We have five external senses:
And three internal senses:
- InteroceptionInteroception our 8th sense, connects us to inner bodily awareness (e.g. pain, thirst, hunger, desire, hygiene & toilet needs, temperature, heart rate, breathing, even our bones, etc.) rather than sensations... More
We engage those senses with stimming for a few reasons:
- Sensory seeking
while stimming I am able to unravel the everyday ordinary barrage of sensory and social information that becomes overwhelming.The Predictability, Pattern and Routine of Stimming | Judy Endow
Most of us stim because it calms us and helps alleviate our high levels of anxiety.Siena Castellon
We have five external senses and three internal senses. All must be processed at the same time and therefore add to the ‘sensory load’.
Understanding the sensing and perceptual world of autistic people is central to understanding autismAutistic ways of being are human neurological variants that can not be understood without the social model of disability.If you are wondering whether you are Autistic, spend time amongst Autistic people, online and offline. If... More.
Autism is viewed as a sensory processing differenceOur friends and allies at Randimals have a saying, What makes us different, makes all the difference in the world.Randimals We agree. Randimals are made up of two different animals... More. Information from all of the senses can become overwhelming and can take more time to process. This can cause meltdownMeltdowns are alarm systems to protect our brains.Without meltdowns, we autistics would have nothing to protect our neurology from the very real damage that it can accumulate.I don’t melt down... More or shutdown.“It’s Not Rocket Science” – NDTi
The interconnectedness between sensory input, emotions, energy level, ongoing task and how you manage everything you have to do alongside coping with sometimes overwhelming sensory input is an experience that many autistic people are familiar with. Understanding just how much the sensory world can impact how anxious you feel, how well you can communicate, how able to do a food shop or even just enter a space is an important piece of understanding to build up. Without this understanding, from the perspective of autistic people, many may not understand how all-consuming the sensory environment can be for some and for others it is a way of being able to interact that releases anxiety and tension. Interacting with the sensory world through sensory seeking behaviours is strongly associated with stimming (self-stimulatory behaviour that helps self-regulation) which is often a really positive (as long as no one is getting hurt) way of expression that can encompass happiness, anxiety, distress and so much more.Autistic sensory experiences, in our own words — Sarah O’Brien
We’re Autistic. Here’s what we’d like you to know.
I will never understand how people can justify the use of “quiet handsAbuse and silencing is a constant, pervasive theme in the lives of autistic people, and for many people it is best expressed by that old, familiar phrase from special education:... More”. If you are unaware of what this phrase means, or of the implications for autistic people, you need to read Quiet Hands by Julia Bascom.
When a parent, sibling, educator, therapist, medical professional, etc justifies the use of quiet hands, it baffles me. Do they understand what stimming is? Do they realize that my hands are the key to helping me see the world? Or do they just see my movements as separate from me, as a source of embarrassment for them? I tend to think it’s the latter, that it’s because stimming draws unwanted attention that people want to quiet my hands in the first place. They don’t understand the point of stimming, or I think (hope) they wouldn’t try and prevent it.
So this is what happens when you “quiet hands” us. It’s the equivalent to duct taping an NT person’s mouth shut or preventing a nonspeakingI am nonspeaking. I am not nonverbal. In fact, I am highly verbal. I don’t use my body’s voice—my vocal chords—as my primary way of communicating. I think I will... More D/deaf person from signing. You are taking away our natural language. You make interacting with the world that much harder.On Stimming and why “quiet hands”ing an Autistic person is wrong
Autistic adults highlighted the importance of stimming as an adaptive mechanism that helps them to soothe or communicate intense emotions or thoughts and thus objected to treatment that aims to eliminate the behaviour.
Furthermore, more recent theories have suggested that stimming may provide familiar and reliable self-generated feedback in response to difficulties with unpredictable, overwhelming and novel circumstances (e.g. Lawson, Rees, & Friston, 2014; Pellicano & Burr, 2012). As such, stimming may provide not only relief from excessive sensory stimulation, but also emotional excitation such as anxiety (Leekam, Prior, & Uljarevic, 2011). Consistent with these suggestions, autistic adults report that stimming provides a soothing rhythm that helps them cope with distorted or overstimulating perception and resultant distress (Davidson, 2010) and can help manage uncertainty and anxiety (e.g. Joyce, Honey, Leekam, Barrett, & Rodgers, 2017).
Autistic people have become increasingly mobilised and vocal in defence of stimming. Autism rights or neurodiversityNeurodiversity is the diversity of human minds, the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species.NEURODIVERSITY: SOME BASIC TERMS & DEFINITIONS Neurodiversity is a biological fact. It’s not a perspective, an approach, a... More activists believe that stims may serve as coping mechanisms, thus opposing attempts to eliminate non-injurious forms of stimming (e.g. Orsini & Smith, 2010). They decry practices such as ‘quiet hands’ (which teaches the suppression of hand flapping), instead using ‘loud hands’ as a metaphor both for using such non-verbal behaviour to communicate and for cultural resistance more broadly (Bascom, 2012). In addition, autistic scholar-activists denounce attempts to reduce their bodily autonomyThe right of people to control what happens to their bodies. Bodily autonomy means people get to make their own decisions about their bodies.Our Bodies, Our Rights: What’s Going On... More (Nolan & McBride, 2015; Richter, 2017) and declarations of their stimming as unacceptable or as necessarily involuntary (Yergeau, 2016).‘People should be allowed to do what they like’: Autistic adults’ views and experiences of stimming – Steven K Kapp, Robyn Steward, Laura Crane, Daisy Elliott, Chris Elphick, Elizabeth Pellicano, Ginny Russell, 2019
My son stims. He performs repetitive motions in order to generate sensory inputs that he experiences as fun, aesthetically pleasing, soothing, exciting, or otherwise necessary. The word comes from the clinical term, “self-stimulatory behavior,” but there’s no need to be that clinical about it. His stimming is beautiful. To get him to stop stimming would require intensive coercion that, even if successful, would likely result in irreparable psychological harm.What Applied Behavioral Analysis Gets Wrong About Stimming and Children – Pacific Standard
Calming, Soothing, Focusing, Joy-Inducing
The first part is in my “native language,” and then the second part provides a translation, or at least an explanation.
But my language is not about designing words or even visual symbols for people to interpret. It is about being in a constant conversation with every aspect of my environment. Reacting physically to all parts of my surroundings.In My Language
Many people with autism are stressed individuals who find the world a confusing place (Vermeulen, 2013). So how does someone with autism achieve a sense of flowEntering flow states - or attention tunnels - is a necessary coping strategy for many of us.Fergus Murray People need to feel appreciated and safe, to give themselves to an... More? McDonnell & Milton (2014) have argued that many repetitive activities may achieve a flow state. One obvious area where flow can be achieved is when engaging in special interestsI don’t know who invented the phrase “special interest.” Probably some researcher. Autistic people don’t really love the term because the term “special” has become tied so closely with terms... More. Special interests allow people to become absorbed in an area that gives them specialist knowledge and a sense of achievement. In addition, certain repetitive tasks can help people achieve a flow like state of mind. These tasks can become absorbing and are an important part of people’s lives. The next time you see an individual with autism engaging in a repetitive task (like stacking Lego or playingThere is nothing more human than play. Humans were designed to learn in play. In fact, nearly all mammals evolved this way.Play's Power At our learning space, we provide learners fresh... More a computer game), remember that these are not in themselves negative activities, they may well be reducing stress.
If you want to improve your supports to people with autism from a stress perspective, a useful tool is to identify flow statesEntering flow states - or attention tunnels - is a necessary coping strategy for many of us.Fergus Murray People need to feel appreciated and safe, to give themselves to an... More for that person and try to develop a flow plan. Remember, the next time you see a person repeating seemingly meaningless behaviours, do not assume that this is always unpleasant for them – it might be a flow state, and beneficial for reducing stress.What is ‘flow’?
Further readingThere are three types of reading: eye reading, ear reading, and finger reading.The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child's Confidence and Love of Learning Most schools and... More,