What Is Stimming?

Self-stimulatory behavior is common among neurodivergent people, especially those with conditions like autism spectrum disorder or sensory processing disorders. While stimming may appear unusual, it is a natural and beneficial coping mechanism that deserves acceptance as a form of self-expression.

Understanding Self-Stimulatory Behaviors

Stimming encompasses a range of repetitive movements, sounds or use of objects. These are not exclusive to neurodivergent people, but are often more pronounced and frequent in this group.

Stimming serves various purposes, including sensory exploration and emotional regulation. For example, if you have ever twirled your hair around your finger or chewed on your pen, you have self-stimulated.

Stimming manifests in numerous forms, each unique to your needs and preferences. Here are some common types of stimming behaviors.

  • Visual stims could involve staring at lights, flicking your fingers in front of your eyes, lining up objects or watching something spin.
  • Auditory stims include soothing or engaging sounds like humming, tapping and snapping. Some people also repeat words or phrases or talk aloud to themselves.
  • Tactile stims may be behaviors like rubbing surfaces or touching textures that offer comforting sensory feedback.
  • Vestibular stims involve activities like rocking, spinning or swinging, which can be calming or help with concentration.
  • Taste and smell stims could take the form of licking or sniffing objects.
  • Oral stims are when people seek sensory input through their mouths by chewing or biting items such as pencils, clothing, toys or their fingernails.

Why Do People Stim?

Stimming serves essential functions for people who do it.

  • Self-regulation: Stimming can control your emotions and provide a sense of balance.
  • Sensory exploration: Stimming enhances sensory processing and understanding.
  • Expression of emotions: Stimming can also serve as an outlet for expressing feelings like excitement, anxiety, frustration or joy.
  • Concentration: Stimming behaviors can help you focus on tasks or manage overwhelm.

Understanding and Accepting People Who Stim

At Serene Behavioral Health, we understand that stimming is a natural and critical aspect of many people’s lives. We also know there is a complex overlap between neurodivergence and mental illness. For example, autism and ADHD frequently co-occur with mental health conditions like anxiety, depression or PTSD. This overlap can pose unique challenges in your daily functioning.

Additionally, neurodivergent people may be at an increased risk for substance use to alleviate stress or self-medicate. Drugs and alcohol can make your symptoms worse and lead to additional health challenges.

Health providers must consider the interconnected nature of neurodivergence, mental illness and substance use disorders when providing treatment. A holistic approach that addresses your unique needs can lead to better outcomes and quality of life. Contact us to request help today.

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