How to Stim

Five Methods:Stimming in GeneralVisual and AuditoryTaste and SmellTouch and ProprioceptiveVestibular Stims

Are you diagnosed with autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, or another disability? Are you looking to build a repertoire of stims to stay focused and feel good? This article outlines some of the many, many different kinds of stims that you can use when you get the urge.

Method 1
Stimming in General

Stimming is a form of moving or fidgeting that stimulates the senses.

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    Know what purposes stimming can serve. Stimming has many different benefits, and everyone does it to some extent. (Ever seen a non-disabled person tap their foot or twirl their hair?) It can be especially important for disabled people, who may find it helps them...
    • Stay calm
    • Concentrate
    • Cope with discomfort or pain
    • Prevent meltdowns
    • Express emotions
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    Decide what you are and aren't comfortable with. Some stims are more subtle or unusual than others are. Some may be considered "socially inappropriate." Consider which individuals are more accepting than others, and whether you care about conformity or not.[1]
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    Develop a repertoire of stims. This way, you have choices when you get the urge to stim. It's good to know a variety of both discreet and obvious stims, so that you can pick whatever fits your desires and situation.
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    Be polite with your stims. Do not use stims that are highly disruptive or involve touching people without their consent. Disability is not an excuse to cross other people's boundaries.
    • Use subtle/moderate stims (e.g. chewing gum rather than loud echolalia) when people are concentrating, such as during a lecture or exam.
    • Step outside to stim a little if you need to.
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    Recognize that people may be more respectful than you think. The autism acceptance movement (which includes talk of stimming) is gaining traction in the public eye, and people are becoming more open to others' differences.
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    Never let social rules interfere with your needs. Sometimes stimming is just for fun or for an optional boost in concentration, but other times, it is a real need. Do not put your needs aside just because other people might judge you.
    • People tend to care less than you might think.
    • It is absolutely okay to stim in public for any reason—for fun, for concentration, for staving off meltdowns, or for whatever. Do what makes you comfortable.[2]
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    Remember that there is nothing wrong with stimming or being yourself. Stimming is a symptom of disability, just like a wheelchair or the unique facial features associated with Down Syndrome. It is okay to be disabled in public, and do not let judgmental people make you feel ashamed.[3][4]

Method 2
Visual and Auditory

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    Look at ordinary objects that move repetitively. Fans, car wheels, and washing machines all make repetitive motions.
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    Buy or create stim toys. Plenty of fidgets and desk toys involve some sort of moving patterns.
    • Snow globes
    • Lava lamps
    • Mobiles (A mobile of planets is considered socially acceptable for older ages.)
    • Glitter jar (made from water, glitter glue, food coloring, and glitter)
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    Look at nature. Watch the wind move long grass or leaves in trees. If nature isn't easily available to you, look up calming nature videos on the internet. Even 30 seconds of watching a video of long grass can help you feel relaxed.
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    Find repetitive animations on the internet. These can feel very calming. Many follow a specific pattern, which can be pleasing for autistic people whose brains are optimized for systematizing.
    • The "Mesmerizing Gifs" thread on reddit contains plenty of gifs.[5]
    • Be careful about gifs if you have epilepsy.
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    Play with light. Try messing with a flashlight, lighting fireworks, or flickering the light in a room (if no one else is there).
    • Try moving colored paper or translucent objects over flashlights to see cool colors and patterns.
    • Download light- and pattern-related games onto your mobile device, such as a firework-generating app.
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    Make repetitive motions with your hands. This can provide gentle stimulation to help you in overwhelming situations.
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    Watch videos of people spinning. Sometimes parents or friends of autistic people will make adorable videos of them spinning around, and the autistic people will post them online.
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    Sing or hum a tune. This is socially acceptable in most environments, and it lets you have a pleasant song in your head for the next few hours.
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    Repeat words and phrases out loud (echolalia).[6] Unfortunately, echolalia is not considered socially acceptable in most areas, so you may want to limit this to places that feel comfortable and safe.
    • Repeat things that you need to remember, such as material from your exam study guide.
    • Repeat something nice someone said to you.
    • Repeat something you read.

Method 3
Taste and Smell

The mouth and nose are associated with food and can be powerful for self-calming. These stims can be especially helpful when you are stressed or tired.

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    Chew gum or suck on a lollipop. Carrying these around can be useful to quickly address stress or focus issues. They are especially helpful if you tend to bite your nails or put non-food objects in your mouth—as soon as you notice what you're doing, stick some gum in your mouth instead.
    • Sugar free gum will not cause cavities.
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    Consider wearing chewy jewelry. These can have the same effect as gum and candies, and are more portable. While most companies market them to children, a few (such as Stim Tastic) are also for adults and teens.
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    Carry a small piece of sweet-smelling lotion, soap, or essential oils. Pick a scent that is especially calming to you. When stressed, take a sniff and count to ten.

Method 4
Touch and Proprioceptive

Proprioceptive stims provide deep touch, which has a calming and centering effect on the body. Regular tactile stims are related to texture.

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    Wear soft or breezy clothing. You can rub your sleeves or feel the silky fabric of your scarf as you are sitting at your desk. Try fleece and microfiber for special softness.
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    Hold or rub things with pleasing textures. Try rubber pencil grips, smooth stones, and jewelry with cool textures.
    • At age 12-ish and under, you can get away with carrying a soft stuffed animal. At college and under, it's common to have stuffed animals in your room.
    • Petting an animal is considered acceptable at all ages.
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    Buy stim toys. The possibilities of tactile stim toys are endless. Many are available at special needs stores, and more are sold as "fidgets" to office workers. Here are some examples of tactile stim toys:
    • Stress balls and rubber sea urchins
    • Tangles
    • Chains of key rings
    • Slinkies
    • Coil bracelets or beaded bracelets (works best with big beads with little spacers; see illustration)
    • Balloon filled with a fistful of flour
    • ...and much more
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    For deep pressure, use a weighted blanket or lap pad. A large beanbag will also suffice. Leave it on top of you as you sit or sleep for improved focus and calm.
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    Place a pillow on your lap or body. Then place something heavy (e.g. a dictionary) on top of it. The pillow will distribute the weight more evenly on your body, mimicking the effects of a weighted lap pad.
    • This works if you can't afford a lap pad, or if you are in a pinch.
    • When piling things on your chest, make sure that you can lift them off, or that there are people around to help you if not.
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    Wear a weighted vest or heavy leather jacket. These will provide subtle deep pressure as you go about your day.
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    Squeeze yourself. Squeeze your hands tightly, rub your legs, massage your shoulders, and move your hands firmly over your arms. These subtle stims will provide deep pressure as you need it.
    • A surgical brush can also be used for deep pressure.
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    Ask a loved one for a bear hug. Not only will you feel the soothing effects of deep pressure, but it will be from someone you love.

Method 5
Vestibular Stims

The body's vestibular system is responsible for processing movement.

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    Switch out your chair for an exercise ball. You can bounce, rock, and adjust while doing your daily work. It is also easier to take breaks for excited stimming.
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    Use trampolines and swings. Both of these can be indoors or outdoors. (See special needs stores for indoor swings.)
    • Small trampolines are portable and can be leaned against a wall for storage.
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    Find natural ways to move during a conversation.
    • Rock in a rocking chair
    • Bounce on an exercise ball
    • Pace
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    Get a vibrating stuffed animal. When pressed, they will shake and provide vestibular input. These can be especially helpful for bedtime stimming.
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    Flap your hands, shake your leg, or wave your arms. Many autistic/disabled people do this instinctively, and it can help with processing surprises, handling challenging experiences, or expressing emotion.
    • If you flap your hands/arms, people will usually be able to tell you are disabled. Whether this is good or bad is for you to decide.
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    Spin around in circles. Use a swivel chair, or stand up and spin. This is good for informal situations, outdoors, or at home.
    • Watch for obstacles such as sharp corners.
    • This is especially fun in a long skirt or dress.

Tips

  • Remember that you never need to apologize for being disabled in public. You are wonderful and lovable the way you are.
  • Ask autistic and disabled people for more ideas on how to stim.
  • Be yourself. Not all of the stimming methods might work, so take time to look for one that might work on helping your focus. There will be a way for you to focus.
  • An incredibly subtle Proprioceptive stim anyone might find useful, is to place your finger in the middle of a nice, big, thick book and close the cover. Everyone thinks you're marking your place, and maybe you are, but you may also be getting a pleasant pressure on your finger. Some people fall asleep reading in bed just like this!

Warnings

  • Don't start using stims that could cause harm. Examples include biting nails, scratching or picking skin, and pulling hair. These can become very difficult to quit.
  • Be careful when researching alternative stims online. Many articles speak of extinguishing stimming as the goal, and present a view of autism that can be very depressing for autistic people. Try to search mainly in the autistic community.

Article Info

Categories: Stimming and Sensory Issues | Attention and Developmental Disorders