The Mighty Logo

The Importance of Stimming for Autistic People

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Stimming is quite possibly one of the most quintessential parts of the autistic and neurodiverse experience. Stimming is any repetitive action carried out with the intention of expressing or redirecting emotion and/or sensory input. As an autistic person, I find myself stimming regularly, especially during times of heightened anxiety, but also during positive experiences such as excitement or intense happiness.

Some examples of stimming are quite obvious, for example, repeated flapping of the hands or jumping up and down. Some people pace back and forth or move their feet around. For others stimming involves visual input, such as the lights one might find in a sensory room, or chewing on objects.

All of these can be considered positive stims, however when we are unable to use our positive stims, that nervous energy can come out in unhealthier ways. I pick at the skin on my lips until it bleeds. Others may punch themselves or even pull at their hair. This is why it is important that autistic and neurodiverse people be allowed to stim in positive ways whenever they need to do so.

Why is neurotypical society so alarmed by stimming? I have read many comments online written by neurotypical parents desperately seeking ways to stop their child from stimming, in an attempt to have them appear more “normal.” Sometimes they even subject their children to harmful therapies to “train” the behavior out of them. I have lost count of the number of times I have received sideways looks from people when I have been pacing over the same spot in public, or unable to keep my feet and legs still. The funny thing is, that these people would feel far more uncomfortable if I expressed my emotions in a less healthy way, such as punching or biting myself.

We must be allowed to stim in positive ways, and not taught that it is wrong. Rather than trying to stop your child from stimming altogether, work with them to find healthier stims that allow them to fully express their emotions in a less harmful manner. When society tells us not to stim, they are invalidating our bodily autonomy by telling us what we can and can’t do with our bodies.

Stimming is a vital part of the autistic and neurodiverse experience, but because of the way it is viewed by society, many autistic people now feel ashamed. This has to stop. I call upon all autistic people to stim loudly and stim proudly, and never be ashamed of who you are.

Originally published: January 15, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home