Wednesday, January 6, 2010

History Of A Stim

For those of you who aren't in the know (you lucky bastards poor uninformed souls) a 'stim' is short for 'self-stimulatory behavior.'

And for those of you who are still wondering what the heck I'm talking about, a self-stimulatory behavior refers to repetitive body movements or repetitive movement of objects often appearing in people with developmental disabilities, but most often in people with autism.

It's not entirely known why people do these stims, but it's thought that they can either calm a person or provide a person with sensory stimulation.  Either way, a stim can quickly go from something your loved one does on occasion to a thing that I like to refer to as 'becoming the soundtrack of your life.'

I'm pretty dramatic at times (I's true!) and have always had my own personal movie soundtrack playing in the background of my everyday comings and goings.  Like Richard Marx's 'Hold Onto the Night' playing in the background of my 14-year-old self as I lamented on the boy I slow danced with at that forbidden teen club...the one I'd never see again after that magical night.  Sigh....

But, alas, I am no longer speaking of such trivialities.  This is for real; a constant, sound and sight-filled extravaganza that has been playing in my household (and even in my own head after M has left the building or gone to sleep) for over six years running now. 

I thought it might be fun to attempt to recall the 'set list' of stims as performed by my boy over the years.  I'm doing this partly for my own documentation, partly for those of you new to this who may be wondering if what your child is doing might be a stim, and partly to make myself attempt a chuckle over some things that have really and truly caused me and the rest of my family a wee bit of mental anguish at times, concern at others, and has, well, possibly contributed to the intake of more wine on certain days.

Let's give it a go, shall we?  (Please note that stims generally have legs of about 4-9 months in my little man's world.  Sometimes they overlap before fading away, and other times one disappears and is replaced by another stim so quickly that I realize I had forgotten to perform my naked, stim-be-gone ritual where I light sage smudges on fire throughout my home and dance to Disney music while simultaneously watching the 'Cars' movie over and over and over again.)  That last part was just to see if you were paying attention :)  In all seriousness, here are the ones I can recall:

1.  The side to side 'no' head shake.

2.  The body stiffening proclamation of 'EEEE!'  (Wasn't that the title of a Mariah Carey album? No??)

3.  Rubbing his feet together at a face pace while making sounds; usually when excited. (This one's never really gone away)

4.  The exersaucer-jump-wildly-up-and-down stim. (Totally didn't realize that's what it was at the time!)

5.  The raspberry stim. (This one was so bad that I remembered telling the other half it was the thing that made me know that something was seriously not right with my child.  Oddly enough, even though I remember what I dubbed it, I cannot exactly recall how it sounded)

6.  The scream.  (

7.  The shirt chew.  (We vividly recalled this period recently when opening up the hand-me-down bin of size threes to B and noted that there were barely any shirts in there!)

8.  The finger chew. (Yuck)

9.  The book, magazine and plastic toy chew.  (Frustrating, especially because books are one of M's only enjoyments)

10.  The book and magazine crumple.

11.  The leather couch chew (Total yuck.  This one has left our couch with delightful small-mouthed teeth marks.  We are very happy we bought this couch on Craigslist!)  *Please note that, YES, we do give M chew tubes, but it has taken us a very long time to get past the irresistible nature of textures other than the chew tube.

...and now we are current with the following two stims...

12.  The scratch-the-walls or scratch-anything-leather stim.  (This one will cost us when we put our home on the market in the near future)

Drumroll, please, as I present to you the grandaddy of all stims...

13.  The high-pitched, sing-songy, every-waking-moment, never-a-space-in-time-without-sound stim!  (This one's a doozie folks!)

So while I've made light out of these here, let's be honest...stims are a very difficult thing for families to tolerate.  But as difficult as they are, I totally get that the sound, lights and movement of everyday life are even more difficult for my child.  I cannot tell you how many times I have said to M that I really and truly wished he could talk to me and tell me what these stims do for him. 

You know how people ask who--past or present--you'd want to sit down and have a conversation with?  I think Jesus and Elvis are generally some of the most popular answers.  Well, for me, it would be M.  To have a conversation with a verbal, lucid and focused M.  Man...wouldn't that be cool?

...Cue The Rolling Stones 'You Can't Always Get What You Want...'


Mama Deb sometimes attempts to be funny even when life is not at This Is My New Normal.




  1. Ah yes the stims. I have an absurdly high tolerance for Wyatt's verbal stims. He also loves, loves, to bang objects together .When he heads outside with his dad there's this blissful second of quiet and then I end up turning on the radio because the quiet is just too abnormal.

  2. Good catalog of stims. Lately I've noticed that if I listen closely to my guy's self-talk, (he's 20) I hear that the last word at the end of the alleged gibberish is a real word about what's going on in the room!

  3. AGH!!!!! My son has stimmed two ways -- and it has NEVER changed. He is either dumping or banging. (Dumping would be taking a million legos and transferring them from bucket to bucket, or taking a million Thomas trains and dumping them from bucket to bucket -- really LOUD objects.) It drives me absolutely batty. I can't handle it. AT ALL. I get overstimulated from his stimming!!!!! So hard for me to tune it out.
    Fortunately for my son and me, though, he is extraordinarily verbal. He can tell me exactly what's going on, which can (sometimes) help me redirect him. Mostly he goes into his own little world -- using all the noise that he creates to drown out whatever it is in the environment or within himself that he doesn't like. He's pretending a lot of the time -- that his dumping or banging represents a story about trains or spaceships or garbage. His stimming is a way for him to escape, and the way he escapes is completely non-sensical to the lexicon I have built inside me. But it makes perfect sense to him.

  4. With 2 sons who are severely autistic and yet polar opposites in their abilities I see some very interesting stims.
    Sam, who is going to be 7 this month, has run the gamut of stims. The ones that have stood the test of time (meaning he has done them since infancy and still does to this day) are banging/ drumming rhythmically on everything around him CONSTANTLY and jumping up and down waving his hands. The one I am most thankful he is now done with is the chewing on his shirts. I went through over a hundred shirts in under a years time. For awhile I had a ministry that was donating me boxes and boxes of shirts for him just so I could keep the boy clothed from the waist up. For that entire year most of my photos of him are with no shirt on. Lately he has entered the 'I am going to strip off all my clothes and stand around stark raving naked' stim. Lovely.
    Noah, who will be 5 in March, has the "EEEEEEE" stim down pat. He will run back and forth through the hallway screaming that at the top of his lungs. Between that and the jumping up in the air and coming down on his knees that literally shakes the condo building I am not sure how I have maintained my sanity. Noah also loves spinning in the air like a little whirling dervish. He is really quite funny to watch...and dizzying.

  5. OMG, I thought I was the only one who named stims!
    Kayla's had the "flamenco" stim, and the "Stevie Wonder" stim.
    Her stimming is almost always accompanied by some musical flashing toy. Not sure if it's the music or lights that send her stimming.
    She's got a new stim now, where she twists at the waist really quickly, hair flying, while stiffening her fingers. Haven't figured out a name for it yet. Here's a picture of her, mid stim:

  6. Ugh... after your mention of the "raspberry stim", I've realized that my two year old's "habit" of spitting when he's in his car seat, stroller, or a shopping cart is a stim. He has others that are much more obvious - this one I had thought was just him acting out. But he only does it when he's in the same situation, and he always seems unable to control it. I've always scolded him for it, and now I'm just feeling bad. :(

  7. My daughter has FAS and stims by tapping objects in a rhythmic beat repeatedly.
    We distract her, do deep breathing to calm and try to get her involved in some exercise that will defuse her.
    As a movement therapist, we have tried many techniques to direct her energies in a positive direction. My husband thought humor would help and began to tap alongside her on whatever object he picked up, but I discouraged that.
    please check out how Professor Feuerstein, a cognitive psychologist has had so many successes at tweaking brain activity on my blog, and maybe the stimming can pass.