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What Is Stimming And Why Should We Normalise It?

Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASCs) vary between individuals in manifestation and severity. Approximately 1% of the world’s population, or 75 million people, have an ASC. One common symptom of ASCs is stimming, or self-stimulatory behaviours. This article will explain what stimming is, as well as why it should be normalised for both neurodivergent and neurotypical people.

What is stimming?

Stimming is defined as repetitive behaviours that help to relieve stress, anxiety, and boredom, or can help portray excitement and joy. There are several different types of stimming.

Auditory

This type includes making repetitive sounds and repeating or copying phrases. Common examples of auditory stims include clicking a pen and listening to repetitive music over and over. Furthermore, some people with autism repeat words after hearing another person saying it, similar to a verbal tic. This is called echolalia.

Tactile

This refers to feeling and touching objects and materials that they like the feel of. People who stim tactilely may find comfort carrying fidget objects, like fidget cubes, or soft, fluffy objects, like soft toys and blankets.

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Olfactory

Olfactory refers to the sense of smell. For example, smelling objects, like candles or soap, are common ways to stimulate the brain by olfactory senses.

Vestibular

This type refers to bodily movements that mostly involve balance. Rocking and spinning in a circle are common vestibular stims, especially in non-verbal children with autism.

Visual

The visual type involves stimulating the brain through sight. For example, sensory videos have become increasingly popular recently after gaining traction on TikTok. Also, the extremely popular satisfying compilation videos are all over YouTube! Additionally, fidget spinners, kaleidoscopes and glitter or lava lamps can be used to stimulate the brain visually.

Who can stim?

It’s common in people with autism and other conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It’s especially common in children and teenagers with autism, but the truth is, anyone can stim. Common stims in people that don’t have autism include nail-biting, hair-twirling and chewing a pencil. Indeed, they help to relieve feelings of nervousness, and boredom, or to maintain attention when concentrating on something.

Why should we normalise stimming?

The bottom line is that stimming is a helpful behaviour to help reduce anxiety and stress and improve concentration. It helps everyone in different ways, but it is especially helpful for people with autism as they often find social situations and busy places extremely sensorily overwhelming. The issue with this is that stimming in public often comes with a negative stigma attached to it. The main way to reduce the stigma surrounding it is to educate people on its reasons and benefits of it.

Takeaway message

Stimming is a common, repetitive behaviour that serves many different purposes, including relieving stress, reducing boredom, and during bouts of excitement. They are helpful for people with autism but most people stim in some way. Providing education about why people stim will help reduce the stigma surrounding it. Also, spreading awareness about it will help neurodivergent people to feel more comfortable about doing it in public. Indeed, this is so important, since it is often a coping mechanism for everyday stressors.

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Hi! I’m Becky Milligan, I study Psychology at the University of Sussex. I have a passion for Clinical Psychology and mental health, as well as performing arts, baking, and dogs! Through writing about mental health, I hope to educate and provide comfort to others, ultimately helping to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health for university students.