Stimming - Archie's Experience
Loud and unpredictable environments can be overwhelming for some autistic people, causing issues with sensory processing and resulting in distress and anxiety.
In an attempt to regulate themselves, individuals may turn to stimming. For Archie, it serves an important purpose, providing a practical means to find relief in situations that become too much.
Stimming is specific to each person; from the type of stim to the frequency, it can be different for everyone. For some people, it can be an automatic, involuntary response, whilst others are more cognisant of the movements.
He said: “When I stim, it’s usually just when I’m not completely comfortable in doing something. So I’ll either, like, scratch myself on the arm or somewhere, or pick my nails or bite them.”
Situations where there are large groups of people can cause Archie discomfort, and drive him to perform certain behaviours, such as scratching his skin or biting his nails.
Archie’s mum, Rebecca, said: “If a situation’s too much at home, if we see him do that [scratch himself] he’ll then take himself off to his room because it’s just a quiet space.”
Stimming can help to block out the environment and act as a distraction, redirecting the individual’s focus away from the source of distress. It can be an effective coping tool when they find themselves in challenging situation.
Archie continued: “A lot of the time I do something that I call the backwards cough, it’s just basically me clearing my throat, but backwards. When I do that, it’s normal for me because it just helps me not be anxious with where I am.”
It makes things easier for Archie and often those around him. The repetitive actions offer predictability, which can be soothing and help him feel calm when navigating a heightened sensory experience.
In circumstances where people aren’t supportive of his stimming, he will step outside. Others may view the stims as ‘strange’ and respond with judgement due to a lack of understanding.
Archie’s sister, Daisy, said: “If you see people doing something unusual, don’t judge them because you don’t know like if they have autism or anything else, so just be nice anyway.”
Despite the benefits of stimming, social stigma can cause people to feel self-conscious and restrict or ‘mask’ these behaviours. Unless harmful, autistic people should be accommodated and respected to self-soothe in the way that meets their needs.