Ask an Autistic #1 - What is Stimming?

Author: Amythest Schaber

Hi, I'm Amythest and welcome to the first episode of Ask an Autistic! For the first episode of Ask an Autistic I'm going to introduce myself and talk a bit about stimming. Firstly, I'm Amythest. I am twenty-two years old, I am Autistic, and I blog about disability and Autism at my tumblr blog "neurowonderful". I get a lot of questions from parents, family members, some educators, about Autism.

And it's good, it's great. I think that right now we're going into a time where people are realizing that maybe what we thought we knew about Autism isn't accurate, and what we thought we knew about Autism was the observations, sometimes inaccurate observations, of neurotypical scientists, doctors, and researchers. So I think it's great! Come at me! Bring all the questions! I'm just so happy to answer them because I do dream of and work towards a world where Autism is widely accepted and that Autistic people can be themselves and be happy doing so. Happy Autistic people, yay! Stimming.

What is stimming? Stimming is also known as "stereotyped behaviours" and in some parts of the world I've heard them called "tics". So stimming, stims, tics, kind of all the same thing. Autistic people might self-stimulate for three different reasons which I'll get into, and those three reasons are to self-regulate, to seek sensory input (sensory seeking), and expression. Firstly what does stimming look like? Stimming..

I think the most classic example is hand flapping. Parents notice this in their young Autistic children, that they will flap their hands when they are excited or agitated, or just when they are happy and enjoying life. I hand flap, and I hand flap when I'm excited or when I'm anxious. So that's a good example. Also rocking- many Autistic people are known to rock as that's a common stimming behaviour. Other stimming behaviours can include all the senses. There are actually seven senses- there's more actually, but I'm going to talk about seven.

Ask an Autistic #1 - What is Stimming?

So you know the five- taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing... But you also have proprioceptive sense, and that's the sense that [allows] your brain to know where you are in space, and also know where your body parts are, and also how much pressure to put on things. So you want to be very gentle picking a flower, or you want to put a lot of force into hammering a nail.

That is all determined by proprioceptive input. And then there's the vestibular sense, the seventh sense, and that is actually very closely connected to your inner ear, and balance, and also movement and motion. So the vestibular sense if how your body knows if you are in motion or at rest, up or down, you know, upside down or right side up. So that's the seven senses, and so stimming can include and incorporate any of the seven senses and sometimes multiple senses at once. So, touch might be rubbing a soft blanket, or it might be smell, smelling something like essential oil, or just something that's interesting to you- when I was a kid it was dandelions. You could visually stim by looking at a windmill turning or something sparkly or flashing. You can stim all kinds of ways. Vestibular stimming would be spinning, which is also quite common in Autistic children..

And adults... If you happen to like spinning on your computer chair. Which I do. And then proprioceptive input stimming would be kids who like to wrestle as they play, or who will be very physical, and they kind of, like, throw themselves on their bed and jump up and down on the couch.

They might be even under sensitive to proprioceptive input, so it's a way to know where there bodies are in space and to feel good. That's another aspect of stimming. As most people who have an Autistic family member or who are Autistic know, along with Autism comes Sensory Processing Disorder. And that's where your brain doesn't perceive sensory input in an accurate way. When you have Sensory Processing Disorder, it's not just uncomfortable. It's not like, "Well, these lights are rather bright but I can deal with it", it's, "Ow, those lights are like spears of hot pain going into my eyes". So a way to deal with all of this loud, bright, too fast, too crowded sensory input is to self-regulate.

Which is basically blocking bad input with good input. So, a child who is sitting in their classroom, and the florescent lights are overhead and they're flickering terribly and making you nauseous, and all the kids around you are whispering or chewing gum, and the noises are getting to you and you've been sitting for two hours and you don't know what you're going to do- you can self-regulate by rocking in your desk, by rubbing something like the rubbery end of an eraser, twirling your hair, tapping something against the side of your face. You can fidget with a fidget toy. All of these things you can focus on the good sensory input, focus on one things, and the rest of the world, which is too overwhelming and threatens to, you know, cause a meltdown, it fades away. And so self-regulation is great. You can do it in all kinds of settings. I do it everywhere.

When I was a kid I was really discouraged from stimming, which I'm going to talk about in another video, about why you shouldn't discourage people from stimming. So it took me a while to get over that and start to stim again, particularly in public. So now I mostly can, maybe not around my inl-aws (still a little shy about that) but if I'm at the mall, or at the movie theatre, I'm not shy about doing what I need to do. When it comes to "looking normal", versus being able to live and function and be a happy, healthy Autistic adult who stims, I would definitely take the latter. Because "looking normal" drains your energy, it's terrible, you have to put up with all of the negative sensory input with no way to self-regulate, you can't stim?Like, why? It's terrible. You get exhausted and maybe you can only spend ten minutes at a party versus an hour if you were able to stim. So, self-regulation, stimming is great for that. The second reason is, sensory-seeking.

Neurotypical people have this too, they enjoy things, right? Like, "Mmm, delicious chocolate mousse", or, "This music is so beautiful". But I think Autistic people might take it to the next level. You know, seeking sensory input and just really enjoying it.

When I'm listening to a sound I really enjoy, or rocking and listening to music at the same time and just feeling the music flow through me, and I just get, like, in the zone. Just so blissful. Spinning in my computer chair, I just feel so happy. Sensory seeking is great and just very enjoyable.

And so some neurotypical parents will wonder, "Jonny's been holding a flashlight up to his face and turning it on and off for the past two hours, should I stop him?" and I say, unless it's a laser flashlight and there's a chance of eye damage, no. Because, you know, it might not be the way that a neurotypical child would play and enjoy themselves. His brain is just firing with fireworks of joy, and enjoying sensory input. And I say, you know, it's fine. Has Johnny done his homework? Has he eaten dinner and taken a bath? Then, you know, let him look at the flashlight for two hours, or rock to music, or bang his Thomas The Train engines together.

What's the harm? Other than maybe embarrassment on the parts of neurotypical parents. Expression is the third reason that people might stim. Autistic people. And it's interesting to me that neurotypical doctors and scientists have lumped all kinds of hand flapping and rocking together when to me it's quite obvious, because it is my natural body language, that there are different kinds of rocking and different kinds of flapping. In my experience, if I am really enjoying something I'll start rocking with, you know, my neck extended a little bit, and it'll be more slow and rhythmic. Like, mmm, this chocolate cake, or, oh this apple fritter is great. Agitated or anxious rocking , you know more hunched over, and quicker shorter motions. And my husband, who lives with me of course, has grown to learn and know what my rocking means and my hand flapping.

Happy hand flapping! Ahh yeah! So much fun! I love kittens! And then there's more agitated hand flapping. Oh no! My husband Marvin knows to ask, is everything okay? What's going on? And- oh no! My cat is jumping up on the bookshelf. She's so bad, she can't stand me giving attention to anything else. Okay.

Hi Kitty. Hand flapping. Expression, that's the third reason that people might stim. And you know, that's another reason why it's terrible to discourage stimming. We don't just need it for self-regulation, it's the natural way that we move. It's, you know, our natural way of growing, learning, expressing ourselves. And so if you tell a child, "Don't! Don't flap your hands in public!" The child is just expressing their joy and you're telling them, "No, stop.

The way you move is bad and shameful." What does that tell the kid about themselves? Personally, if someone has a problem with a child hand flapping, which isn't hurting anyone, that is their problem. I think that, rather than forcing Autistic individuals to conform and force themselves, very, you know, exhaustingly to act and look "normal", I think a better option is to encourage society to learn and embrace different neurotypes. Because, hey, I think Autism is great and that Autistic people are wonderful, and lovely. So that was my first video on stimming. I'm sorry I talked really fast- I'm going to try to talk less fast next video.

And maybe, maybe my cat Kitty will be back, so you know, say tuned if you like cats. I do. Thanks for watching my video and if you have any questions for me feel free to ask them in the comments section. And I'll be linking to a few... Resources! On stimming, what stimming is, what stimming looks like.

And if you want to like this video, or thumbs it up, that'd be cool too. Thanks for watching the very first episode of Ask an Autistic!.

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