Stimming: My Way to Control Autistic Stress and Its Evolution

As a writer, I’ve always had a journal, whether it’d be for taking the stressful thoughts out of my head or to jotting down story ideas.  Writing along with drawing or listening to music, has helped me decompress.  It gets me out of my head, a place where I end up thinking about all of my “what-ifs” to the “why-nots” and everything in between.  I’ll snap my fingers repetitively too as a means to conjure up an idea if it didn’t come up automatically.  The snapping noise almost helps me focus even more so.  Although not a traditional form of stimming, it would technically be considered as one.

Let me explain what stimming is before I talk about what I did growing up any further: it is any sort of repetitive action or repetitive moving of objects.  The most common forms that are familiar to some are hand flapping, spinning in circles and making things spin in circles like fidget spinners.  Even normal behaviors that we don’t associate with autism, like hair twirling or tapping their fingers, are forms of nervous stimming.  People with Autism can stim when they are happy, excited or stressed and do it in order to soothe themselves.  They even did it to stimulate the nervous system when there was a lack of sensitivity.[i]  If I were to interpret that right, perhaps to release some pent up energy?

I spun in circles when I was little.  At 4 years old was when I first remembered being aware of it.  Why did I do it?  I believe I would spin whenever I was waiting for something to be done cooking in the microwave or if I was bored.  It did give me something to do to burn off excess energy and have a feeling of dizziness to distract me from my impatience.

I also had a bout of Echolalia, where I repeated something that another person has said to me.  My mother told me one time when I was in preschool a teacher asked me if I wanted ham or bacon on a breakfast sandwich.  Verbatim I replied the exact same question she asked me, just like a parrot.  Poor teacher with a flustered frown had to look for my older brother, who was down the hall in either Kindergarten or 1st Grade to help her figure out what I wanted (side note: I love bacon)!

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed my stimming patterns have become more refined, and more socially acceptable.  I did not plan to make it that for forced myself to do that; it just happened that way.  In middle and high school, I shook my leg – sometimes two at a time depending on how nervous or anxious I was.  I also paced back and forth outside while playing songs from my Mp3 player.  Other than that, I never had any other stimming behaviors.

Now that I’m in my late 20’s, I shake my one leg and snap my fingers, but no one seems to notice it.  I can’t spin like I used to anymore because it really makes me uncomfortably dizzy.  It feels similar to how one can feel when they drank too much alcohol.  I did not plan to make it that for forced myself to change my stimming behaviors like that; it just happened that way.

We all do good and bad things as we get older.  And stimming is no exception.  Some stimming behaviors were not the best to have, and thankfully some of them did not stick with me.  When I was older in elementary school, if I felt bad about something that I did, or if I got into trouble, I’d put my hand down on the desk and bang my head against the tabletop of it while my arms were still crossed over my head.  Luckily I didn’t hurt myself or others!  I’ll go over the cons of some stimming behaviors in another post.

So don’t feel alarmed that a pattern is changing, and don’t expect that means the Autism is going away.  It’s just evolving and growing up.  😊


[i] Smith, L. B. (2018, February 19). Stimming: Understanding This Symptom of Autism. Retrieved August 20, 2018, from Medical News Today: