Hello, I've just joined this community. I'm 33 and I'm in the process of getting a referral to get an ASD assessment, but I'm also doing CBT to help me with anxiety and the therapist said that she thinks I definitely have autistic traits and so we're approaching CBT under the assumption that I have ASD. But although I do feel like I have a lot of the traits I have seen listed in various places, one that confuses me is stimming. I am not sure if I do it, because I'm not sure I understand what it is.
What I understand is that it's physical stimulation that is usually soothing and repetitive, but is it something that only happens when people are overwhelmed or are having difficulty coping with or processing something? Is it something they are aware they are doing, is it something they would be able to stop doing?
There are several physical things that I do but I'm not sure if they would be considered stimming because they're not linked to discomfort or difficulty processing, and although I always start doing these without realising, when I do realise I'm doing it I am able to stop (although unless someone can see me, I usually don't want to stop). Basically I can't sit still, I'm always doing something, even when I'm calm or when I'm watching TV etc. I'll play with my fingers/fingernails, if I'm standing up I'll often shift my weight to the other leg, sometimes I sort of slightly rock sideways by continuously shifting my weight from foot to foot. I often pinch/play with my lips when I'm thinking, watching a film or focusing on something on the computer. I bite my lips, play with my hair, if I'm sitting down barefoot or lying in bed I like to intertwine my toes. Or I sometimes run my fingernails down my sides from the top of my rib cage to my hips three or four times, it tingles and relaxes me.
I don't think I do these things when I'm stressed, I just can't sit still, I think I do them when I'm thinking and they just feel nice. I know some of them look really dumb, like the toes thing, or playing with my lips, so I try not to do them in front of people.
Would these be considered stimming? Or are they something totally unrelated? Do you experience similar things?
Welcome to the forum!
As you rightly say, stimming is not a very precisely defined concept - behaviours like knee-bouncing, nail-biting, hair-twirling, etc. are not unusual for any person - so there is very much a "grey area", I think.
However, the fact that you find yourself unable to be still and don't feel any desire to stop other than to avoid embarrassment, even when you're not feeling particularly stressed, makes me think that it would be correct to describe at least some of what you described as stimming.
Feeling the need to touch your body and to shift your weight around might indicate a reason for stimming which seems less well known than the others. Because an autistic person's senses work differently than for most people, the connection between our mind and our body is often weaker than it is for them. So stimming can be a way for us to remind our brain of where parts of our body are so that we feel more connected to them, and can help us to get a better sense of how strong our physical sensations are by having a very common self-motivated action to compare them with. Shifting weight on our feet and things involving our toes are particularly common; for example, tending to walk on tip-toe is a well known autistic trait.
Starting to stim without realising it is also very common, and it's perfectly normal that we can suppress stimming, or choose a less visible one, once we're aware that we're doing it - though this often leaves us feeling a bit uncomfortable. We might also start to do it as a way to prevent stress from building up even when the stress hasn't yet built up to the point that it becomes obvious to us - a kind of preventive action; though the stress may build up quicker if we try to suppress the stimming. Like any autistic behaviours, we'll have grown up with stimming since infancy, so it's not unusual that we can't identify quite why we do it - it's been part of our personal "normal" for so long, that we never felt any need for an explanation before.
For what it's worth, many of my stims are quite similar to yours. I also find it very difficult to remain still (I have "restless legs syndrome" too); I quite often feel the need to run my hands along parts of my body; I rock, shift my weight from foot to foot, and bounce on my toes; I do lots of toe-scrunching and tying my limbs in knots; I often nibble at my lips or the inside of my cheeks; and I cannot resist toying with whatever objects are within reach (I have been know to spend ages searching for a "lost" object, only to find that I've had it in my hands all along as a "stim-toy" to relieve the anxiety of searching for it!)
Thank you very much Trogluddite, this is so helpful! I think I do most of these things when I'm thinking and focusing, watching something, reading your post... If my hands are busy I'll bite my lips or the inside of my cheek like you said. I hadn't really noticed before that it was pretty much constant until I sat down to write this post. I noticed I was playing with my lips and forced myself to stop to see what would happen and how I would feel, and a few seconds later realised I'd started playing with my fingers instead.Could it be that I somehow feel the need to touch some part of my body and have some sort of sensory stimulation to help me think? Would that make sense? I find that most of the things I do I enjoy the sensation of, so would this mean it's just something I do because it feels nice or could it still fit into your description? The reason I'm not 100% sure these are stims is because I'm not diagnosed yet so even though I think there's a good chance I have ASD, I'm not totally sure and therefore can't just link things that easily.
I certainly don't think that finding such behaviours enjoyable discounts them. In fact, it's quite common that stimming can be an expression of positive emotions as much as for stress-relief. I often find myself having a good hand-flap or toe-bounce when I achieve something positive or receive good news, for example. For those of us who find our emotions difficult to put into words, it might be a way to express them physically.
Stimming when thinking things through is also something I do rather a lot. I've heard it suggested that stimming might help by releasing energy that would otherwise lead to distracting thoughts, and so makes it easier to concentrate, and my own experience suggests that this is very plausible. When I have a complex problem to think through, I always find it much easier to do when I'm physically active somehow - I often pace in circles on tip-toe, for example, or find the solution to a problem while out for a walk in the countryside. If I try to think through those kinds of problems without the stimming, I usually find myself just thinking in circles or procrastinating about incredibly trivial details.
Thanks again, it's really helpful to hear about other aspects of stimming as most of what I'd heard about was mostly to help cope with sensory overload, which wasn't my case. So thank you for clarifying and taking the time to reply!
This link has a list of common stims, do any of these relate to you?
Only about three of them. I can stop one thing I'm doing if I want but I seem to then start another form of sensory stimulation instead right away. I'm just starting to realise that I have some form of sensory stimulation going on most of the time, whether it's rubbing my feet together when I go to bed, or click or play with my fingers, twist my hair, bite my lips, play with the skin on my elbow... Earlier today I tried to stop everything to see if I could or if it was a compulsion. I was able to stop for a while but it took all my attention and I felt uncomfortable. And when I stopped focusing on it I started again doing some form of sensory simulation but only noticed after I had been doing it for a while.
Most likely you have been stimming your whole life but just not realised that that was what it was. I’d say as long as a stim isn’t harmful then go with it, because we stim for a reason, if it is harmful then maybe try to find a harmless alternative.
Thank you! I'm not worried about stimming, it was more to understand them more and figure out if I did stim, as it was the one aspect of ASD I wasn't sure I had at all, which made me think that maybe I didn't have ASD. As I'm not diagnosed yet I am looking into it more and I think that although I seem to be coping with it well most of the time, and masking, I do think I have it. Thanks for the explanation!