Stimming is a repetitive behaviour. Often it seems inappropriate, odd or useless to neurotypical people (people who don’t have Autism, or any other difference in how they function). It’s often discussed as a problem behaviour to be fixed, or something that anxious parents hope their children will grow out of. I’m 23. I stim.
The reason for stimming is not always the same. One of the many possible reasons is anxiety. Like people who bite their nails when they worry, or fiddle with their jewelry. Anxiety stimming is just an outlet for a kind of nervous energy, or a distraction from whatever the anxiety is about. Usually accompanied by a wary, scared, look, and heavy breathing. My anxiety stimming is usually repetitive use of a mechanism, for example opening and closing a sandwich clip or carabiner.
Soothing is pretty much analogous to a small child reaching for a pacifier. It’s the calming, comforting actions that are brought out either to make sad feelings go away or just as part of a settling-down routine. Thumb-sucking, rubbing against a preferred texture or squeezing into small spaces.
Excitement. Just being so overwhelmed by happy or excited energy that you just have to move! Jumping up and down and flapping just gives all of that excitement somewhere to go.
Not all stimming behaviours are harmless, though. A few can be harmful, and quite upsetting to watch. Scratching, chewing, headbanging and other self-harm behaviours are, in my experience, indicators of extreme frustration. This can be a frustration at not being able to do something, or communicate something, or it can be a more anxious frustration at being in an uncomfortable situation you can’t get out of. Sometimes it can be because of sensory overload. One I experience frequently with sensory overload, or just with being upset, is that my skin itches all over. I’m not scratching deliberately to hurt myself, but the stress of the situation I’m in, or the emotions I’m feeling make my skin feel like there are insects crawling all over me.
So that’s stimming as I experience it, or as other people on the spectrum have described it to me. Stimming behaviours likely differ from person to person, but they’re not all bad, and can offer a helpful insight into how someone on the spectrum is feeling.