If you’re online - such as on Instagram - or even just in a one-off Facebook group, you probably have heard the term ‘stim’ or ‘stimming’. You may have even seen TikTok stim dancing, too. But what is stimming, what does it mean, and what does it look like?
What Is Stimming?
Definitions somewhat vary when it comes to what is stimming, particularly as research into diagnostic criteria is always being written and re-written. The most inclusive, best up to date definition can be found on the website of the National Autism Society in the UK. It describes stimming, which is also known as self-stimulating behaviour, as the repetitive use of an object or activities involving the senses.
What Does Stimming Look Like?
Ask an Autistic person about it, and they have probably faced at least one stereotype or prejudice in terms of how they have been treated culturally. Rain Man, for example, is often cited when talking about Autism - and there may be some preconceived notions of what stimming is, as a result.
Autism is a spectrum, and - just like every single person is different - so is every Autistic person. It is a spectrum condition, meaning that everyone will vary; not everyone will stim, for example. Some Autistic individuals may be unaware that they are stimming - for reasons like excitement or anxiety - while some may be aware. It has a different ‘look’ for every single person - it could be stroking the top of a pocket-sized stuffed toy over and over again, for example. It could be turning a liquid timer or other such fidget over and over again. Just think of the senses - such as hearing, feeling - and add the repetitive action.
What Does It Feel Like?
When people find out I am on the spectrum, they usually have so many questions about ‘what it’s like to be Autistic’ - with the question of what it feels like. Stimming, to me, is a form of self-regulation that means I can cope just a little bit better. It’s like the centre of my brain lights up, it makes me very happy - like when it comes to glittery nail varnish and tapping away because of the shine, playing my favourite songs over and over with a specific playlist, using a tangle (a kind of fidget) while on a work call on Zoom. FidgiPops sells various fidget/aids that you can also stim with - like when it comes to clicking sounds, or squishing small fidgets,
A Note on Online Stim Culture
If you look carefully on Instagram or TikTok, there is a kind of mini culture when it comes to stimming. Videos will show stim dancing - people dancing as a form of stimming, to songs they play on repeat - especially on TikTok. Other accounts review specific fidgets, such as the Actually Aspling, and talk about stimming around the object used.