"a jargon term for a particular form of stereotypy, a repetitive body movement (often done unconsciously) that self-stimulates one or more senses in a regulated manner. It is shorthand for self-stimulation, and a stereotypy is referred to as stimming under the hypothesis that it has a function related to sensory input."
The wikipedia article then goes on to propose some theories about the function of stimming and how it is designed to provide nervous system arousal. The theory being that it helps autistic people "normalize".
I'm not sure how much I believe that theory - I helps us relax and it feels good... but normalize?? Not sure.
The most commonly cited form of stimming is body rocking. Such is the prevalence of this form of stimming in Hollywood films concerning autism that you could be forgiven for thinking that autistic people stim by rocking most of the time.
How far does stimming go?
Stimming is much more than just rocking. It also includes;
- Hand Clasping
- Knee bobbing
- Finger Tapping or Drumming
- Spinning Toys
I'm going to go out on a limb on this one and suggest that stimming should also include a few other behaviors. The wikipedia article has already suggested that in some cases, stimming includes deliberate self-harm, such as cutting oneself and head banging.
I believe that stimming also includes the following;
- Making funny noises
- Facial Tics and expressions
- Certain types of singing, talking or babbling
- Nail (and finger) Biting
My eldest child is particularly bad with the vocal stimming. Especially first thing in the morning on a weekend when you're trying to get a little extra sleep.
How does it feel?
Stimming is often an involuntary thing and we aren't always aware that we're doing it. Personally, stimming by rocking is quite uncommon for me because this is socially unacceptable. I don't think I ever really needed this form of stimming much anyhow.
At its simplest, the stimming allows you to concentrate on sensitivity and relax the thinking parts of the brain. In an Aspie, being able to stop thinking, even for a short while, is bliss.
Stimming is a very good relaxant and this probably explains why it is more often seen in stressful situations.
Of course, it also feels good.
As a parent, should you try to stop stimming?
Not really... No. (well, sometimes).
I think it's fair to say that stopping stimming could lead to stress in a child and also that it could cause them to change to a less visible means of stimming, such as self-harm.
It's probably worthwhile videoing your child while stimming and letting them see what the undesirable behavior is. Perhaps you can get them to be more discreet. Remember though, that they won't always be aware that they're doing it at first.
If stimming behaviors are causing your children harm then you should discuss them with your paediatrician.