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This Myth About Autistic Stimming Needs to Be Addressed

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When I was at college, I did some research into the myths and stereotypes of autism. I decided I might as well use some of the research I analyzed to write articles on a different autism myth each week. This week’s myth is this misconception that stimming always means a person is stressed.

One fairly common misconception I’ve often encountered is how many people don’t understand self-stimulatory behavior, or stimming for short. This is a series of movements like hand flapping, rocking back and forth, etc. The general public tends to have no idea why people stim, and even people who know about autism don’t always understand it as well as they think they do. There was a fairly recent program on Channel 4 called “How Autistic Are You?” which despite its best intentions, explained stimming in a way that was rather flawed. It tried to make out that stimming was a sign of stress and autistics use it as a way to calm down, which can be the case, but isn’t always the case.

Many autistic people (including myself) stim when they get excited or when they’re going deep into their own world or fixating on something they’re passionate about. That doesn’t change the fact that many, many people still believe it’s always to do with stress. One example is this video — it was a huge hit and very popular with its audience. If you fast forward 2:57 minutes into the video, they’re generalizing stimming when they say autistic people stim when they’re having a hard time.

I also know I’m not the only autistic person who disagrees with the way they describe it. You can view a documentary on Amazon Prime video which was directed by a media student. The documentary is called “Autism: A Curious Case of the Human Mind.” Fun fact — I even made an appearance in the program! Anyway, if you fast forward 12:16 minutes into the video you can see an interview with an autistic young man called Jake Cartwright. He explained stimming in a very similar way to myself. Never once did he talk about how it’s always a sign of stress. This really helps backup my viewpoint of stimming and why it’s so important to make others aware of it. If you have an Amazon Prime Video account you can view the full documentary here.

Thank you for reading this article. You can view a Fixers project I did about stimming six years ago. View both links below.

This story originally appeared on Alex’s blog.

Originally published: October 28, 2020
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