30 Days of Autism: Stims

Stimming, self stimulating, is something autistic people do. Stims are repetitive sounds or motions that make the person doing them feel better in some way – calmer or less scared or more entertained. Stimming might look like twirling hair, tapping a pencil, making a beeping sound, running from one wall to another over and over, chewing on a necklace or shirt collar, flapping hands, or rocking back and forth.

Stimming can provide many benefits. It can stimulate and entertain someone who is otherwise bored to tears. It can aid focus by helping someone tune out other distractions. It can provide comfort and decrease anxiety and fear. While the majority of stims are harmless, stimming is often treated as bad behavior or simply too weird to be permitted.

When it comes to autistic children in particular, there are numerous programs and websites advising teachers, therapists, and parents ways to “extinguish” stimming behavior in their children. The usual recommendations are to reward the child for going a set time without stimming, to physically stop the child when they do stim, and to replace stims with more typical “play skills” that will make the child appear less autistic.

With any autism therapy it’s important to ask, Who is this for? In the case of treatment to extinguish non-harmful stims, I’d say it’s for the benefit of others and not for the autistic person, possibly even at their expense. Obviously it’s beneficial to reduce dependence on stimming by decreasing environmental stressors that cause anxiety, and it’s likewise beneficial to teach people a variety of coping skills. But that doesn’t mean there’s a good reason to steer someone away from non-harmful coping skills they’ve already acquired.

Autism acceptance means stim acceptance. Try to tolerate the “weirdness” of others.

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