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Autism and Stimming

April is Autism Acceptance Month! Let's work together to better understand the perspectives of our autistic friends & family by busting myths about autism.

Myth: Stimming is a non-functional behavior that we should always try to stop.

Fact: Stimming, which refers to self-stimulatory behavior, serves many adaptive purposes, including emotional self-regulation, communication, and focus.

Stimming may be intentional or subconscious, and can take many forms, including:

  • Repetitive movements: rocking, dancing, flapping hands

  • Auditory: repeating the same sound, phrase, or lyric

  • Visual: blinking lights, watching videos

  • Sensory: touching certain fabrics or textures

Autistic adults describe their stimming as comfortable and calming (Kapp et al., 2019, Joyce et al., 2017; Steward, 2015). Themes drawn from interviews with autistic adults revealed that stimming is a self-regulatory mechanism used in response to an overwhelming environment, sensory overload, noisy thoughts, and uncontainable emotions such as anxiety or excitement (Kapp et al., 2019). In other words, stimming serves to calm individuals in a state of hyperarousal.

Stimming can also support communication. Some autistic individuals shared that their loved ones had learned which stims corresponded with different emotions (e.g., stress, excitement), helping them to more effectively communicate with and support one another (Kapp et al., 2019).

While some autistic individuals require support in redirecting injurious stims, in the majority of cases, stims are a safe and effective coping mechanism. By learning the reason for stimming, we can foster a more accepting environment for our autistic friends and family.

To learn more about stimming from the perspective of autistic adults, check out this research article:

Thank you again to Anouk at autism_sketches for sharing personal accounts and illustrations regarding autism and stimming: Autism Sketches (@autism_sketches) • Instagram photos and videos

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