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Autistic stimming

Autistic stimming is a term used to describe the self-stimulatory behaviours that many autistic people engage in, such as rocking, flapping, spinning or tapping (Kapp et al., 2019). Stimming may serve various functions for autistic people, such as regulating emotions, coping with sensory sensitivities, expressing feelings or communicating with others (Charlton et al., 2023; Kapp et al., 2019; Nwaordu & Charlton, 2023).

Stimming is often misunderstood or stigmatised by non-autistic people, who may see it as abnormal, disruptive or indicative of low intelligence (Kapp et al., 2019; Conn, 2015). However, many autistic people value stimming as a positive and adaptive aspect of their identity and experience, and oppose attempts to eliminate or control it (Kapp et al., 2019; Stewart, 2015). Stimming may also enhance self-efficacy, which is the belief in one’s ability to cope with difficulties, especially when autistic people are able to stim freely and without judgement (Nwaordu & Charlton, 2023).

Stimming is a term used by autistic people to describe repetitive sensory-motor behaviours that they engage in for various reasons, such as self-regulation, communication or expression (Kapp et al., 2019). Stimming can include actions like hand flapping, rocking, spinning, tapping, humming or biting (Nwaordu & Charlton, 2023). Stimming is often associated with sensory sensitivity, which is the tendency to experience sensory stimuli more intensely or differently than typical people (APA, 2013). Stimming can help autistic people cope with sensory overload, stress, anxiety, excitement or boredom (Charlton et al., 2021; Kapp et al., 2019).

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Stimming is not necessarily a negative or harmful behaviour, as some clinical perspectives may suggest. Rather, stimming can have positive effects for autistic people, such as increasing their self-efficacy, well-being and happiness (Nwaordu & Charlton, 2023; Kapp et al., 2019). Stimming can also be a way of expressing one’s identity, emotions or preferences (Kapp et al., 2019). However, stimming may not be socially accepted or understood by non-autistic people, who may perceive it as odd, distracting or inappropriate (Kapp et al., 2019; Nwaordu & Charlton, 2023). Therefore, some autistic people may feel the need to hide or suppress their stimming in certain situations, which can have negative consequences for their mental health and quality of life (Charlton et al., 2021; Kapp et al., 2019).

Stimming is a complex and diverse phenomenon that varies across individuals and contexts. It is important to respect and support autistic people’s stimming behaviours, as they are part of their natural and adaptive way of being in the world. Stimming should not be eliminated or controlled without the consent and input of the autistic person, as it may deprive them of a valuable coping mechanism and a source of joy and comfort.

The Double Empathy problem

The Double Empathy problem is a theory that suggests that non-autistic people struggle to empathise with autistic people due to differences in language, cognition and social context. It was first coined by Damian Milton, an autistic autism researcher, in 2012 (Milton, 2012). The theory challenges the dominant psychological theories that assume that autism is a disorder of social interaction and communication, and that autistic people have impaired theory of mind or empathy. Instead, it proposes that the difficulties in social understanding are mutual and bidirectional, and that autistic people can communicate and empathise well with other autistic people (Sheppard et al., 2016; Heasman & Gillespie, 2018; Sasson et al., 2017). The theory has implications for practice, such as respecting autistic people’s rights and reducing stigma.

References

APA. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Publishing.

Charlton, R. A., Nwaordu, G., Elliott, D., Elphick, C., Pellicano, E., & Russell, G. (2021). “I don’t want to be seen as different”: A qualitative study of autistic adults’ views on stimming. Autism in Adulthood. https://doi.org/10.1089/aut.2020.0094

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Charlton, G. N., & Charlton, R. A. (2023). Repetitive behaviours in autistic and non-autistic adults: Associations with sensory sensitivity and impact on self-efficacy. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-023-06133-0

Conn, C. (2015). ‘Sensory highs’, ‘vivid rememberings’ and ‘interactive stimming’: Children’s play cultures and experiences of friendship in autistic autobiographies. Disability & Society, 30(8), 1192–1206. https://doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2015.1081094

Heasman, B., & Gillespie, A. (2018). perspective-taking is two-sided: Misunderstandings between people with Asperger’s syndrome and their family members. Autism, 22(6), 740-750.

Kapp, S. K., Steward, R., Crane, L., Elliott, D., Elphick, C., Pellicano, E., & Russell, G. (2019). ‘People should be allowed to do what they like’: Autistic adults’ views and experiences of stimming. Autism, 23(7), 1782–1792. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361319829628

Milton, D. E. (2012). On the ontological status of autism: the ‘double empathy problem’. Disability & Society, 27(6), 883-887.

Sasson, N. J., Faso, D. J., Nugent, J., Lovell, S., Kennedy, D. P., & Grossman, R. B. (2017). Neurotypical peers are less willing to interact with those with autism based on thin slice judgements. Scientific reports, 7(1), 1-11.

Sheppard, E., Pillai, D., Wong, G. T., Ropar, D., & Mitchell, P. (2016). How easy is it to read the minds of people with autism spectrum disorder? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46(4), 1247-1254.

Nwaordu, G., & Charlton, R. A. (2023). Repetitive behaviours in autistic and non-autistic adults: Associations with sensory sensitivity and impact on self-efficacy. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-023-06133-0

Stewart, R. (2015). The independent woman’s handbook for super safe living on the autistic spectrum. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

 

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