Those familiar with autism have most likely heard the term “stimming.”

In my novel True Mercy, Adam, the eighteen year-old with autism, often stims. Here are a few examples:

  1. Adam flapped his hands excitedly when he saw the Pizza Craze sign.”
  2. Both his hands were above his head shaking in the air.”
  3. Adam walked around in circles, hitting his head with his hand while mumbling, ‘What should I do? Should I call Daddy? Do I look for a doctor? What should I do?’”
  4. “‘Daddy, when can we see Marina?’ he asked, pointing his index finger in the air.

When can we see Marina?’ Bruce now repeated his son’s own question to him.

When she finishes talking with the police,’ Adam replied. He stared out the side window for ten seconds before turning to his father again.

Daddy, when can we see Marina?’ he asked, pointing his index finger in the air again.”

But what is exactly is stimming?

According to Wikipedia, “Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in people with autism spectrum disorders.” 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, stimming is one of the telling symptoms of autism. They go on to list examples in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, : “Other common stimming behaviors include hand flapping, rocking, excessive or hard blinking, pacing, head banging, repeating noises or words, snapping fingers, and spinning objects.”

Many therapists have concluded that since individuals with autism are extremely sensitive to stimuli, this behavior serves as a protective response when these individuals encounter unfamiliar and unwanted external stimuli. Others believe it is used as a vehicle to relieve anxiety and other undesirable emotions.

Many individuals who do not have autism also stim. For example, in a stressful situation, some people bite their fingernails or tap their foot. However, they have enough control to stop stimming in circumstances when there isn’t appropriate, such as on a date or in a job interview. For those with autism, however, they don’t have the same control over their stimming, may not be aware of the effect it has on others, or find it too stressful to stop.

There are stimming behaviors that could cause self-inflicted injuries. These include head-banging, hand-biting, or too much scratching. There are also cases of those who stim on a constant basis. For these reasons, experts seek to find methods to reduce or stop these behaviors altogether by either medication or using an alternative form of stimulation, such as feeling the softness of a piece of cloth instead.

In True Mercy, I strove to portray this common behavior in an individual with autism by depicting eighteen year-old Adam stimming in order to give readers an idea of what they would encounter if they met someone with this neurological disotrder.

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy. Please read and review on Amazon. She looks forward to reading your comments.