Stimming and autism - Unapologetically Autistic

Stimming and autism

stimming and autism

Stimming and autism are another example of two things we often see together, to the point they're something of a cliché.

Question is, what is stimming and why do autistics do it?

The first thing to understand is it's not confined to autistics, although most autistics engage in it. Stimming and autism are closely correlated but while autistics almost always stim, stimming is not an indicator of autism because lots of other people do it, too (particularly those with developmental delays).

In short: stop already with the "I do that, too... maybe I'm autistic" bollocks. 

Most humans stim to some extent in some circumstances some of the time. 

But autistics tend to do it slightly differently and to the nth degree because it's an important tool for our own self-regulation, particularly in high-stress, high-stimulation environments.

It can take many forms ranging from visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory, and kinaesthetic stimming. Common examples are clapping, hand flapping, rocking back and forth, pacing, tapping, excessive blinking, head banging, humming, whistling, finger-drumming, nail-biting, repeating noises or words, leg-bounding and foot-tapping, finger-snapping, fidget-spinners, and more.

What about you EBG?

I know you want to ask this, so I'll save you the bother.

Yes, I stim.

I used to bite my nails, but that stopped some years ago. I can't remember when and it wasn't even by conscious effort. It was a case of one day I realised my nails had grown and I'd just... stopped.

Nowadays, the most common form of stimming I'll engage in is drumming with fingertips. I might pace around if there's space.

Now, stimming in general is often annoying to other people. Certainly as children we run the gauntlet bullying from other kids, and the ire and even punishment from teachers and (for some) parents.

But it's important to understand what I said about self-regulation. When we're in high-stress or high-stimulation environments, stimming helps us manage the anxiety brought on by sensory overload (it's connected with the amygdala, just in case you were interested). 

Stimming is not harmful (although if it causes self-harm like scratching, biting, or cutting, then those stims, although stimming per se is not); nor is it a "bad habit" to be broken or something we "grow out of". 

Trying to shame, harry, harangue, bully, badger, or browbeat us into not stimming is potentially harmful, however, especially if you're doing it with children and you're doing it systematically.

Sure, tapping and other noise might be a pain in the arse for you, but other things, like hand-flapping, are often discouraged because they're somehow "embarrassing" (are you that weak you worry about what others might think of you because you're associated with us?).

I know it's a blow to your ego, but we're not attention-seeking or doing it to annoy you.

It's part of our self-care routine.

It's not about you.

It's about us.

And you'd do well to mind your own business (and if it's annoying you, then your time and energy would be better spent learning to manage your own state instead of telling us how we should manage ours).


Jon McCulloch, The Evil Bald Genius

Author, speaker, business owner, and autism advocate

Share the Aspieness


I'm Jon. Husband, father, business owner, author, speaker, and outspoken advocate for autism awareness. I struggled my whole life knowing I was different, but not knowing how or why. I was finally diagnosed in 2019, but had informally self-identified as autistic for a couple of years before that. I live on a remote farm in Ireland with my wife and an assortment of cats and dogs.