Truth is, We ALL Stim

I often get asked about Cody’s stimming and why autistic people do this?  So what is stimming?   Wikipedia defines it as a self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in people with autistic spectrum disorders.


Temple Grandin’s post in Autism Digest says, “Stimming, or self-stimulatory behaviors, are behaviors people with autism may exhibit to counteract an overwhelming sensory environment or alleviate the high levels of internal anxiety. Some examples of stimming are rocking, spinning, pacing, repeating words or flapping of arms or hands.”

Autistic people aren’t the only ones who stim, although occasionally people on the spectrum stim in more obvious ways and may attract attention. Many people have a hard time grasping why someone would stim.

Truth is, we ALL stim.  If you’ve ever tapped your pencil, bitten your nails, twirled your hair, or paced, you’ve engaged in stimming.  Stimming is almost always a symptom of autism, but it’s important to note that stimming is also a part of most people’s behavior patterns.  The biggest differences between autistic and typical stimming are the choice and quantity of stim.  While it’s at least moderately acceptable to bite one’s nails, for example, it’s considered “different” to wander around flapping one’s hands.  There’s really no good reason why flapping should be less acceptable than nail biting (it’s certainly more hygienic!). But in our world, the hand flappers receive strange attention while the nail biters are tolerated.


Like anyone else, people with autism stim to help themselves to manage anxiety, fear, anger, and other negative emotions. Like many people, people with autism may stim to help themselves handle overwhelming sensory input (too much noise, light, heat, etc).  Unlike most people, though, individuals with autism may also self-stimulate constantly, and stimming may stand between them and their ability to interact with others, take part in ordinary activities, or even be included in typical classrooms.

I posted an article recently about stimming and really loved what a dear friend had to say about stimming and how she found a way to channel this stimming into a hobby/interest. Here is what she said.

LOVE. THIS. ARTICLE! As a BCBA, I have tried to explain this to parents of spectrum kiddos over & over. We all stim! My self-stimulators behavior is channeled into reading a novel to escape reality for a bit, maybe pouring a glass of wine, or even taking a run! As a musician, sitting down to play at the piano is certainly self-stimulating!  We never want to take the comfort of stimming away. Rather, we help replace stims that prevent functioning with stims that are considered socially appropriate, thus allowing the child to eventually mainstream into a classroom without being a distraction, and one day holding a job. Ex: years ago I was working with a sweet girl who was a tapper. She loved to tap her finders on just about any hard surface there was. We put that stim behavior through extinction, while simultaneously purchasing her a pair of tap shoes.  We were able to eradicate the constant tapping that was preventing her from functioning in her preschool classroom, but channeled her into tap lessons! And guess what? This kiddos STILL, 10 years later, loves to tap dance!  And the even greater thing about her is that she now NO LONGER QUALIFIES FOR HER AUTISM DIAGNOSIS! Talk about making my heart happy! Yes, folks, these precious kids CAN be recovered, with hard work at an early age! And Shelley Stone-Neustupa, I just know the same will go for Cody, due to your hard work!

I loved what she wrote!  Like she mentioned, at times, stimming can be a useful accommodation, making it possible for the autistic person to manage challenging situations. When it becomes a distraction or in some cases can cause physical harm to self or others, try to channel it through something else.  Brad and I often re-direct Cody when we notice it affecting his learning and other times when he is happy and it’s not affecting his learning, he will flap his arms with such joy and it makes us happy.  Cody is also our “hummer.”  His humming started at a very early age and he often will hum the entire time he is eating a meal or if he is in the car.  We never tell him ”no” we just simply re-direct him.  I tend to start singing and this seems to calm him pretty quick.



In closing, The Mighty asked their readers with autism how they explain what stimming is like.  Here are a few:

“It’s a comforting thing to do. Neurotypical people probably understand and do similar things, but the difference is that autism stims feel more necessary, and trying to stop them causes unpleasantness for us. It makes me feel uncomfortable when [it] cannot be done.” — Elizabeth Alford

“It’s a combination of habit and releasing build-up of stress or internal energy in the body. It isn’t something you do only when you have anxiety or negative feelings, it feels good. It’s kind of necessary.” — Planet Autism

Published by mamalamaneustupa

Bio My name is Shelley Neustupa. I am a mother of two cool boys and a wife of 22 years to my high school sweetheart. My oldest son attends the University of Oklahoma. Boomer! My youngest is in 2nd grade and was diagnosed with Autism and Mixed Receptive Expressive Disorder at age 2. Since his diagnosis, I promised him I would advocate and educate as hard as he works each day in therapy. I began writing and have been able to touch many parents that may be new to this journey providing them with actual experiences (not candy coated), support and resources through my entries. Writing is my therapy and my hope one day that my nonverbal son will be able to take these diaries and speak about his own journey and how autism relates to his own experiences. Who knows he and his older brother may become National Speaker’s one day? Come along on our journey to better understand our lives through the eyes of a boy with autism, his Skilled Companion dog Jude, his big brother (and best friend) and mom and dad. My raw vulnerability captures the everyday moments of our journey and will bring even more awareness. A week does not go by where we do not learn something new about ourselves and I want to share these chapters with you. My Sons Undeniable Strengths… Extremely smart and figures out things quickly. Has a memory that allows him to remember more things than I could ever hope for. Persuasive by his personality and sheepish looks. Overabundance of stamina and strength. Loves the outdoors. Enjoys life and always has fun with an unforgettable smile. You can find us here: Writer: Autism Through His Eyes Facebook Instagram YouTube Pinterest Canine Companions for Independence News Interview Cody and Skilled Companion Jude - Our Story

3 thoughts on “Truth is, We ALL Stim

  1. Thanks so much for all the knowledge. Your personal blogs mean so much more to me as a very
    proud grandmother getting to read about her precious grandson.❤💕

    Liked by 1 person

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