Stimming – Georgia's Experience
When things get overwhelming, stimming can offer temporary relief for some autistic people. The repetitive movements or noises can reduce anxiety and act as a grounding tool. Yet, despite the benefits, it isn’t always a positive experience for everyone.
Georgia said: “I tend to do it a lot more when I'm anxious or overstimulated. I can just about hold it off in the day if I'm not stressed or if I am around lots of people.”
Due to processing differences, navigating the sensory environment can be overwhelming for autistic people, and self-stimulatory behaviours can serve as a useful regulation method.
Even neurotypical people stim at times, such as by tapping a foot or twirling a piece of hair. However, other stims that are commonly used by some autistic individuals, such as rocking back and forth, may be perceived as ‘unusual’ and make them stand out. As a result, Georgia tends to hold back her stims until she is by herself at home.
On her relationship with stimming, she said: “I wouldn't say it's a positive one because I do get that itchy feeling and it feels like nothing I do will make that itchy feeling go away. I know stimming can be positive for a lot of people. I personally struggle with it and I don't find it a positive experience for me.”
Suppressing these stims on a regular basis can take up a great deal of energy and lead to breakdowns. It can be detrimental to her mental health and make day-to-day living a struggle.
She continued: “I think my life would be a lot easier if I would just do it in public without feeling that people are going to stare at me.”
Staring is unnecessary and can make people feel self-conscious and judged. When someone is feeling stressed, taking away their coping mechanism only makes an already-difficult situation even harder.
Negative reactions to stimming may stem from a lack of knowledge, which is why greater awareness and education is crucial.
Instead of discouraging stimming, society should take steps to improve their understanding and see the purpose behind the behaviours. Social acceptance is one of the greatest barriers when it comes to stimming, so by taking a non-judgemental and accepting approach, autistic people can feel more comfortable being themselves in social spaces.
By learning from different experiences, we can reduce social stigmas and move towards acceptance.