Stimming – Cayden's Experience
Cayden has relied on stimming since a young age, scrunching and un-scrunching different items, such as paper, and using fidget toys to help self-regulate and manage his sensory challenges.
Whether it’s for enjoyment, boredom or anxiety, stimming can serve many purposes. The repetitive actions can be soothing and offer a sense of control in overwhelming situations, releasing tension and alleviating stress. It adds predictability in an unpredictable, volatile world.
Sometimes, he will find himself playing with a zip on his hoodie for entertainment, or subconsciously fiddling with his fingers to cope with sensory information in his surroundings,
At his old school, he would always play with paper for sensory relief - to the annoyance of his teachers. Stimming is often misunderstood as ‘bad behaviour’, when in reality, it can be very beneficial and shouldn’t be discouraged unless harmful.
Loud noises, such as children screaming and crowds, can be overwhelming and cause unpleasant feelings for some individuals, including Cayden.
He said: “Even when I was younger I had to just sort of sit in a car during an event, which was quite loud.”
Stimming can be a useful coping tool to filter out the external environment and block out unwanted sounds, making certain situations more manageable. When these behaviours are restricted, it only adds to the struggle.
He added: “It’s safe to say though, that the sensory issues have gone from the upper torso to the lower torso because I’ve got restless leg syndrome…it’s just non-stop. Even when I sleep, it’s non-stop.”
Restless leg syndrome involves an overwhelming urge to move your legs, creating uncomfortable sensations and resulting in regular involuntary movements which act to temporarily ease these sensations.
He reflects on an interaction he had on a flight to Lanzarote at just 5 years old.
“There was this old man that was sitting behind me and kept seeing my legs moving, was like, ‘can you stop that young buck? Can you stop, I’m trying to sleep.’”
When behaviours like stimming and conditions such as restless leg syndrome are not understood, they might be perceived as unusual and met with judgement. It’s crucial that we improve our knowledge and understanding through education, so that autistic individuals can find comfort without feeling shamed.