Week 2 30-5 Aug – What is Stimming? How is it related to Masking?
Stimming is how autistic people release their pent-up energy, or relieve tension. When I get nervous, I flap my hands. When it’s too loud and I get overwhelmed, I flap. When I cry so hard I can barely breathe, I flap my hands like crazy.
But I also flap my hands when I’m happy or excited. As the saying goes, “I get flappy when I’m happy.” Some people jump, or spin, or vocalize, or do a variety of other actions to display their happiness or excitement. Stimming can be the result of positive or negative energy.
Autistic women sometimes stim in more subtle ways: biting the inside of their mouth, chewing their nails, pacing, pulling on their hair, grinding their teeth, scratching their skin, endlessly lining up and organizing things, echolalia (repeating words), etc. It’s easier to miss.
For me, stimming is often what comes after masking. I’ll be sitting in an intense faculty meeting, trying to remain motionless, and after a while, I’ll reach a point where I just can’t take it anymore. I have to flap.
The release that you get from stimming is critical to the mental health of #autistic people. We need to stim to survive. We can learn less obvious ways to stim, especially as we get older and become more aware of it. But we can’t stop it. Not completely. It regulates our brains.
Stimming, for our autistic students, is how they regulate themselves and release their built-up energy. It takes a lot of work, every day, to mask and pass for neurotypical, and that work can result in a lot of stimming.
Stimming also occurs when kids get excited. “I get flappy when I’m happy.” My students can get so worked up at the sight of their favorite YouTube video, or someone dressed up in a costume, or when something lines up just right. They squeal or squeak or jump or flap, in pure joy.
Autistic kids can stim in many ways: hand-flapping, rocking, finger-flicking, twirling, bouncing, finger-tapping, foot-tapping, toe-walking, teeth grinding, echolalia (repeating words), smelling things, staring at repetitive objects (like fans or spinning lights), and more!
In the past, there was an intense focus on “quiet hands.” Some still stand by this. Flapping is very obvious, and the idea was to minimize the more overtly AU traits. But this can result in behavior issues and distress.
Today, kids are allowed to stim more often, or are encouraged to find more subtle stims (like spinner rings). Kids who are allowed to self-regulate in this way are happier. The more we ask kids to mask – to better fit in – the more they need the release that stimming gives them.