Stimming: More Common Than You Might Think

A lot of times, the word “stimming” is used when diagnosing autism. Stimming refers to self-stimulating behaviours, typically repeated motions or sounds. The reason it’s part of the diagnostic criteria for autism is because when people with autism stim, it can get out of control.


It might seem like people with autism are the only ones that stim, because their versions of stimming are usually larger and more obvious, such as repeating phrases over and over or rocking their whole bodies. That’s not true. Everyone stims! Sometimes you might not even notice you’re doing it.


For example, when you’re anxious, stressed, bored, or jumpy, do you ever —

  • Bite your fingernails?

  • Twirl your hair?

  • Drum your fingers on the nearest surface?

  • Jiggle your foot?

  • Tap your pencil?


All of these are stims. Even pacing or walking around while you’re on the phone is a stim.


There was a post on Instagram (from @practically_satan) that I came across earlier this week, which explains the difference between stims, compulsions, and tics.


Here is my slightly edited version of it. Let’s say you’re bouncing your knee.


Someone asks you to stop. You do, but instantly feel worse. Bouncing your knee was a form of expressing yourself and now you feel trapped. This is a stim.


Someone asks you to stop. You can’t, because if you do something bad will happen, maybe even a specific bad thing. You know it’s irrational but not bouncing your knee gives you anxiety. This is a compulsion.


Someone asks you to stop. You can’t. It’s like holding in a sneeze. If you stop, it might come out later in a different, even less controllable manner. This is a tic.


I hope you found this helpful! It’s always good to know about stuff we might have in common. :) Stay safe and stay healthy! 💛

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