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Understanding Autism and Stimming

Autism has been a diagnosis that is slowly being more understood. As the actually Autistic community continues to speak out, educate, and raise understanding the hope is for more people to be respectful and understanding the those who are Autistic around you. When you come across a child that is hand flapping the hope is for kindness rather than judgment and ridicule.

I am not autistic myself and so I do not want to claim that I know what goes through my daughter’s head. My daughter is Autistic, she is non-verbal, she is four years old and we are just beginning our journey, reading, learning, and doing whatever we can to understand and help her. When I say help, I don’t mean change, I want her to be who she is, do what she wants and needs to do to feel good, level, balanced, but I want to help her be successful in whatever way works for her. This also means to help others around us understand her because that will help her success in having relationships with them and to have communication with them.

One factor of Autism I’d like to discuss is stimming.

This is a word that is heard a lot in regard to Autism but really everyone can and most likely does have some sort of stim.

Stim is short for self-stimulation. For any neurotypical person this could be bouncing your leg, biting your nails, pacing, or fidgeting. At its core, stimming is a way to self-regulate emotions, express oneself, or to increase or decrease stimulation. Stimming helps you regain an equilibrium.

Stimming in Autistics

There have been many studies and debates about why autistic people stim. Even questions about if they’re purposeful behaviors or involuntary and uncontrollable. Many interviews with Autistic adults have shown that they tend to be automatic and uncontrollable as well as calming.

When it comes to a child or adult with Autism one thing you should not do is try to stop a stim, unless it is harmful to them or others. If a stim is harmful, such as hitting their head on the wall, you can and should try to find a safe, replacement stim. Stims are a way for those with Autism to regulate their emotions, regulate sensory overload or other stimulation. It is important for them to be able to do this so they can be soothed or comforted. Trying to stop the stim can make them withdraw and be harmful.

Understanding Your Autistic loved One and their Stims

Being able to understand the stims of an Autistic loved one may help you understand their emotions, sensory input issues, or even pain responses at the time. For instance, in a situation where it may be loud such as a restaurant you may see your loved one stimming more. You may be able to take the increase in stimming as a response to the noise. It might be necessary to remove them from that environment or find a way to help them with the noise in another way.

My daughter hand flaps a lot when she’s excited. It’s a great way to see their emotions. Autistic individuals, unlike stereotypes and past beliefs, are very emotional and empathetic. Sometimes they are just unable to express them because they’re so intense. Stimming can help them express that emotion or help them deal with the intensity of their emotions.

If a stim may need to be reduced it’s important to try to get at the root cause of the stim. They may be in pain and need to see a doctor, for instance. If they are causing harm to themselves find a replacement stim that’ll fulfill the need without hurting themselves.

It’s important to let a child or adult stim and not to try keep them from doing so.


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