Autism: Understanding Our Behaviours

From an illustrative point of view, stiming seems to be the obvious answer to “how do I draw autism?” as it is a behaviour that presents it self visually. This has been a really difficult decision for me to go through as personally I used to stim a lot as a child when I was excited or found it comforting but I hardly do it anymore unless I’m on my own; I’ve learnt to mask that behaviour which is quite an upsetting thought for me as stiming made me feel calm and safe. On the other hand as a teenager and adult I have stimed in an unhealthy way and have needed support to deal with my behaviour. On the one hand I think it is an important topic and obviously I want raise awareness and help as much as I can but I really want to talk to other people about their experiences as well so I can give a more accurate representation overall not just my story. Anyway, in this post I’ll be going over stiming and hopefully helping you to understand why we stim.

What is Stiming?

Stiming is described as self-stimulating or regulating behaviour. It is used to sooth and express oneself. This behaviour manifests in a number of ways (generally speaking) throughout this range:

  • ‘flapping’ hands
  • finger flicking
  • repetition of words or sounds
  • heavy blinking
  • rocking of the whole body
  • spinning
  • repeatedly feeling textures

These types of stiming are done when someone is happy, out of excitement or to comfort and sooth themselves like I used to. Some autistic people are Sensory Seekers and mainly stim from sensory input whilst others like myself are Sensory Avoiders. My best friend is a sensory seeker and she needs to have a range of sensory input throughout the day (visual/audio/vestibular/properceptive) because she enjoys it and stims. However if she she has too much input from one she feels overwhelmed and stims or if she experiences too much input at once it feels like her body shuts down. I am a sensory avoider, the opposite of my best friend, which means I don’t need that much input, I have a lower sensory threshold, so personally I stim to comfort myself.

Other ways of stiming are:

  • Hitting ourselves with our hands, including our heads sometimes with objects or against hard surfaces)
  • Bitting/Scratching ourselves
  • Tearing or pulling our hair
  • Picking our skin
  • Self-harm behaviors such as cutting, burning, stabbing, etc.
  • Biting or scratching ourselves at a continuous, low-intensity

These are examples of when the stimulus has to be removed and the behaviour redirected, this is a well known strategy that works when you have identified triggers and warning signs that cause destructive behaviour so you can avoid it. Harmful stiming behaviour is usually caused because of the following:

  • Using pain as a distraction (Coping Mechanism)
  • Seeking sensory stimulation
  • Trying to communicate

I can not stress how important finding a safe alternative is, wether you are a carer or an autistic person you should think about what is achieved by the behaviour, what is stimulated? For example hitting gives the sensation of deep pressure, the safe alternative to this can be a weighted blanket. It is also good to make a log or tracking diary of how you feel, what is around you and any changes in routine to help you identify triggers.

As I have mentioned I am sensory avoider and in my personal case much of my distress is caused emotionally by the social and communication and executive functioning aspects of autism and so replacing my destructive stiming habits with safe ones does work, removing the stimulus does not always solve the problem so I would recommend CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) self help books are available but you can also be referred to professionals by your GP.

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