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Don't Stop the Stimming

Did the title catch your attention? I hope so. If you are unsure of what stimming is, here is a brief definition from

" Stimming – or self-stimulatory behaviour – is repetitive or unusual body movement or noises."

So what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of stimming? The most common response I get is "flapping their arms", or from the neurotypical adult populations, "Tapping my foot or maybe tapping something I am holding (something along the lines of pen-clicking, tapping your needs with your fingers, jingling kets, etc.)

But why do WE stim? Yes, I said we. Because we all do. You might be more subtle in your stimming, but try to be aware of what your body is doing when you might feel a little more nervous, uncomfortable or even lounging at home. Is it rubbing your feet together, shaking your foot, rubbing your arms, playing with your hair- what do you do that helps self-sooth without even knowing?

Stimming is a common behavior in the Autistic population. And it should be. There are neurological differences with Autistic individuals, as well as a much higher chance of sensory processing disorders.

According to an article by Carey Rosie, titled "The Autistic Brain", she reports,

“In autism there's short-range over-connectivity and long-range under-connectivity,” Dr. Anderson says. “So, for tasks that require us to combine or assimilate information in different parts of the brain, like social func

tion and complex motor tasks, individuals with autism have more trouble. And when there's a very specific task focused with the single brain region that's primarily involved—activities like paying attention to specific features in the world around us, individuals with autism tend to be quite good or even better than normal.”

This is just a small difference. Please reference this article for more information.

Back to stimming.

Why do we see more external and noticeable stimming with our Autistic Population?

Stimming seems to help autistic children and teenagers

manage emotions like anxiety, anger, fear and excitement. Stimming might help them to calm down because it focuses their attention on the stim or produces a calming change in their bodies given the environmental stress they might be feeling.

Due to neurological processing of information, environmental stimuli or situations might feel much more stressful, exciting or different. Stimming creates a space of calm, safety, an outward expression of feeling.

Don't stop the Stimming

I write this with the deep desire to help parents, therapists, teachers, all adults and even other children to help change the expectation that Autistic children and adults should "stop stimming." When we think about WHY we create the expectation that individuals should not stim, is it to make their lives more comfortable, or ours? Remember, stimming is a way to express feeling - whether it is excitement, anger, nerves, anxiety and more.

When we push to take away the stimming behaviors, the underlying reason is we want Autistic children and adults appear "normal. There is an understandable empathy I share in desiring any avoidance of your loved one to be made fun of. But the truth is, by forcing this behavior to change, we are only enabling continued lack of acceptance for neurodivergence and neurological differences.

It's time to learn that as individuals, we ALL come with neurological differences, different stimming behaviors and unique reactions to the environment around us. When we accept and embrace these differences, we start to create a world that no longer expects individuals to adapt to the comfort of neurotypical behaviors. Instead. we can celebrate and cherish our differences, creating more acceptance for the future generations to come.

Cynthia Knighton, MS., CCC-SLP

Owner/SLP of Speech For Success, PLLC


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