Answers from the Spectrum, Stimming

nuage mots mains merci

The term ‘stimming’ or ‘stims’ is short for self-stimulatory behaviour. We all seem to do it, whether it be tapping our feet, a pen or maybe twiddling our hair, if you look out for it you will notice most people stim. It appears to be a way of calming ourselves or aiding concentration. Stimming for those on the Spectrum usually refers to specific behaviours such as flapping, rocking, spinning, or repetition of words and phrases. Sometimes they can be more unusual and surprising.

Question for this week:

We would like to know from those on the Spectrum what ‘stimming’ feels like to you. Does it calm you? Make you feel happy? Is it a release of energy? Is it a way of regulating your senses? or expressing your feelings? What are the triggers or situations where you stim the most? Is this something you can control and would you want to control it if you could? Have you felt pressured to control it by others? How do you feel if you are asked to stop?

Please only answer this question/topic if you are on the Spectrum, if you would like to remain anonymous message me on this page or email me at and I will post your answer. Thankyou so much for your support and willingness to be involved, your answers will be incredibly valuable to us all x

Answers from the Spectrum

‘This is a good one!! Well I certainly stimm a lot! My forms of stimming consists of vigorous humming hand flapping and whistling, which is my favorite form of stimming and one I only started a few years ago to! I guess I find myself humming almost constantly when I’m out in public or when I’m out with friends.   But I also find myself using these types of stimulation alot when I’m alone to, just as much sometimes as when I’m out or with friends. When I first start hanging out with new friends I will stim constantly I will rock whistle and hum and repeat certain words the entire time I’m around them, but I will still do all these things when I’m around my closest friends to, it makes me feel great it helps when I’m anxious or it can feel helpful when I just don’t have anything to say:P ‘

‘I stim a lot of the time, even without realising but it’s most prevalent (not sure if that’s the right word?) when I’m on the verge of a meltdown. I have many different stims but the most frequent ones are shaking my feet/legs, rocking and scratching at my skin. I can’t control them and I’m not sure I would want to as they give me a focus when everything else feels out of control. I’d only choose to control the self injurious stims if I could.’

‘I was diagnosed before I was 2 and I didn’t know about autism until I was 16, when I started learning about autism it made more sense to me then anything ever had in my whole life! I’m 21 now, and I know! I walk on my toes all the time, I use to think it was just cause I loved cats so much:P’

‘The only time I’ve found myself suppressing these kind of habits is when I’m at work, there I feel more pressured to keep them hidden cause I don’t want my boss to think I can’t handle being in a busy environment. Humming and whistling while out in a busy environment does help me to feel more relaxed and helps to block out the noise or crowds but it doesn’t nesesarily mean I can’t handle those kind of environments. You get better at being in busy places the more you get out in them. There’s many different reasons I find myself stimming, it’s far from a negative, it’s a perfect way to release built up energy! And It’s perfect for helping to block out noisy environments, I hope no one feels they have to contain these sort of stimming habits, they help make everyday life a lot more enlightening I find. I’ve gotten pretty darn good at whistling in just a few years to:P  There’s one type of stimming though that I have to a very high extreme, it’s rocking, I can rock for hours on end, I rock while listening to music, it’s my favorite thing in the world, alot of the best feelings I’ve ever had we’re while rocking and listening to music. I’ve been like this my entire life and I’ve never known anyone else to have the rocking habit to this extreme. It’s the best way to get lost in ones imagination that’s for sure! ‘

From an 48 year old male, diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome 2 years ago.
‘A difficult question, as stimming is typically something that other people observe. For myself, I have always been aware that I keep repeating certain melodies, songs in my head. I just do that. I don’t do it aloud, by the way.
When I started having relationships (in my late twenties), my partners noticed that I touched my nose a lot. They wanted me to stop that. Having been made aware of that, I have tried to reduce this behaviour, but I cannot stop it completely. How does touching my nose – or repeating melodies – benefit me? Beats me, but the fact that I cannot stop it completely, must mean something.
I have a colleague, who also has Asperger’s. He has the, for me annoying, habit of constantly moving his body and tapping his feet. He cannot sit still for 2 seconds.
It seems to be an uncontrollable urge, of which the benefits to me are unclear.’

‘I was only dxed last year, and i’m 53.  Some of my earliest memories are of stimming to calm and soothe myself: rocking, spinning, tiptoeing, tapping my fingers in patterns, humming, vocalising that isn’t quite humming, flapping my hands (both in the air or –to attract less attention — by opening and closing one hand hard and fast), jiggling my leg(s), listening to a record on repeat for hours (my poor mother! especially when the record was a 45 and i had it on for 4-6 hours during bad times! she didn’t mind nearly as much when it was an lp of ship noises or thunderstorms that i had on for hours.)  I can suppress them for a short period, but at a very high cost. generally suppressing them takes all my focus, so i won’t take in anything detailed visually, will have trouble speaking as well as understanding speech, can’t do anything productive.
Some of my earliest memories are of rocking and spinning. in primary school i was the first one out of class at recess and tore to the playground at a dead run so that i could stand in the middle of the painted double circles (for playing games with a large bouncy rubber ball) adn spin until my perception of them was that they rose up around me at waist height. as soon as they did, all my anxiety and distress from trynig to sit still and all my overwhelm from everything class seemed to melt away. when i couldn’t do that, i’d have what were called back then “bad spells” and cry and scream. my teachers were very good about letting me out the classroom door first, and so were the other children.’

‘Ah yes, I do the humming the same melodies (or certain sections of them) in my head thing. I used to play with a binder clip when I was in grade school. I tap my nails on a hard surface or drum my fingers. It’s usually a “hey, I’m thinking” or an “I need to concentrate” thing. It gives part of my mind something to focus on so that I can actually concentrate on something. I listen to music (pretty loudly…heh), too, because it calms my anxiety, especially in the car.’

‘It helps me with physical pain.’

‘I’m not sure if I stim or not. I need to sing background music, and also play it on my MP3 player, and generally make sure I always have music in my head through engraving lots of different tunes into my memory. it has to be music from games I’ve played, trying it with other types of music makes me feel sick. It is about context and mental association as well as the tune. Matching the right tune to the right situation helps the world make more sense. it also helps with blocking out unwanted sensory stimuli, as well as with my phobia of complete silence (I associate silence with things being faulty, either my own ears or whatever is supposed to be make the noise) and blocking out my constant tinnitus which drives me crazy.
As a school child I used to stim more traditionally, but I remember this being one of my phases of pretending to be more autistic than I am. It was kind of a cross between unconscious mimicking of other autistic children and acting a part out of duty, because I thought there was a certain way you were supposed to act when autistic and I didn’t want to do it wrong.’

‘The main things I tend to do are wiggle my fingers (as if I’m tapping a keyboard), stroke a section of my hair, or obsessively rub my finger nails (I like the smoothness and I dislike not wearing smooth nail polish). I tend to stim more when I’m nervous or anxious, and often use it as a subtle distraction from whatever is bothering me. I also tend to stim when I’m thinking or have a lot on my mind, just feels like it straightens thing out for me so I can think clearly, like my body needs to ‘think’ as well as my mind.’

‘I’m not sure where I might sit on the autistic spectrum, although I definitely exhibit some tendencies i.e. an obsession with symmetry, good verbal and maths skills, social anxiety, etc. I find my brain is constantly overstimulated. Tapping a pattern out, or drawing a pattern over and over again (my colleagues are endlessly amused to find my pattern drawings during meetings) helps to calm the over stimulated part of my brain and make me concentrate on the task in hand. It’s also very soothing.’

‘I didn’t know having music in my head was a form of stimming but I have that all the time. I wake up with a song in my head and it reruns all day. I’ve noticed it changes tunes less frequently the more stressed I am. I think it helps me block out distractions around me to let me concentrate, although sometimes it’s too “loud” and interrupts my concentration in and of itself.  I used to spin at home when I was little. it was fun to make the world be dizzy (I would ask my mom if she needed me to spin it the other way because although I never was affected in my walking after spinning, I’d observed other people were and so I thought I needed to slow the spinning of the world down so my mom could walk in a straight line. Obvious problem with theory of mind there!)  Sometimes when I’m on the edge of a meltdown I rock, but usually only when alone at home. I’ve always tried to avoid obvious physical stimming because it bothered me when teachers would constantly click their pens open and shut or people drum their fingers. The movement and sound just added to my own overwhelmed senses, so I tried not to do stuff like that myself because if it bothered me it probably bothered other people. (I thought a lot more about other people’s feelings than anybody ever gave me credit for. I just didn’t have the right information about what they were feeling!)  So the stims I do help me concentrate and/or calm down by blocking out external sensory stimulus.’

‘I have the music in my head too. It helps me cope with the constant brain chatter. But I never thought I was on the spectrum.’

‘That’s what I do, I only rock when I’m alone too, but I do it for many different reasons, most times because it just feels very relaxing.’

‘Sent this to my daughter.hope she responds,very interesting,I have seen this actually taught to my other daughter..who is not autistic…it really helped her with anxiety.’

‘I am 66 and was never diagnosed, but as the mother of two sons who both suffer with ADHD, I think I definitely have it, too, and I KNOW I STIM, too. It is a release of energy for me, and I feel so much better much of the time when I rock my body back and forward, or swing my leg, which is crossed over the other leg. It’s definitely done alot, and it’s not a concsious movement, but I do it alot of the time. It makes me happy and it relaxes me.’

‘Wow, I do so many of these things. Drown out the world with music, tap patterns/count with fingers or play air piano. Count patterns on ceilings floors and walls (tiny boxed wallpaper at my therapists office is getting old), rub my fingernails and twirl hair or constantly smooth the front section around my face. Constantly tap my foot/wiggle leg. So many of these. I don’t leave the house too much due to anxiety but I’ve gotten pretty good at making these things subtle except when I’m nearing a meltdown then they increase and I can typically have time enough to remove myself for the stressful situation or those around me who know me will help out because there have been times when I’m alone that it gets bad enough that I’m hauled off to a psych ward’

‘I didn’t have a chance to answer yesterday, but am happy see that I’m not the only one who vocalizes – echolalia ( I can be a scary good mimic) , sort of humming/singing (I prefer to think of this as scatting) – waves my arms around (I should have been an orchestra conductor), and sort of dances (but I’m a klutz, not really good at sensing my physical boundaries and location). I do this when I’m excited and overwhelmed (good and bad). It releases tension, rebalances my energy, and if I’m in a good mood and having fun, keeps that felling going. I try very hard not do do this at work, but end up “talking with my hands” anyway. I don’t care for the most part about doing it in public generally, but can be a little shy doing it around acquaintances who haven’t quite crossed the gap to friends yet. My husband is getting used to it – dare I say it amuses the heck out of him and for the most part me, too. I’ve also taken up a little bit of qigong that is very helpful since it has lots of repetitive shaking, swinging, and sweeping arm movements along with controlled breathing. For the most part feet are firmly planted, unlike tai qi, which is more flowing and graceful.’

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