a defined concept of ‘stimming’. And since then, I’ve become even more unsure.
Everyone defines stimming differently, and gives it a different purpose. I think the reason it has such a vague non-definition is that it’s a word coined by neurotypical people to describe whenever an autistic person did something they thought was ‘weird’. From the outside, it’s impossible to know what someone’s thinking or why they are doing something. So that means that a whole lot of different things end up being lumped together under the word ‘stimming’, making it not very useful.
Here are some of the reasons I do things which would be classed as ‘stimming’:
- I actively enjoy it – e.g. pressing something that makes a clicky sound.
- I don’t know why I do it, it just happens without me noticing – e.g. I rock automatically when I’m sitting down in certain positions, and it requires active concentration to not do it.
- A kind of in-between of the previous two: I feel uncomfortable if I’m not doing it – e.g. folding up my legs when I’m sitting in a chair.
- To release nervous energy – e.g. I pick my fingers and click my jaw much more frantically if I’m anxious or excited because I have twitchy energy that has to go somewhere.
- To block out or process bad sensations – e.g. when I’m somewhere loud I often tap my hand rhythmically to give me something to focus on.
- To express myself – e.g. when I’m excited, freaked out, confused, (or… pretty much anything now I think about it), I sometimes do a single very quick hand-flap.
- To handle bad emotions – e.g. when I’m very anxious or upset I sometimes punch my leg because it feels grounding.
And I’m pretty sure there are others too.
Looking back at that list, I think it can be divided into categories (nothing like a bit of categorisation to help me understand something!):
- For the sake of the sensation. This includes things which are enjoyable, things which are automatic, and things which make me feel more comfortable.
I’d say that this category is entirely the result of a weirdly wired autistic sensory system. Everyone has sensations they find enjoyable, some of mine are just a bit more unusual. Most people find themselves moving automatically every now and then, it just happens more often and in different ways for me. And a lot of people feel more comfortable in certain sensory situations, they just maybe have a wider range of what’s good for them.
- To deal with bad stuff. This includes processing my own emotions, bad sensations, or anything else which causes me stress.
I think this category is the intersection of an autistic sensory system and an autistic brain. The autistic brain part is what causes us to get more stressed or bothered by things which NTs can handle (like an unpleasant sensation or a negative emotion). The sensory system part is what allows us to be comforted or calmed by specific sensations or actions.
- Body language. A lot of my body language is similar to NT people’s, but a lot of it isn’t.
I would put this category firmly in the autistic brain section. Whatever it is that’s different in my brain, it give me different instinctive ways of expressing myself.
I’d be interested to know whether these categories resonate with other autistic people.