The Autism Stim is Real: Don’t Stop It

Repetitive, self-stimulatory behaviors to regulate oneself

You may have caught the word “autism stim” when talking to parents of autism children and wondered what in the world are they referring to. So what in the world is autism stim?

What is a Stim?

A “Stim” or sometimes referred as an “ism”, are repetitive, self stimulating behaviours that is typically demonstrated by children in the autism spectrum. As each child is vastly different in how their autism impacts their ability to function, each individual’s stims can also vary drastically. One commonality observed however, is that they are always repetitive in nature, and are done as a mechanism to cope with a sensory trigger that they are receiving from the environment.

Kate Wilde, author of Autistic Logistics (whom I had the pleasure of meeting recently in KL) categorized five types of stims. They consist of fine motor, gross motor, visual, verbal, and lastly (not least interestingly!) the wandering stim. Yes wandering – who would have thought!

Proud of his Autism Stims

So looking at the list of stims, our 2-year old son is non-verbal at this point of writing does all of the above!

William would delicately move his fingers in front of his face while repetitively shout on top of his lungs. That’s a combination of fine motor (fingers) and verbal (shouts) stims there. He also enjoys watching (visual stim) how the tree leaves sway with the wind. And here’s my favourite one. Combining gross motor with visual stims, he loves pacing in straight lines, observing symmetrical things like retail shelves are something he also enjoys. There are times you would find him grinning from ear to ear, pacing up and down in our living room, while tilting his head sideways checking if he is asymmetry with the floor tiles!

They perceive senses differently than you and me

Their Brain Functions Differently

We strongly believe that children on the spectrum practices their stims as a mechanism to cope with sensory triggers. If we were to sit back and listen to the world, it is actually a very busy place. There are many things going on around us at the same time that may appear as non-factor to us, but are experienced very differently by our child.

That lightly buzzing sound on the lamp or that rustling of plastic bag in the kitchen 2 rooms away may escape our ears 9 times out of 10, but can somehow be processed as pain to them. Same goes to that calming morning ray of light or that soft trickling of water droplets from the shower head. Anything that we normally don’t pay attention to can be an almighty struggle for their autism brains. Due to the unique perception of sensory feedback from the environment, they are rendered incapable to filter which sensation to focus on. So it is no wonder that children on the autism spectrum experience difficulty in learning.

Challenging Public Perception

As you would imagine, a child stimming his way to cope with his overwhelming senses can probably get away easily in the eyes of common people. But it would present a starkly different view seeing a teenager or a full adult doing exactly the same thing to do in self regulate. I’d imagine every reaction possible would include suspicious stares or even abuse, mistaking autism as something to scorn at, dangerous, or even lunatic. It would be very sad if this continues for years. What kind of world are we subjecting them to?

We have come across instances where people attempted to stop their child from stimming. They have a view that stimming is socially unacceptable or disruptive and it is something to be embarassed about. In our view, if that act of stimming poses no danger to the child or other people – they should never be forced to stop. It would be akin to someone demanding that you stop breathing or stop blinking your eyes! Would you be able to do it?

Stimming is self-regulating and should never be stopped

Through hours of researching and speaking to other parents, we have come to understand more about autism stims. Most importantly it has allowed us to learn to love our son’s unique stims. By identifying and learning your child’s autism stims, we hope it would help to bring you closer to your child too.

If you have a toddler showing worrying signs of autism below 1-year olds, you can check another article of ours here.

We are interested in your experience. Let us know in comment below on what are your child’s autism stims!

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