Alex Lowery speaks about autism

Why Stimming is a big part of my life

Written on 24th Apr 2013 by Alex Lowery
Alex 'stimmimg' in my living room.

Alex ‘stimmimg’ in his living room.


In this article, I’m talking about one aspect of autism, which is a huge part of my life and that is ‘Stimming’. Stimming is short for ‘self-stimulating behavior’. It’s basically some strange movements that people on the autistic spectrum do. Movements like hand flapping, rocking back and forth, spinning round in circles, and many other movements. This is something that pretty much all-autistic people do. The thing is; a lot of people who don’t have autism don’t understand why autistic people stim. They may make comments like, “Why does he keep flapping his hands like that?” Why doesn’t he just stop doing it?” Today, I’m going to be talking about what I’m thinking when I’m stimming, why I personally stim, and why I cannot help but do so. I originally wrote this article for Arman Kody’s site ‘Empower autism now’. You can view the original article here.

Parents educators and Psycologsits are still trying to stop children from ‘stimmimg’ I believe it is good to be taught how to manage ‘stimming’ but trying to stop it altogether is harmful and shows no understanding of the reasons why people like me ‘stim’. This article will help to explain why I stim and why it should never be stopped. Some people seem to think that if you can get rid of the outward behaviours of autism you get rid of autism. This is just not true.

When I’m stimming, I’m usually quite simply thinking about things. I may be thinking about exciting things that have happened in the past. I’ll be keeping loads of things that have been said to me in my head, and it’s a bit like my minds a video recorder. I’ll listen to what people will have said, and then I’ll imagine seeing them again, replaying these memories in my mind, and while I’m dong all of this, I’m stimming. I can’t really do it without making the movements. However, it only ever happens with things that have been said that are of interest to me. Other stuff completely by-passes me, and it’s as if I didn’t even hear it.

I may also be playing things in my head that didn’t really happen, but I’m imagining that they did. I may be a re-playing thing that I’ve seen in film’s, or in documentaries. I have an interest in fantasy stories like the Lord of the Rings, the Chronicles of Narnia and Star Wars, and when I’m stimming; I may be imagining that I’m a character in one of those worlds.

I may also stim quite simply because I’m excited. If there’s something which I’m really looking forward to, or if something happens, which may be of interest to me, I’ll stim, but if I’m in the public of people I don’t know very well, I try to control my stims to the best of my ability.

Stimming is also something, which helps me focus on the things that I’m interested in. A lot of the things that I’m good at like my knowledge of autism (so therefore my gift for public speaking on autism) wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my Stimming.

When I was little, many people tried to teach me not to stim. My teacher in school tried to stop me from Stimming, and when I had therapy; my therapists tried to stop me from Stimming for a little while, but the fact is; I’ve never been able to stop Stimming. I’ve actually tried and it isn’t possible. It’s like OCD in the sense that it’s unavoidable, but as I said, it helps me to focus on things that I’m interested in, so therefore a lot of the things which I’m good at, I wouldn’t be good at if I didn’t stim.

Now, you’re probably thinking that I think Stimming is a really good thing to have, but the fact is that there are still negatives. Even though it helps me focus on the stuff that I’m interested in, it interferes with my focus on the things that I’m not interested in. For example: when I was being given school work, and being taught about the second world war, I kept getting distracted and couldn’t concentrate, because I was busy thinking about other things, stimming over them, and that is one rather big problem.

Another problem is that people who don’t know about autism aren’t going to be very accepting of people stimming. It could make autistic people a bigger target for bullying, or it could make people think that you’re having a seizure or something, (which has happened to me).

So the question is, is Stimming wrong? There are good things about it and bad things, but I still believe that it is not wrong, and should not be stopped. It helps people with autism have the gifts they do, it helps cope with stress and anxiety for a lot of people on the spectrum and it’s also (speaking for me personally) just a part of my life. Now; please note that even though I think it shouldn’t be stopped; that doesn’t mean I don’t think it should be controlled to a degree in my case. When I was little, I stimmed pretty much all day every day, and it did really interfere with functioning. I would not have learnt everyday things at all. I have had therapy to control my stimming to a degree, and I’m glad I’ve had that. I think that in order for me to get, as much out of life as possible, it needs to be controlled to a degree. If mine weren’t controlled, I’d likely still be doing it all day. Even though (in my case) it should be controlled, I believe every person on the spectrum should still be able to have his or her own time to Stim. Some of the autistic people I’ve heard about who managed to completely stop stimming have a lot of severe anxiety, which I believe partly comes from not Stimming, because they don’t have that way of de-stressing.

Thank you for reading. I hope it helped.

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Are obsessive interests bad.

 A short animation about ‘stimming can be found here

17 thoughts on “Why Stimming is a big part of my life

  1. MaFt says:

    Thank you. Very interesting reading that. My son is 9 and struggles to explain why he does things like his stimming, but we’ve been taught that it’s a ‘release’ and should be left but, like you say, kept under control.

    It’s good to hear your side of it and what goes through your mind. Thanks!

  2. Carol Detheridge says:

    Very interesting piece Alex – I hope it will help people better understand the behaviour of people with autism.

  3. Deborah says:

    Really interesting Alex, thanks for sharing what stimming means to you. When my son stims I find it makes me quite anxious as I take it as an outward sign of his anxiety, so it’s helpful to understand that it may actually be helping him to cope with stress too.

  4. Candice says:

    Thanks Alex for sharing your perspective. I’ve often wondered what my 8 year old daughter is thinking, while she is stimming. She’s not able to communicate fully and tell me – and you just have. Thanks, I shall be sharing your article with friends and family. x

  5. lucie dixon says:

    Hi. I was wondering about your views on self destructive stimming? My five year old grandson bites his hand and had rough skin on his hand from biting quite hard and quite often. He also flaps his hands on other occasions, should i discourage the biting but allow/ignore the hand flapping? Thanks.

    • Alex Lowery says:

      I have hurt myself stimming but mainly by rocking too much and pulling a muscle or flapping a hand in my eye. Are you talking about head banging? I would try to see if your Grandson is in pain. I would use distraction if he is hurting himself.

  6. Nicola Simmons says:

    My 13 year old stims a lot, we have agreed he can stim in his room only but whenever he needs to, not because it bothers me but its the bullying and targetting that worries me. He also scripts a lot of the time but is learning to regulate himself.

  7. Angela says:

    Yes my 30year old stepson Stims but we have noticed like you say he only does it when he is either interested in something though he never stims when eating for instance which is his greatest passion. We have noticed that he will stim. If we talk to each other to distract us as well as distracting himself when slightly anxious i.e. left to stand alone for a while. I do accept that it has a place . We encourage him to make that place his bedroom and to use speech in other situations , though if he stims on a dance floor I think that is a acceptable. My major concern is one thAt you highlight I don’t want him to be attacked because he stims in the wrong place. Also it is quite dangerous if he flaps near hot food or people carrying it and all those other situations.

  8. lexi says:

    thanks for explaining – very helpful, my son is 11 and re-enacts movies/cartoons every day (often during add break), knows it looks strange so does it in back yard or empty room if raining.

    • Alex Lowery says:

      I’m the same when it comes to re-enacting things from films, etc.

      • Dangel Dudek says:

        Hi Alex,

        I have never heard sone one so accurately describe my stimming behavior. I am 36 and have always “shaked my stick”. I have never been able to figure out why I do it, but I have always described it as “playing a movie in my head”, where most of the time I am the lead role and I am “the star athlete/musician, etc.” It’s not always about me and it is a character I have made up.

        I am just now starting to get to the bottom of these things since I now have a daughter that flaps a straw in her hand and princes around on her toes talking to herself about princesses and tea parties”..

        I have never thought myself to be autistic although I am learning that some of the difficulties such as anxiety/depression/addiction and social difficulties could very well be related to some autistic tendencies.

        I always did fairly well in school and my parents never sought help for me. I found myself (and still do ) bored a lot and I still stimming late at night as I have always been self-conscious about it as far as I can remember. The only difference is can note is that as I became self-aware, I was always able to stop doing it. I even stopped for 4 years while at college. When I came home, I went right back to doing it..

        I am worried about my daughter as she is exhibiting more detrimental signs then just stimming. However I am definitely wondering if I am tiptoing on the spectrum as an extremely high functioning autistic myself. I have managed to complete my bachelor’s and hold a job for 15 years.. (was just recently fired though)

        I have always had many struggles in my life with certain things and have always considered myself in a constant state of suffering with terrible anxiety and depression. If this is all related, I’m hopeful it will help lead me get treatment that works because nothing seems tobased far as typical medications.. your description of stimming was the first I have seen that detailed a similar state of mind to what I experience when I do it. The

        Sorry for the diatribe, but I really enjoyed the read!


  9. Kim says:

    My son is six. I let him stim whenever and wherever he wants. The only time he can’t is when he’s working at school or doing therapy because it gets in the way of him learning . He gets lots of breaks in between though.

  10. Karen says:

    Thank you so much for writing this and giving your personal point if view and experience. You’re helping bring awareness to an important subject. Best wishes!

  11. Smith4130 says:

    Thank you.

  12. Rachel says:

    I don’t normally write comments on blog posts but I would just like to say thank you for this article. Honestly i’ve never heard about the word “stim” before until today when I was browsing the web and I have read several articles about it so far, but yours is one of the several ones that I understand the most. Thanks!

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Organisations Alex has worked with

  • Autism Cymru
  • Chester University
  • Glyndwr University
  • National Autistic Society
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  • Welsh Government

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