It was shamefully late in life that I realized that, not only is stimming incredibly common in people with ADHD (although almost all neurotypical people also engage in stimming behaviors occasionally), but that I have been stimming my entire life.
The stereotype is hand-flapping, right? We all know about hand-flapping and rocking, most commonly associated with autistic individuals (though when I’m feeling incredibly stressed out and frustrated, I’ve noticed I also hand-flap and rock), though that is far from the only stim out there. Those two are likely examples of a vestibular and propioceptive stims, but there are also tactile, visual, auditory, taste, and smell stims.
I would bet money that anyone reading this has engaged in a stimming behavior at some point — probably some of you right now. You might rock in your chair, click your pen, bounce your leg — these are all stimming behaviors. I myself have been a monster leg bouncer my whole life — my mom still likes to bring up the time I was a contestant at the city-wide Spelling Bee when I was 13, and while I was onstage my leg was bouncing so hard she claimed it was making her dizzy. I hadn’t even realized I had been doing it.
But there are probably stims that I have had — and other neurodivergent people have — that are less common among the neurotypical population. I was also, for example, a repetitive blinker, which is exactly what it sounds like — I would blink, and blink, and squeeze my eyes shut, and blink, and squeeze my eyes, and, etc. etc. — which I did for at least a year in my youth, and compulsively washed — and smelled — my hands. I would use specifically scented products (usually shampoos), washing my hands with them, and then smell them, over and over. In both of these cases, I would estimate I was between 9 and 11 years old.
I was known, as a kid, for wearing out cassette tapes due to repetitive listening (ahh, the youth who will never know the horror of realizing the audio to your favorite song was warping from over-play), which maybe isn’t so, so unusual except for two things: first, when I say repetitive listening, I mean over a dozen times per listening “session.” Like, I didn’t listen to the song a couple of times on repeat, I played it and rewound and played it and rewound and played it and rewound, over and over. And secondly, it wasn’t always full songs. When I finally found an audio player that allowed you to choose a start and end time for an audio loop, it was a God-send, because I could loop parts of songs. Maybe it was an overture to a piece; maybe it was the chorus. Sometimes it was only one or two sung lines, or a short vocalization. But I would listen to it, over and over again.
It’s amazing when I think about it; I honestly never gave a second thought to any of my behaviors (even though people, especially my parents, would sometimes call me out or make fun of my for them), but when I started researching ADHD and stimming in earnest, I realized I’d spent a huge chunk of my life… friggin stimming. I think, now, as an adult, I do it somewhat less, or at the very least I have reduced the number of regular stims I resort to.
Nowadays, it’s down to three major ones. One is something I have trouble explaining. It’s almost like… like I’m trying to force a shiver? Or, if you’re my sister, she called it “flapping my] chicken wings,” which, honestly, isn’t entirely unfair. It’s a full-body stim that I still do if I’m starting to get restless with a project (but know I can’t get up and walk away), or if I’m preparing for something I’ve been highly anticipating. It’s a long standing stim left over from my childhood, from so young that I honestly can’t think of a time when I didn’t do it.
The second is pacing. I’ve talked a little bit about mild maladaptive daydreaming; when I listen to music, I pace and daydream, to the point where I mouth conversations, and mirror facial expressions from my daydreams; essentially, I emote along with my fantasies while pacing. The internet assures me that there are other neurodivergent folks out there who do this, but I caught a lot of crap for this when I was young. It’s still something I do on an almost daily basis.
The third is a newer one for me, but that might just be because I don’t remember a time when sources were so readily available, but I visually stim. I did some of it when I was younger as well, watching and rewatching snippets — sometimes as short as ten or fifteen seconds — of footage from things because they brought me a pleasure or a calm I couldn’t explain (the one that most readily comes to mind is a brief moment in Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, there’s a moment where Frollo is singing to Quasimodo, and… I don’t know, I used to watch and rewatch it all the time, over and over (link is the clip! From 0.20s until 0.38s was what I’d rewatch with the most frequency). Now my visual stims take the form of repetitive YouTube videos, examples of which I’ll link below for your viewing pleasure (or curiosity, whichever).
And of course, none of this even touches on the daily “fidgeting” I do — my classroom literally cannot keep paperclips out, and I have to carry one in my pocket, because I unfold, refold, and bend them all day. I think I use the classroom fidget toys more than the kids do.
Why do I stim? It relaxes me. It releases tension. I sometimes feel a physical “backup,” like things are getting overloaded and it makes my skin crawl and my fingernails itch, and certain stims help to alleviate that. Some are just… pleasant. They make me feel good. There’s so many things in the world that sometimes seem to be actively trying to bring my down that I am not going to shy away from those harmless practices that bring me peace or happiness.
Do you stim? What do you do?