Stimming

Many with autism, AS, ADHD, SID and TS are prone to ‘stimming’ (= repetitive, self-stimulating activities).

EXAMPLES OF STIMS

The majority are from a Stim-Quiz for Aspies that I helped design, followed by the most common reasons chosen by quiz-takers for each stim, plus some extra comments or quotes.

Common stims:

These are stims which most people probably do sometimes, but which hyperactive and nervous people tend to do more often.

Bouncing leg or foot: “when thinking”; “to release excess energy”: “when restless, bored, anxious or excited.”

“Tapping my foot… a lot… when I’m nervous in social situations or whatever.”

– ‘samtoo’, male Aspie

“I have all this pent up energy so I’ve been doing what is my idea of stimming. Usually what I do is I put my foot right on my toe until my legs start to shake like crazy and I just do that like crazy until I feel some relief.”

– Gregory, adolescent Aspie from USA

– Doodling: “when bored.”

– Drumming fingers, tapping or clicking pen, fiddling with things: “when thinking”; “when bored.” Fiddling with something helps many people concentrate better.

“I guess it is when there is restrained motivation/energy in my body. It may be something fun/some idea that one cannot do directly, or when there are stressful and negative things going on. In the latter case it soothes the nerves somehow.

“To fiddle with something when I’m listening or concentrating is also helpful. That’s why I always have my knitting with me. Then I get sweaters instead of broken pencils or picking my fingers to the bone.

“But it is also just generally nice and fun to fiddle. I often do it simply because it’s nice and fun/interesting.”

– Emma, Aspie from Sweden

– Chewing or sucking on pencil, toothpick or other object: “when thinking.”

“I like to chew things and sometimes do this without realizing what I’m doing, pens etc bite the dust” 🙂

– Julie, Aspie from England

– Biting nails: “when bored”; “when anxious, nervous or stressed.”

Semi-odd stims:

These are stims which some do as children but which may some on the neurodiversity spectrum may keep doing as adults.

– Sucking thumb: “for comfort”; “to calm myself.”

– Cracking joints: “when bored”: “for pleasure.”

“I’ve always cracked joints. Fingers, toes, elbows etc. Crack my knees too, and the heel tendon. It is a satisfying feeling to make an enjoyable crack.”

– ‘Moggy’, male probable Aspie from Sweden

– Clicking teeth or tongue: “when thinking”; “when anxious”.

“I have tongue clicking when I’m nervous around people, I have to walk around when I’m nervous, and I stamp my feet and twitch my neck when I’m having a really bad time.”

– O.J., adult Aspie from Norway

– Biting, peeling or picking cuticle or fingertip: “when bored.”

“I hate an unsmooth fingernail’s edge, and when I found I have one I usually rub it on my teeth if I can’t find a scissor, but I don’t chew fingernails, I chew around the root of them, biting off slivers of skin if needed, never to the point of bleeding though.”

– ‘Zhaozhou’, male Aspie from Italy

– Picking nose, skin or scabs, peeling skin flakes: “when bored.”

“I’ll peel off half-loose skin flakes and have a tendency to want to pick scabs (even if I usually can stop myself there), but I thought this was true of everyone…? That you have sort of an instinct to try and remove things that don’t belong to the body (and thus could be e.g. a parasite).”

– ‘inv’, male Aspie from Sweden

– Pulling hairs from head, face or body: “when bored.”

“Pulling little hairs until they break is very satisfying.”

– ‘weasley’, female Aspie from Sweden

– Rubbing hands, arms or thighs: “for comfort”; “when anxious, nervous or excited.”

“I rub the tops of my thighs sometimes…helps me concentrate.”

– ‘Sakhmet’, female Aspie

– Snapping fingers.

– Twisting hands/fingers: “when anxious, nervous or bored.”

“I usually either drum my fingers on my legs, chest or head depending. Other times I will lace my fingers through each other and rapidly move one wrist down and the other up then reserve and on and on. For me at least it is a way to burn off excess energy. There are times when so much builds up that I feel like I’m going to go wild. So I either stim, run in place or work out to burn it off.”

– William, Aspie from USA

– Wiggling, fingers, toes or feet: “when thinking”, “when bored or restless.”

“I wiggle my fingers and toes, usually to some kind of rhythm that only they know, simultaneously. I used to think that maybe it was because I was hyper and if I am sitting still it gives me a way to be active without anyone noticing.”

– Anne Marie, ADHD/Aspie from USA

– Pacing: “when thinking; when anxious.”

“I discover more and more stress-related behaviours of me now (like rhythmically stretching the skin on my throat when I’m nervous, e g when I’m walking where lots of ppl are). Pacing up and down is my ‘speciality’ though, I think I should add that under ‘hobbies’ :)”

– ‘maYa’, Aspie

– Talking to oneself: “when thinking.”

“Leg bouncing, and a lot of talking to myself…I think out loud especially when I’m working.

– ‘Sakhmet’, female Aspie

“Sometimes when nervous I may absently repeat a phrase aloud that I picked up somewhere and if I’m not careful I may do that in public, in which case people might think I am talking to myself.”

– Tom, Aspie from USA

”I’ll mutter to myself as random thoughts pass through my head, almost as though I’m tasting them.”

– ‘T-rav20’, male Aspie

Odd stims:

These are stims more typical of classical autism.

– Biting oneself, others, or some object. Some autistcs really enjoy the sensation of biting into something a bit bouncy, probably for the same reason as a puppy, though not quite as socially acceptable… Some bite themselves or others when frustrated.

– Licking or tasting things. Perhaps identification of objects by taste or exquisite enjoyment of certain tastes and textures. This is something you’re supposed to grow out of soon after infancy but some may retain this behaviour for longer than what is considered appropriate. More socially acceptable ways of oral stimulation are – or have been until recently – smoking toxic tobacco sticks, chewing gum or nibbling on addictive sweets. 😉

– Smelling objects, sniffing people. Having such a keen sense of smell that certain smells cause intense pleasure – or nausea if it’s a bad odour – and may give valuable information about things and people, just as it does for animals. According to Temple Grandin many autistics with visual or auditory processing difficulties, smell and touch may provide more reliable information about their surroundings than either vision or hearing.

“I used to lie on the floor at home when I was a child, and smell the safe smell of the carpet; pretty smell-oriented in other words. My son sniffs on everything new in order to find out if they are of any good, or on things he’s been away from to check that they still smell the same.”

– Emma, Aspie from Sweden

“Smells have always been a big thing for me, when I was younger I could not walk down the washing powder aisle of the supermarket without having a bad reaction; my mum just could not understand it. I also have a habit of sniffing things, my mum always had a certain scent that I could recognise, in fact I have noticed everyone has their own personal scent, as long as they do not overpower it with perfumes and the like.

“If someone gives me something I have a habit of smelling it. I love the smell of certain print and love the smell of new books. I bought a new diary from a shop called ‘Aromatics’, which sells aromatic oils, the diary smells gorgeous, good job they don’t charge extra for the smell :-)”

– Julie, Aspie from England

“I need a lot of scents and parfumes, as I stim on them. Always have incense in the house, too. Couldn’t go anywhere without having the chance to use scents.”

– Arania, Aspie from Germany

“I like to smell between the pages of all my new books… I find it very comforting!!!”

– ‘Sakhmet’, female Aspie

– Touching things. Some who are tactile learners really enjoy the feel of certain textures, while finding others repulsive.

“I take a little detour to work in the morning so I can walk through a park and feel some of the trees there. Leaves are good, but the bark is even better. Stones also work fine, preferably with moss on. I just like the structure of bark, leaves, leather, stone. Not metal, though. *yuck*

“As a child I liked going into people’s closets and finger on clothes, especially coarse fabrics with structure, or wall paper. Balls of yarn and old crooked nails I also liked.”

– Matilda, Aspie from Sweden

– Flapping hands: “when excited.” (Great, harmless way of relieving excess positive or negative energy!)

“Whole-hand movement, hinged on the wrist muscle. Either up-down or sideways. It burns off excess nervous energy. I do it occasionally, but find an arm stim hinged on the elbow better. We get nervous energy because we don’t filter the incoming information from our senses but try to absorb everything.”

– Maurice, Aspie

– Pressing, crossing or rolling eyes: “when thinking, stressed, distressed or overwhelmed.” May also come from eye-strain, Scotopic Sensitivity or other visual problem. If done gently, it is actually a great way of exercising the eye-muscles and preventing the need for glasses. I’ve heard that Chinese children are instructed to do it every day in school.

I used to do this as a kid just to amuse myself when I was bored and had nothing else to fiddle with, e.g. on a train ride with granny.

– Ing, site-author

– Repetitive blinking or moving fingers in front of the eyes. Perhaps stress, visual experiment or to induce a trance. Temple Grandin suggests it may be an indication of visual processing problems.

– Rocking (back-&-forth or side-to-side): “to calm myself”; ”for comfort”; “when thinking”; “when bored, excited, overwhelmed or overstimulated”.

“I rock from side-to-side a lot when I’m feeling upset or overwhelmed.

– ‘Sakhmet’, female Aspie

“I found out that I rock, and I didn’t used to notice it until my bf and I would hook up with our webcams and he noticed that I would rock back and forth.  I think I only do that when I am thinking hard.”

– Anne Marie, ADHD/Aspie from USA

– Spinning an object or watching a spinning, blinking or glittering object: “when bored”; “for pleasure”; “when thinking”.

“Well I liked spinning things I’d open up an umberalla turn it upside down and spin it, sometimes I would put things on it to watch them spin off and then do it over and over again, rather telling I suppose 🙂 Oh and I loved wheels spinning and washing machines, even the old twin tubs, top loaders.  :-)”

– Julie, Aspie from England

“I can’t get enough of looking at things that shine; prisms, rainbows, water trickling in the sun, etc. it is so nice to have water in glass bottle on the window sill, then you can see how they shimmer… besides, one can always excuse it by them being good water bottles for one’s plants! ;-D

“When little hoodlums have been at it and broken glass on the pavement I become totally fascinated and can stand watching them shimmer for ages. Almost got ran over once, because I stopped in the middle of the street without thinking, lol! I actually have some pieces of broken street light here in a bowl. They glittered so beautifully that I had to pick some up and take them home…

“And then I like to touch soft things; soft yarn, nectarines (I can stand stroking nectarines in the store without thinking about it), velvet, etc.”

– ‘weasley’, female Aspie from Sweden

– Spinning in circles: “for fun; when happy.” In some cases, an instinctive way of self-treating vestibular Sensory Integration Dysfunction. If so, it should be incouraged.

“I still like to spin but did it even more as a child. I think it had some sort of relaxing effect on me but would drive others crazy.”

– ‘ljbouchard’, male Aspie from USA

– Tapping ears: “when thinking.” May also a way of distorting incoming sounds and creating cool sound effects, or blocking out disturbing ambient sounds.

– Toe-walking: “for fun”; “other reason”. In some cases it may be physically painful to put down one’s whole foot on the floor due to extreme sensitivity or other physical problem. May be a way to get a feeling of being lighter, and to make the tedious task of walking more fun or bearable.

“I walked on my toes all throughout my childhood. At first, I was trying to imitate cats, but it felt good so I did it all the time. I suspect it could be the reason I have big calf muscles.”

– Kim, female Aspie from USA

“I do toes when barefoot because I don’t want my feet to feel dirty. Plus cold floors freak me out.”

– ‘Fivecents’, female non-Aspie from USA

“I walk on my toes a lot when barefoot. To me it just makes me feel lighter and faster.”

– ‘Zara’, male Aspie from USA

“I still walk on my tippy toes when im extremely excited about something…”

– ‘age1600’, ASD female from USA

I didn’t do this as a child but I had a period in my early 20’s when I wore ballet shoes everywhere and used to bounce around on my toes rather than walk. I felt wonderfully light! Although once at work, as I rounded a corner, I bounced into the CEO who was holding a cup of coffee…

– Ing, site-author

Professional theories about stims:

STEREOTYPIC/SELF-STIMULATORY BEHAVIOUR

By Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D., Center for the Study of Autism

“Researchers have suggested various reasons for why a person may engage in stereotypic behaviors. One set of theories suggests that these behaviors provide the person with sensory stimulation (i.e., the person’s sense is hyposensitive). Due to some dysfunctional system in the brain or periphery, the body craves stimulation; and thus, the person engages in these behaviors to excite or arouse the nervous system.

“One specific theory states that these behaviors release beta-endorphins in the body (endogeneous opiate-like substances) and provides the person with some form of internal pleasure.

“Another set of theories states that these behaviors are exhibited to calm a person (i.e., the person’s sense is hypersensitive). That is, the environment is too stimulating and the person is in a state of sensory-overload. As a result, the individual engages in these behaviors to block-out the over-stimulating environment; and his/her attention becomes focused inwardly.”

“Researchers have also shown that stereotypic behaviors interfere with attention and learning. Interestingly, these behaviors are often effective positive reinforcers if a person is allowed to engage in these behaviors after completing a task.”

My comment: All three sets of theories sound plausible. But if so, it is most likely a harmless way of ‘self-medicating’ on these endorphins that one really needs in order to stay sane. To a hypersensitive person, daily life is often so physically or emotionally painful that every possible stress relief available is of tremendous help. Much safer than medication, isn’t it? Many with AS/ADD/SID describe how easily they get overstimulated and therefore need to stim to relieve the stress. In which case stimming is excellent; easy to do, always at hand and absolutely free! Perhaps that’s the problem with it? That it doesn’t require some medication or expensive intervention technique that someone else could get rich from?

That last paragraph sounds very manipulating and inhumane to me – like doggy training. Why is stimming so unacceptable when it is so very useful (possibly even essential) to the person who does it?

“‘Okay, we have determined that it is pleasurable and makes you more relaxed, now we want you to stop.’  Does anyone else see a problem with this logic?  I haven’t done lots of study in this area, but it seems like very few stims are destructive or harmful or self injuring. Most of the time people want us to stop just because they find the behavior annoying or embarressing.”

– Ilah, probable Aspie from USA

With the possible exception of sniffing or biting other people, and perhaps making noise when in the same room as others, I don’t see the problem with stimming. Those who stim would not stim if they didn’t have a legitimate need to do so. If not permitted to stim, one is forced to keep the stress/excess energy inside instead, where it will most likely cause health problems or build up until it causes an uncontrollable eruption. Which is worse?

What can be done if the stimming is too disturbing to others, is to ask the stimming person to try and save it for when they are alone – if possible. Many adults with AS/ADHD/SID/TS stim mainly when at home/alone and try to keep it in check in public, or do it very discreetly, but not everyone is able to exert such self-control. Some would probably study and work much better if they had their own room where they could regulate the lighting, hyperfocus without distraction, and stim all they need.

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50 Comments »

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  2. Paul Sedgeman said,

    Since I was around 13 – 14years of age I started occasionally going into a daze and my head starts to twitch, I am now forty seven and although it’s not every day I have noticed that I am doing it more often. Please can you advise me what may have caused it and can anything be done about it?

    Regards

    Paul Sedgeman

    • Ing said,

      I’m sorry, this site is for information purposes only and I’m not a medical professional. Contact your doctor or a neurologist.

  3. Jacob Hess said,

    It has gotten a bit creepy (and a bit cathartic) reading these symptoms – many, many of them sound like me. I would love for my wife to read these and lend her insight.

  4. MY said,

    I’ve only just noticed that I rock back & forth when I’m stressed or have to go out. I also have agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, panic and I’m bipolar. Recently, there was a police chase that came through our neighborhood (Los Angeles bank robbers were throwing money out the window.). That made me really stay inside. I’ve been rocking in the mornings since then. My daughters made me aware of it when they asked, “Mama, why are you rocking like that?”. I can’t control it very well, but if I stop I feel like I’m going to explode into hysteria if I stay still.

  5. Starfire said,

    As a child, from Kindergarten all the way through High school, when I got stressed I’d make a beeline to the dodgeball rings on the asphalt. I’d go in the center and spin until the painted circles seemed to rise up around me. When they did, I felt happy and comfortable and relaxed. I never understood why my friends didn’t enjoy it the same way; they’d say it just made them dizzy. It made me dizzy, too, but it made me feel wonderful, too.

  6. Middle Insomnia said,

    IMO stimming is something many neurotypicals, or at least non-ASD folks, do.
    Since I was a kid, I would press my ear lobes into my ears. This was pleasantly satisfying, especially if my ear lobes were cold. Many people pick their cuticles or similar while deep in thought, passing time.
    Now perhaps these are ways of relieving anxiety to some extent for all people who simply might feel any amount of it. My point is that it’s not limited to ASD or other clear diagnoses.
    Recently, I started an MAOI to help me cope with depression and anxiety related to a major life changing event. Although the MAOI definitely works, it’s given me middle insomnia. As I wake up several times in the night, I realize I’m stimming while half asleep. I run my fingertips lightly along my wrists to my inner elbow and back again. It simply feels nice but I have no idea what it has to do with being half-asleep, or that I’m even doing it until I’m more awake. Perhaps it’s a way of self-waking from a heavy, groggy state.

    • Marcy said,

      Actually stimming is not very common among neurotypicals. But it common among people with neurological or psychological illnesses/ disorders.

  7. […] His autism is portrayed over and over again as being non-stop pain and suffering. That got incredibly hard to read: do people really think this is what autism is like? Even if the author’s intention is to show understanding and sympathy, portraying our experiences this black-and-white is hurtful and borders on demeaning. Our autism might make things harder, and people might struggle to understand us, but that doesn’t instantly translate to suffering. To the outside observer, things like rocking back and forth, flapping hands, being blank-faced, compulsively arranging objects, screaming, etc. may look like being trapped, but they probably look completely different from the autistic person’s perspective. Any of the above can translate to fear, tension, relaxation, happiness, excitement, or a dozen other… […]

  8. K said,

    This site is brilliant. For a while, I was too worried to look up this sort of thing because I was afraid of what I might find, but this site is so different from the others! :-). Thankyou for making it!

  9. Fran said,

    B’s mom,
    My daughter stimms at the flouresnt lighting in school. However, she is bullied because of it. She has SID and ADHD. She is in a regular classroom. I wish I could help her get through her day without any negative comments, truth be told others can be quit mean. Does anyone have any suggestions? Has anyone had any similar issues as a child that can lend a suggestion?

    • Kathleen Haines said,

      Does she have any other stims? Try to encourage her to use those more frequently. I am just learning about aspergers and stims myself. I always knew something was different about my son. But now i realize his unusual behaviors are not bad or purposely disruptive. He stims constantly, and in almost every way mentioned in this article. The way he gets through a school day is by standing at his desk. Or, he will stand on one leg and put the other on his chair. Luckily, my son is extremely outgoing so he has not had your
      daughters bulling problem. I’m really sorry she has had problems with other kids. Where is her teacher when all this happens?

      • Stephanie said,

        My son acts differentt in school (stimming behavior) and as his mother, I felt that he was not getting a good education because of his behavior. His teacher felt he was not happy either, We pulled him from regular school and have been in K12.com school (online school) for one year, and absolutely love it. He learns at his level and can act the way that is comfortable for him. He seems so happy now and playful.and is ahead now in school. He gets more sleep too because we start school when its good for our schedule, we take time to enjoy a nice hike or going to the beach and then do school at night too.He eats healthier too since we are at home and I make his meals. He has not missed one day of school the whole year and he thanks me for putting him on online school. I am so grateful to K12 for showing there is other choices than just the regular school. My son loves all the videos and fun ways he learns on the computer. (they give you a computer,printer,kindle and all school supplies). Please consider this for your child. please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Stephaniealexander-@msn.com

        • chris said,

          Hi Stephanie, I am coming at this from the Autistic perspective and want to suggest that it wasn’t his behaviour that was impeding him learning. Rather his behaviour was in response to things *going on at school* that were overwhelming for him.

          School was a nightmare for me–bright flickering lights, loud bells, lots of voices talking at once, kids shoving, pinching, teasing, yelling. Food that hurt my stomach, *constant* changes when I wasn’t ready for them.

          I was verbal and did well on tests, but was in trouble constantly for “daydreaming” (which was really going deep inside myself while staring out the window because that was the only way to get away from the constant sensory assault).

          Homeschooling with the computer sounds like heaven to me!

  10. Nikki Walsh said,

    I love to run material – especially cotton cloth – under my finger nails or between my toes. I have done this for as long as I can remember and I am now 40 and still do it. 🙂 It is a really pleasurable sensation, which I often do to enhance relaxation or concentration. I am only just waking up to the fact that I may be Aspie and so I am wondering if this stimming is part of that. Maybe. 🙂

    • S said,

      Finally, someone who understands!! All of my life I have ran material under my fingernails and braided it thru my fingers. The crisper the material, the better. Sheets, towels, curtains, paper, etc. I have a ribbon that I currently keep with me. I have always thought I was strange for getting pleasure out of these items, maybe I am, lol. But glad to see that others do these things.

      • Dave Moffat said,

        I also have had the need to chew my nails off, then run any stiff..but thin material under either forefinger or next thumb to get some kind of soothing feeling?? 35 years ago when I met my wife I must have felt comfortable enough around her that I never realised I was rubbing the edge of her dress between my finger/nail because it had a sharp edge? Then she noticed and thought I was trying to clean my nails on her dress…funny now..not then. I can remember doing this since I was 3-4 yo..at 51 I was diagnosed with ADHD.

      • Deborah Camp said,

        I am in my fifties and have done a lot of these behaviors for as long as I can remember. I have a niece who has Asperger’s…my late mother I’m sure would have been clinically diagnosed with OCD, and I have been dyslexic all my life. I know all these things are connected in some ways. Stimming is for me still very pleasurable, reassuring, and something I’ve kept totally to myself till this moment (finger play, etc.) because I thought others would think I’m nuts! I haven’t even shared any of this with my husband of 20 years. I’ve not not trouble making friends–oral and written communication is very easy for me, and I’ve had a long professional career. What I’m wondering is this…..and maybe some of you wonder the same: Did I have autism…and then just “grow out” of it, except for retaining the desire to stim? (I do still have very many OCD type behaviors too). Is this what you’d call a “functioning Asperger’s syndrome? Just curious. I’m totally comfortable in my shoes and have do desire to “seek” help or anything, as none of these behaviors interfere with my life. Do any of you experience any of these feelings, behaviors…..or think maybe you were autistic as a kid but have now mostly “grown out” of it? Any feedback would be appreciated! Thanks! Deborah

        • Chandra Valker said,

          I was certainly hyper, and have always just felt very different. Never had a diagnosis of any kind, but now it’s like I’m not sure about my learning abilities now that I’m 45, I feel like I missed a lot, or something.
          The sheets between the toes! I have done that for as long as I can remember. Page corners under my fingernails while I read. I remember my father would play with a match book corner. I asked him about it once. It was just a “fidget” to him.
          In stores, if i find a rack of clothing with just the right smooth material, I could stand there all day, but I slip in a couple swipes, and move on! I’ts so wonderful to have a name for this. And to maybe understand, I know I wasn’t perfect, or understood, and I am still ok, now. Thank you!

      • Chandra Valker said,

        I ALWAYS thought I was the only one! YAAAYY!! ❤

    • Sandra Daniels said,

      Me too! All of my life, I run the creases of my bed sheet between my toes! OMG! The funny part is, I’m 46, & a few years ago, my sister & I went on an overnight trip, & I discovered she did the same thing! Neither one of us knew the other did it! SO weird! I also like to carry a small piece of sheet with me, sometimes, & run the creases under my finger nails! I was told it meant I was a sensitive person!

      • JM said,

        I run the selvedge edge of fabrics under my finger nails and have done for as long as I can remember (60 odd years now). I thought I was the only one with this peculiar but harmless fidgeting habit. However when I was 25 years old I saw, for what I thought was the first time, my mother doing the same type of thing. I wonder whether I was copying her having seen her do it when I was a child, and then forgotten I had seen her? Its something I try to hide as I feel embarrassed about it but my husband and son no longer try to throw away the bits of fabric they might find in the washing basket as they now know they are my fiddley cloths. I also destroy the edges and corners of paper/books when reading. I try to stop myself as it spoils it for the next person reading the book so I keep a bit of cloth with selvedge edge to take out the agitation on that instead! I have tried to stop and can manage without for a while as long as no fabric edges can be easily got at but as soon a I give in its as though I have never given up. I find I do this fabric fiddling at bedtime in particular and have to make myself stop as it keeps me awake. Strange but not dangerous.

  11. Lisa said,

    For a very long time, I’ve made a kind of “beat” with my toes and right shoulder. I can do this if I think of a word, or whenever I sit still. It’s very discreet, and the movements are so small, no one notices. If I make the movements to a word, I split, for example “nailpolish”, in to “nail-po-lish”, while making a tiiny, tiny “dance”.” Like… Nail – (right shoulder taps down and stays down, right toes taps down and back up) – po (right shoulder and toes taps down and back up) – lish (right shoulder and toes goes up, while the left toes goes the opposite direction of the right toes). Difficult to explain… But I do this without any words, too. And the right shoulder and toes are in sync for the most, and the toes on the left side does the “other part” of the beat. I make a beat with my left and right side of my teeth too.
    -Girl, 22, Norway

    • Kathi Gabkat said,

      this is fascinating to me that you do this, this is such a rhythm oriented behavior I am wondering are you very musically inclined? do you play an instrument or dance? I haven’t seen or experienced this particular kind of behavior in myself although (oddly enough my cat exhibits something odd that reminds me of this, i could explain it to you if you care) But I have in the past, done similar types of “exercises” in my head that look or sound like this in tune to music or words or spelling as in “typing” exercises; I have found that these behaviors actually make me more skilled in dance/typing/rhythm oriented tasks and I am wondering if you have found this to be the same

    • Jeff said,

      Wow. I’ve done this my whole life… i.e.: keeping a beat going with fingers, toes, teeth. Sometimes complicated syncopation stuff. Sometimes simple. The dentist thinks I’m a bruxer – a teeth-grinder. Actually I’m just keeping the beat (although maybe these can coexist).
      By & large this had no negative effect on my life. Now, at age 69, I’m waking up with sore feet and I know why. Whether I do this rhythmic drumming stuff when I’m deeply asleep, I don’t know but I do it at all other times. Now that my feet (and probably my hands too) are hurting from it, I want to know about this syndrome or whatever it is.
      I always considered this from a musical perspective. I wonder who, other than me, virtually always has a tune in his/her head. My wife understands and will sometimes ask “What song have you got?” Frankly, she’s catching the “disease” I think. She often will have an answer of her own – and I think when she realizes she’s doing it, she asks me to chime in. Then, of course, with a piece of music playing away in my brain, it’s important for me to drum along. Seemingly important… in other words I don’t know if I could stop it.
      My very musical sister advises that when the song in my head is too obsessive, shift to The Star Spangled Banner (U.S. national anthem) instead. Well I did that this morning and stayed on that for maybe half an hour and I worked up quite a drumming accompaniment. [Well, I FEEL that it might sound great but actually I’ve never liked the SOUND of my drumming – just the doing of it.]
      I say “drumming” a lot here. A I do love to drum on anything with my fingers and hands. But most of my nighttime trouble comes from little voluntary twitches in fingers and/or toes.

      One last thing. My mother says that my father (deceased) used to yell at me for making noises in my bed. I had squeaky springs. I have blocked this out but I’m certain she’s not making it up. I wonder if this helped to channel me into a secret, silent rebellion. Just a goofy thought.

      Thanks for this wordpress site. Reading here has been fascinating.

  12. […] rocking, bouncing. No I don’t do any of these things. However, I came across the following article which mentioned that skin-picking was a common stim. As well as my usual OCD rituals involving the […]

  13. Megan Lynn said,

    While I haven’t been formally diagnosed with any of those disorders, I do have an anxiety disorder and stim a lot. Most of the time it’s as simple as repeatedly rocking my leg[s] back and forth to rocking my whole body when sitting. This has caused problems with others while in public since I have a hard time controlling it. Most people will get annoyed with my constant rocking/movements and will make me stop. There isnt a time where Im not moving a single part of my body when sitting or standing. I also have a problem with compulsively touching soft things. For example, if I get a new pack of pencils or erasers, you’ll usually find me repeatedly touching/stroking the eraser. It’s not only pleasurable but it does seem to relax me, if only a little. I frequently talk to myself (when alone), and have a bad habit of chewing the inside of my mouth.

    • Megan Lynn said,

      I also forgot to add my compulsion to touch my ears when they’re cold. I’ve always done this.

  14. Nepenthe said,

    I knew I’d had some weird habits, but I had no idea… just no idea that so many of them would be collected into one place, under a heading, for known reasons. I didn’t notice there was a pattern. This is weird. This is really weird. Have I been stimming all my life? Spinning, hand wiggling, tired body rocking, toe walking, foot jiggling, headbutting, nose-tapping, eyelid-squeezing, doodling, nail-biting, the urge to touch things and – yeah, it was really juvenile and I’ve long since stopped – but the urge to gently bite, too. Constantly, constantly – always something, to this day. And nobody noticed this? I was reprimanded sometimes (though I think I was always incredibly well-behaved in public as a kid) but mostly it’s like this has all been invisible, to me and everybody, going without comment. :/

    I’m twenty-four which isn’t too old but it seems to me to be far too old to be noticing patterns like this. Why didn’t all of this stand out to somebody? I gotta start asking questions.

    Thank you for compiling this list, even though I’m a little freaked out now.

    • Lola said,

      hey, I get you. I used to rub my old blanket from a child in between my fingers and toes when i was stressed, in fact just anyway and to this day i still have a bit of it left I sometimes take out and do the same thing. I do it with my bed clothes sometimes but its not quite the same, and I chew my nails and cuticles, and rock when i’m stressed, and do the eyelid squeeze (in private!) crack my knuckles, chew pens, doodles on things, I’m freaked out too reading this I didn’t realise all these things were connected. are you happy did you have a happy childhood? I’m not, and didn’t, I think maybe this is a consequence of trying to pretend I’m ok all the time when I’m not. Feel like a weirdo now but I am normally quite normal, as normal goes 🙂

    • Chandra Valker said,

      “Nepenthe said,
      11 January 2015 at 4:01

      I knew I’d had some weird habits, but I had no idea… just no idea that so many of them would be collected into one place, under a heading, for known reasons. I didn’t notice there was a pattern. This is weird. This is really weird. Have I been stimming all my life? Spinning, hand wiggling, tired body rocking, toe walking, foot jiggling, headbutting, nose-tapping, eyelid-squeezing, doodling, nail-biting, the urge to touch things and – yeah, it was really juvenile and I’ve long since stopped – but the urge to gently bite, too. Constantly, constantly – always something, to this day. And nobody noticed this? I was reprimanded sometimes (though I think I was always incredibly well-behaved in public as a kid) but mostly it’s like this has all been invisible, to me and everybody, going without comment. :/

      I’m twenty-four which isn’t too old but it seems to me to be far too old to be noticing patterns like this. Why didn’t all of this stand out to somebody? I gotta start asking questions.

      Thank you for compiling this list, even though I’m a little freaked out now.”

      SAME!!!

  15. […] His autism is portrayed over and over again as being non-stop pain and suffering. That got incredibly hard to read: do people really think this is what autism is like? Even if the author’s intention is to show understanding and sympathy, portraying our experiences this black-and-white is hurtful and borders on demeaning. Our autism might make things harder, and people might struggle to understand us, but that doesn’t instantly translate to suffering. To the outside observer, things like rocking back and forth, flapping hands, being blank-faced, compulsively arranging objects, screaming, etc. may look like being trapped, but they probably look completely different from the autistic person’s perspective. Any of the above can translate to fear, tension, relaxation, happiness, excitement, or a dozen other… […]

  16. Joshua said,

    Since I’ve been a little boy I find mystic clenching my fist and biting my finger when I get excited. Too point where I have s mark like a scar from doing it… My question is why???

  17. Lorraine said,

    I’ve got a 7-year-old daughter who stims when she is excited or happy. She gazes off and her hands contort (when she was younger we were afraid she was having seizures) sometimes she talks softly to herself like she is telling herself a joke. Her Kindergarten and 1st grade teachers both raised concerns about it though she is at the top of her class and was reading chapter books in kindergarten. As a parent I’m afraid she will be made fun of as she gets older. Kids are just now noticing it but she is outgoing and always cheerful. She obviously is happy when she is stimming so I’ve been reticent to say anything about it to her. Heading into 2nd grade is there some way I can make her aware that she is doing it that wouldn’t be shaming? Letting her know it is completely acceptable but maybe done at home and/or other release valve sorts of behavior that won’t get her bullied or teased. I love this girl with all my heart and would like to spare her any teasing.

    • Olivia said,

      When you do talk to your daughter, try to make it so that you don’t tell her there is something wrong with her. Don’t pressure her to be “normal”. That’s extremely damaging long term and is a surefire way to crush self esteem.
      If she is autistic, it may simply be best to be blunt about it (this will likely not be rude to her, but helpful) e. g. “other people are annoyed by it, like you are by fluorescent lighting.” or something, then perhaps explain that not everyone will like her.
      Help her find ways to stim that are quiet (not necessarily subtle or invisible, but sound carries) and non harmful (like biting surfaces not meant to be bitten or head banging), e. g. twirling fingers, chewing a bit on special materials designed for this, rubbing cloth, rocking etc. If other people find issues with it, that’s their problem, not hers.
      Consider homeschooling if it ever gets to the point of bullying.
      Cheers and Good luck!

  18. Lorraine said,

    Thanks Olivia. My aim was to figure out how to re-direct it not eliminate it, and in such a way that there is no shame attached to it. I guess I’ll be looking into how to redirect to less obvious stims when she is in class.

    • Cathy said,

      My daughter had some of this when she was young (now 35 and teaches Special ED classes). I got her to twirl her hair instead, which is quiet and bothers no one and actually not that noticeable. She always like rubbing or twirling soft cloth or running her finger lightly along her eyebrows so the hair twirling was an easy transition for her and seemed to work. She still twirls when thinking deeply or stressed.

  19. Lewis Gentile said,

    sometimes I like to touch each finger with my thumb on one hand or sometimes both at the same time.

  20. kcmc5025185 said,

    I have a fixation on scents, I have to sniff everything. One day I was talking about stimming with my roommate, it was pointed out to me that I apparently smell things more than I know. She told me that we would be watching a movie and she looks over at me and I have got my hands or some small object right beneath my nose. For most of my life this has been one of my most prominent stims, I have pictures of myself doing it as far back as middle school (which is when I recall starting to sniff my hands in particular) I also rock when very anxious or stressed. I tend to sway gently standing in line at the grocery store.
    As a kid I had a fixation on staring at things, almost unblinkingly. Lights, walls, spinning objects, rain… I still do that when I need to distract myself from my anxiety.
    Touch is another of my prominent stims, touching my own skin and clothes. I have a habit of walking around in Walmart touching the soft stuff in the store.

  21. Crystal said,

    Omg my daughter is 7 she does the hand flapping and she is having big issues in school with attention and memory she didnt speak till she was 3 n a half and i also suffer from several of these things i thought i was just suffering from depression from ptsd but apparently not!?

  22. Jules said,

    I find the last paragraph of the academic bit both unkind and out of date. Newer studies have shown that individuals allowed to stim in moderate ways – pen clicking, doodling, fidgeting with a pen or a toy – actually retain new information better. The theory I saw to explain the phenomenon was that the stimming occupies the “bored” portion of the brain and allows the higher cognitive functions to key in on the new information being presented.

    And I know it is anecdotal, but as a kid with ADHD this was so true for me. I used to frustrate my teachers like crazy when they tried to humiliate me for “not paying attention,” only to be able to answer their questions without hesitation.

    And I still do a lot of my stimming as a way distract myself from a problem who’s solution I can’t find. My brother and I both do that “if I don’t think about it I’ll figure it out” method of problem processing.

  23. […] R.L. (2010) Stimming. Available at: https://insideperspectives.wordpress.com/compulsions/stimming/ (Accessed: 1 March […]

  24. Kay said,

    I think it’s worth considering the connections or overlap which may exist between certain ‘stimming’ behaviors and meditation. E.g., a number of meditation practices from various traditions involve thinking or saying repetitive phrases (mantra), focusing on a specific field or type of sensation or perception (e.g., sound, body sensations, breath), or focusing sight on a specific, single object (e.g., a candle, a ‘drishti’, a mandala, a blank wall). Essentially, all forms of meditation are training the mind to learn to focus, which in turns leads to a ‘quieter’ mind over time, and generally to greater peace and wellbeing, among other benefits. Some research has posited that meditation may also increase or release endorphins, similar to stimming.

    I think it would be beneficial for researchers, medical and mental health professionals, neurodiverse people and neurotypicals too, to consider the connections between meditation and stimming; this may help shift people’s frame of reference when considering the latter to encourage viewpoints based on greater understanding and acceptance of stimming behaviors. Meditation tends to be described in highly positive terms as a beneficial practice, so why not stimming as well? If the stimming is of the type that is not encroaching on other people’s space or overly distracting, and if it helps the person feel and focus better, let’s consider it to be a practice that can often encourage a healthier, calmer mind and body.

  25. I love scratching my skin, not to make it bleed or hurt, but just the way you would scratch an itch. I do it to the back of my head, between my fingers, the palms of my hands, the pads of my fingers, sometimes the insides of my elbows, and definitely my lips, like near constantly. It feels really nice in a way i can’t describe, even though I’m not itchy, just to scratch my skin and lips. I only noticed it when a friend pointed it out so I looked it up to find out why I do it and here I am, finding that more and more of these things sound just like me.

  26. vic said,

    I have bitten my fingernails for as long as I can remember. When I was about 6, my grandmother tried to cure me of the habit by painting hot Tabasco sauce on my fingers. When I rubbed my eyes it really hurt. I sucked my left thumb while twirling my hair around my right finger until I was in first grade. If I have a rough spot on a toenail or fingernail I rip it off with my teeth. Toenails are just generally uncomfortable…I can feel them from the inside of my toes. If I feel a piece of dried up mucus in my nose I have to get it out. I twist or twittle my eyebrow hair or my eyelashes until they fall out. I tap my fingers to my thumb in a sequence while I am counting in my mind. I also tap my teeth together while thinking of numbers. I am obsessive about finding commonalities between words (like “victim” and “victor”) and can read the dictionary for hours. In a group I am the least talkative. I think I am shy, but I have been told that I appear to think I am superior. But actually I feel that I don’t fit in, I annoy people and no body understands me. I occasionally hear faint sounds of a radio broadcast coming from a kitchen appliance at night when it is very quiet and I am trying to get to sleep. I have insomnia. I hear electricity in the electrical wires. It is very disturbing. For a period of time I couldn’t sleep because I heard a whistling sound coming from my neighbor’s driveway. Finally one night, I got out of bed and followed the sound, and actually found the source. It was their gas meter. I called the gas company and they came the next day. The repairman was astonished that I could hear the noise from the distance to my bedroom and through a closed window. He said he couldn’t hear it unless his ear was right next to the meter. I have to wear soft fabrics and loose fitting clothes, because bumpy stiff fabric hurts my skin. Wool is impossibly itchy. Many prescription drugs have the opposite effect on me than they do on most other people. For example, if I take a medication that make people alert and energetic, it makes me drowsy. Coffee makes me drowsy. Hydrocodone has no effect on pain for me and does not give me that pleasant feeling many describe. I can’t wear pajamas or any clothes when I am trying to go to sleep. They irritate me. If I could I would be naked all of the time. When I was a child, I was a very picky eater. Bologna made me gag. The small of cabbage cooking made me nauseated. It was very upsetting and repulsive to see my food on my plate touching (like meat touching a vegetable or lettuce touching a vegetable). I was such a picky eater that my mother resorted to fixing me butter and sugar sandwiches on white bread (one of the only things I would eat). The teachers at my school saw me eating these sandwiches every day, and offered to all pitch in some money so I could afford to buy a nutritious school lunch. I can’t stand to have sand or dirt on the bottom of my feet. I always wear shoes rather than touch a bare foot on the floor or ground. I do not like to take showers. I love baths. I sleep under two heavy comforters. I don’t have many friends…people think I am strange or odd, and I make them feel uncomfortable. I have no sense of fashion. I would like it if we all wore matching uniforms, if they were comfortable. When I am having a conversation with someone, I look anywhere except their eyes. Sometimes they turn around to see just what it is that I have found to look at that is so interesting. I try to act normal so I will be accepted by society. This is not who I want to be. Alone. Trying to get clues by paying close attention to others’ behavior which I imitate to try and fit in.

  27. Marie L 'Henry' Ferguson-Baumann said,

    My 9yr old son constantly licks his lips until they crack and bleed. He has severe ADHD as well. How can I help him stop?? He refuses to put chap stick on, and the skin around his lips are scarred from chapped skin.

    • Marie L 'Henry' Ferguson-Baumann said,

      I have been chewing on the tip of my tongue all 35 yrs of my life as well. I have a callous on my tongue from this. I suffer from moderate anxiety, and OCD. Since having children, my mental health has improved dramatically. No time to worry about silly things!

  28. Are you a creative writing instructor at a university? How do you handle potentially dangerous students?

  29. Clivy said,

    I personally stim a lot, and have been doing so since I was 4 years old ( now I am 14). This includes quite a bit the examples you put here on this list. I bounce my left leg, bite on soft objects, watch things spin, talk to my self, rock back and forth, twist my fingers, snap my fingers, crack my joints, flap my hands, tap my hands, touch things, wiggle my toes, pick at my skin flaps, crossing my eyes, pulling hairs off my leg, and much more.

    I pretty much stimulation myself daily, but I never get to do so at camp, because if I do I would be called weird. And at camp it is already hard enough being seen as weird and strange by most of the people there, which is why I usually remain lonely there. Now I have to go to a leadership camp for 2 weeks. I am leaving next week, and I am very sad about it.


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