What is Stimming? An Autistic Adult's Guide to Stimming
The most common question we hear from others when mentioning stim toys or our favorite stim is "What is stimming?"
If you are newly self-diagnosed or professionally diagnosed, you may not know where to start or exactly what the autistic community means when they say stimming.
We will go over types of stims, stim toys, and why we stim.
What is Stimming?
The word stimming refers to behaviors that soothe the overloaded sensory nervous system. These behaviors may involve repetitive movements and sounds.
Stimming allows our nervous systems to find relief when it's taken in more sensory input than we can handle.
Types of Stimming Behaviors in Autistic Adults
There are many types of stimming. Some examples include hand flapping, repetitive motions (like rocking back and forth), fidgeting with hands, humming or singing to self, chewing on objects like pencils or plastic straws, skin picking at scabs and other injuries; this is called "self-injurious behavior" by medical professionals.
As autistic adults, we can stim with sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing. When our nervous systems are highly sensitive to sensory input, we can become overloaded quickly causing meltdowns.
Stimming allows us to find relief from the overload of sensory information so that we have less chance for a meltdown. This is why it's important not to tell an autistic adult how we should stim or shame us for doing so.
Autistic adults can engage in hand flapping to self-soothe.
Many autistic children will develop repetitive motions such as hand flapping at an early age to help them self-regulate their nervous systems which are highly sensitive to sensory input. Some autistic adults continue self-soothing using this type of stimming in adulthood.
Autistic adults engaged in repetitive motions may find the motion itself soothing. Some autistic people find that constant small movements like rocking back and forth or spinning a fidget toy help them focus better and relax them so they don't feel overwhelmed by sensory input.
Sensory Seeking Behaviors
Autistic adults can explore their environment by touching and feeling everything.
Many autistic adults engage in sensory seeking behavior, such as chewing on non-food items, fiddling with loose strings or tags on clothing, exploring textures of objects, or increasing sensory input from the outside world so that they can stay calm and focused.
Sensory Avoiding Behaviors
Some autistic adults engage in sensory avoiding behaviors to suppress overwhelming input from the outside world, but this can actually lead to more tension and stress if they cannot relax or focus their energy elsewhere.
It is important for everyone on the autism spectrum, including autistic adults themselves, family members of an autistic individual, and professionals, to be aware of what stimming is and its benefits for autistic people.
Fidgeting with Hands or Objects
Fidgeting with hands or objects is another common stimming behavior. Fidgets are any small object that can keep hands busy to keep one's attention focused on it while allowing for alertness, calmness, and concentration.
The most popular fidgets include fidget cubes, stress balls, fidget spinners, fidget pens, tangle stim toys, bubble wrap stim toys, and many others.
Chewing behaviors in autistic adults to self-soothe, regulate, and calm the individual. Chewing on gum is a common stimming behavior in autistic adults because chewing can be soothing for some autistic adults. Some chewable jewelry items are chewable necklaces or bracelets made of silicone that help keep hands self-soothe during stressful times.
Autistic adults often find visual stims to be calming, relaxing, and even soothing for themselves as well as others around them. These can include light shows such as looking at a lava lamp, night sky projectors that display galaxy designs in a room, crystal sun catchers that reflect the sun into glimmers on the walls, and other beautiful visual stim toys, such as those that spin or light up.
Humming is a common stim that many autistic adults engage in. Some autistic people find humming to be soothing and relaxing for themselves. We can often hum our favorite songs, melodies playing in our minds, or simple sounds that soothe and calm us.
What are Stim Toys?
Stim toys are objects that an autistic person uses to stim. Stimming, short for self-stimulating behavior, is a repetitive activity or movement that serves as a coping mechanism when sensory input becomes overwhelming. The need to stim can be very strong and sometimes it feels like we cannot stop ourselves from doing so.
Another example of a stim toy for autistic adults is the fidget spinner. A fidget spinner can be spun between your fingers and provides tactile input while spinning, which can be very calming. It also stimulates visual sensory by watching the spin patterns that form with each revolution around a finger or on a flat surface. These come with many shapes, designs, colors, and even some that glow in the dark.
There are many options for beautiful stim jewelry, such as stim rings and stim necklaces. Spinner rings are a convenient and discreet way to stim. Stim necklaces with spinning fidget pendants are another way to stim conveniently.
Autistic adults who like to chew on objects may find chewable jewelry helpful. One popular type of chew jewelry is a bracelet or necklace that can be chewed on for sensory relief and self-calming when needed. A good example would be something like a teardrop pendant chew necklace. Chewable necklaces may help provide oral sensory input if the autistic adult also has tactile sensitivity.
Visual Stim Products
Some autistic adults stim by looking at patterns and watching things spin, such as a spinning fidget spinner. There are many beautiful visual stim products that can be helpful for an autistic adult to provide this type of sensory input. Some examples are crystal suncatchers that create glimmers of light, and night sky projectors that project stars and nebula designs in beautiful colors.
Stimming is a natural autistic behavior, and stim toys can be great for this. These are primarily objects with repetitive motions, such as spinners, fidget cubes, tangle fidget toys, fidget pens, bubble wrap stim toys, sensory bracelets, spiky acupressure rings, and many others.
Where to Buy Stim Products
There are several online retailers that offer stim products. Most common retailer is Amazon. We sell a wide range of stim toy products on The Autistic Innovator - an online store for autistic adults.
You can find stim toys, stim jewelry, chew necklaces, fidget spinners, and visual stim products on our store. We also offer bedding & home items, mugs, and super soft t-shirts and hoodies. The Autistic Innovator is owned and operated by autistic adults.