Stimming is a natural human thing to do. We often rock a baby to offer comfort, and people enjoy sitting in rocking chairs and swings. Sometimes people will rock gently back and forth while sitting or standing.
Other ways people stim are jiggling a foot, twirling hair, clicking a pen, or drumming their fingers on a table. Some people bite their fingernails or chew on a straw or pencil.
All of the above are considered to be “normal” ways to self-sooth when feeling stressed, anxious, bored, or otherwise agitated. It might surprise people to call these activities “stimming” – a term often associated with autism.
Examples of stimming that are granted less social acceptance include waving or “flapping” one’s hands, or suddenly clapping to release energy; rocking with larger motions; hugging oneself with or without tapping one’s hands on the upper arms; or needing a weighted blanket or coat.
Meanwhile, therapists will often encourage trauma survivors to hug themselves or hug a pillow to them to put slight pressure on the sternum and upper abdomen. They also teach about “tapping” — Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) — which can look like hugging oneself and tapping on the upper arms. Also, weighted blankets have grown in popularity as people begin to associate them with a heavy quilt, which helps many people sleep better.
What is considered normal or acceptable is usually little more than a social construct. Sometimes people who are stimming in public will gain unwanted attention. However, it’s important for a person to have effective self-soothing techniques, which often includes one or more of the above stimming examples. It can vary by individual as to what strategies are most effective.
The above is an excerpt from the Sensory World class, available as stand-alone or as part of the Parent Empowerment Project.