One of the most common terms used in our community is “stimming,” short for self-stimulatory behavior.
What do I mean by that?
Well, would you sometimes flap your hands or rock back and forth when overstimulated or stressed? When you are experiencing feelings close to an overload, you might start to stim. It can be a coping mechanism you’ve developed over time. Sometimes it’s stereotypical, like flapping your hands or rocking back and forth, but there are many different forms of stimming: skin-picking, hair-twirling, toe-walking, the list goes on and on.
Many autistic children pick up stimming quickly as a way to deal with stress in their lives. This is one of the reasons why autistic children are often misdiagnosed with other mental conditions like ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).
If you’ve seen an autistic child, you have probably noticed how they typically do something repetitively during times of stress, but this is usually misunderstood as “stupid” or “annoying.” Often these stims are stopped by parents quickly so that their child can fit in better. But for many autistic children, these stims are actually ways of coping with themselves.
For myself, I have a very small repertoire of stims that I use to help me cope with stress on a daily basis. One of them is hitting the palm of my hand with the bottom part of my fist. It’s something that I’ve been doing since I was very young because it helps me to relax. But other autistic children have stims that are more complex than this, and others have even developed their own unique forms of stimming.
Stimming is a unique behavior developed by many autistic individuals because it helps us cope with stress or other difficulties in our lives. This is why so many parents are asked to stop their child from stimming-it can be seen as a nuisance rather than help to the person who does it on a regular basis!
Autistic children should not be stopped from stimming because it helps them deal with stress, and it also should not be seen as a negative behavior that needs to be stopped. In fact, stimming is a very natural coping mechanism developed by many autistic children because they are unable to express their feelings in other ways.
The next time you see an autistic child stimming, don’t tell them to stop – think about why they do what they do and how it makes them feel. Instead, try asking them if there’s anything bothering them or ask if there’s a better way you can help. Chances are, the answer will surprise you!