Stimming (Self-stimulatory Behaviour / Repetitive Stereotyped Activity) – 1

stimmers (2)

In her seminal book “The Autistic Spectrum” (1996), Lorna Wing, OBE, FRCPsych, described what she identified as Repetitive Stereotyped Activities, to be “the other side of the coin of impairment of imagination” (pg. 45). The Autistic community has come to embrace the term stimming (as the shortened form for self-stimulation), which unfortunately acknowledges only one of Wing’s identified types, the simple ones, as these activities were further categorized as simple and elaborate. As she explains, “the simplest forms of these activities involve repetitive sensations” such as:



-feeling or tapping or scratching different surfaces

-listening to mechanical noises

-staring at lights or shiny things

-twisting and turning hands or objects near the eyes

-staring at things from different angles

-switching lights on and off

-watching things spinning or self-spinning

Sometimes, especially when “someone has no other way of occupying themselves“, self-injury can become a repetitive behaviour.

As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, Stimming vs Fidgeting… I believe there is a fundamental difference between fidgeting and stimming, with stimming as a mainly autism-specific Repetitive Stereotyped Activity.

In an attempt to make this article more ‘user friendly’ I’ve photographed some of my favourite stimmers (a term I use and suggest instead of stim-toys), a small American-football and two different hand strengtheners, one of rubber and the other as a small mechanical contraption, with a fountain pen as a dimension guide.

First of all, allow me to explain why I suggest stimmers. One of the reasons is the unnecessary association with toys in general which automatically follows the use of stim-toys, and the other being an even more unnecessary association with ‘toys’ of a more ‘adult’ nature…

Secondly and probably unknown to many, the word stimmer means in German amongst others tuner, used to tune musical instruments.

Now, as I explained in my  Stimming vs Fidgeting… post, stimming is fundamentally different from fidgeting because it requires the individual’s dedicated attention, and somewhat similar to a tuner, it seems to help the individual tune their sensory, cognitive and behavioural functionality.

For example, you may notice in the picture of my stimmers, that due to their material structure, they have particular surfaces, some smooth and soft such as blue rubber strengthener, rough and soft such as the small brown ball, cold and smooth such as the metal coil, strong smooth such as some parts of the mechanical strengthener or strong and rough such as other parts of it.

One may think that these differences are negligible, which may be the case for fidgeting, but not for stimming, because -at least in my case- the surface structure follows a typical need which cannot be met by any structure, but only specific ones. When I use for example, the blue rubber stimmer, my four thumb opposing fingers automatically seek the comforting ‘feeling’ provided by the four small velvety depressions found on one of its sides, and while the thumb provides support, the other four fingers are becoming anything in between trumpet key dancers and Morse code transmitters, and the choreography is endless.

In an autistic’s hand, an object becomes an objective, an instrument which tunes the complex functionality of the autistic brain, with its unusual capacity to process sensory stimuli in more areas than the specialised neurotypical brains.


A next post will cover the Elaborate Repetitive Stereotyped Activity, or stimming…


10 responses to “Stimming (Self-stimulatory Behaviour / Repetitive Stereotyped Activity) – 1

  1. Thank you for this! Since Ben is not able to fully express himself verbally, I’m often left guessing why he does some of the things he does. He’s not so much into touch but sight & sound are important. Shining lights in his eyes, examining things from different angles, squinching his eyes, sweeping dirt into the air to see it in the sunlight…. I knew these were things he liked but didn’t realize how important they are. Thanks again for the info! 🌻🌴

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Gran, I’m so honoured and glad to be of any help 💐
      I know from personal and professional experience how important each detail becomes when communication is limited, as each of these oftentimes thought of as minor or unimportant actions and/or activities, are in fact means of communication which could be understood. Actually, these details if watched/studied and understood, might reveal unique communication methods and attempts. And yes, some repetitions are meant for the individual’s own needs and purposes, but many could be parts of a highly unique ‘language’ which awaits to be discovered.
      If researchers are becoming more and more aware of an ‘autistic intelligence’ then this intelligence must have a language.
      We just need to be taught, and the best teachers are exactly the unique owners of these unique intellects. 🏆🥇

      Liked by 2 people

      • So much confusion, hurt & frustration could be avoided if we had that language 🙏In the meantime we’ll just keep building our little bridges as best we can💪😍

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well said, both Gran & Moshe! 👏
          It can be frustrating for outsiders who do not understand ‘autistic intelligence/communication’, but I must say sometimes I don’t even understand my own autistic language or I’m not aware of my own communication method and behaviour. By that I mean there are things I do out of habit which I don’t even think or realise is stimming and repetitive behaviour. I considered it so natural I don’t even think about why I’m doing it! To that extent, its about building self-awareness too.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. mshugsandkisses

    Thanks for the insight. I will keep an eye out for anything else you post about stimming. I’m really learning a lot!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Moshe for explaining it in an easy to understand language. I’m also glad you’re breaking it down into different posts, otherwise that would be TMI for my brain to take in. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Stimming Vs Fidgeting – Yinin's Thoughts

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