important things: everybody stims

I wrote this once. I am posting it here because I feel it strongly. Also because it’s important for understanding a lot of misconceptions about results in autism research, and suchness.

People often stim as a self-soothing tactic. It can be something we do because it just makes us calm or happy, but for many people, it’s also stress response. In fact, it’s actually a universal example of a stress response. As in, it is a type of behavior that virtually all humans display when they are under stress–the level of stress they have to be under before they stim, and the way their stims express, just vary a lot.

That’s not all, though. Almost every other animal species I can think of also engages in self-stimulatory behavior in response to stress. It’s a way that an animal can create predictable and coherent patterns in their sensory information, to help counteract an environment that feels unpredictable and stressful. So whenever you see any science article, or scientist, reporting that they have created “autistic mice” or “autistic zebrafish” or “autistic fruit flies” or whatever, because the animals display “repetitive, self-stimulatory behavior”? They’re basically just saying “I made mice/zebrafish/flies that are experiencing a lot of physical or emotional stress, and are trying to self-regulate.”

When people talk about stimming as a strange, inexplicable, pathological, solely-autistic kind of behavior, they’re saying “The only way to explain all this weird stuff these people are doing is to say ‘they have this diagnostic label.’” Because, for them, attributing behavior to “autism” is the opposite of attributing behavior to like, a person’s emotions, feelings, or stress. This a really dangerous kind of thinking. It is dehumanizing.

It’s important to say “all people stim” because when you say that, you’re also saying “stimming is something people do.” And that’s another way of saying that “the first reason people stim is because they are people.”

The first reason everybody stims is because everybody is a person.

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3 thoughts on “important things: everybody stims

  1. Excellent point that animals stim too… That’s something I have noticed too (I have worked with farm animals – especially pigs, quite a lot many years ago, and am interested in canine body language and other types of animal communications & behaviours). I really like what you say here:

    So whenever you see any science article, or scientist, reporting that they have created “autistic mice” or “autistic zebrafish” or “autistic fruit flies” or whatever, because the animals display “repetitive, self-stimulatory behavior”? They’re basically just saying “I made mice/zebrafish/flies that are experiencing a lot of physical or emotional stress, and are trying to self-regulate.”

    Precisely.

  2. Hi Emma! Love your blog. I’m a NT, and I definitely stim when I have to do an unpleasant task. I use it as a tool, actually. When I have to do a task that is causing me stress, I stock up on chewing gum, which I then chomp my way through, kind of like a chain smoker would do. I need the stimulation of chewing on the gum to keep myself focused on the task.

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