Stimming, an abbreviation for “self-stimulatory behavior,” involves repetitive movements, sounds, or actions, such as hand flapping, rocking, spinning, or verbal repetition. This behavior is often a method for individuals to self-soothe, manage anxiety, or regulate sensory experiences, ranging from sensory overload to boredom.
Beyond the traditional five senses—sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell—three additional senses play a role in stimming: proprioceptive, vestibular, and interoceptive.
Stimming often engages multiple senses, aiming to regulate sensory experiences. By observing the type of stim, one can gain insights into the sensory regulation being sought.
Stimming behaviors can vary greatly among individuals and some may not be immediately recognized as such.
Here are a few examples:
Remember, stimming is not inherently wrong or something to be discouraged. It’s a natural behavior that can help individuals regulate their emotions and attention and organize sensory input when overwhelmed and stressed. However, if stimming behaviors become disruptive or harmful, it may be necessary to seek help from a healthcare professional.
While stimming is common in many neurodevelopmental disorders, the way it presents in ADHD can be a little different from how it appears in conditions like Autism. For instance, people with ADHD might stim to expend excess energy or to help them focus. Stimming plays a crucial role in self-regulation and organizing sensory systems.
It’s not a ‘bad’ behavior that needs to be stopped, but a coping mechanism that serves a purpose. If stimming behaviors are harming you in some way, then you should try to find a suitable replacement for the purpose it’s serving.
In “Unmasking Autism”, Dr. Devon Price describes stimming as an essential means of self-regulation for autistic people. It can involve a variety of methods and make use of any of the eight senses.
Many Autistic and ADHD people had experiences where they were stopped from stimming or punished from stimming when they were younger. For example, being told to sit still or stop fidgeting is a form of this. Effectively, this taught them not to trust their own innate ability to regulate themselves. This had a negative impact on their sense of self and their ability to engage in regulating their sensory system, and they felt they could trust the signals from their body. Now, they may feel shame.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma and misunderstanding surrounding stimming, especially in relation to ADHD and autism. Many people view stimming as “weird” or “abnormal,” and this can lead to bullying, discrimination, and even abuse against individuals who engage in stimming behaviors.
It is crucial for us to speak out against this abuse and advocate for the rights and well-being of individuals with ADHD and autism. Stimming is not a sign of weakness or abnormality; it is a valid and vital part of who they are.
These are less noticeable than physical stims because they happen inside a person’s mind. Some examples include: 1. Repeating words, phrases, or sequences in one’s head. 2. Visualizing patterns, sequences, or scenarios repetitively. 3. Mental math or counting. 4. Creating or following complex thought patterns or stories. These mental stims can serve the same purpose as physical stims, providing comfort, focus, or a way to manage anxiety or sensory overload. However, because they are internal, they can be more challenging for others to recognize or understand.
There can be some overlap between the behaviors associated with stimming and those seen in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Both can involve repetitive behaviors or thoughts. However, there are key differences. Stimming is a self-regulating behavior. It’s typically a coping mechanism to manage sensory overload, anxiety, or other overwhelming experiences. Stimming behaviors are usually comforting to the individual. On the other hand, OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by unwanted, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or rituals (compulsions) that the person feels driven to perform. These compulsions are often performed to mitigate the anxiety caused by the obsessions. Unlike stimming, OCD behaviors can cause significant distress and interfere with a person’s daily life. While there can be similarities, it’s important not to conflate them. If there’s concern about OCD or if repetitive behaviors are causing distress or impairment, it’s vital to seek a professional evaluation.
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