‘People should be allowed to do what they like’: autistic adults’ views and experiences of stimming

Steven K. Kapp, Robyn Steward, Laura Crane, Daisy Elliott, Chris Elphick, Elizabeth Pellicano, Ginny Russell

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‘Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements’ are characterised as core features in the diagnosis of autism, yet many autistic adults (and the neurodiversity movement) have reclaimed them as ‘stimming’. Supported by a growing body of scientific research, autistic adults argue that these behaviours may serve as useful coping mechanisms, yet little research has examined stimming from the perspective of autistic adults. Through interviews and focus groups, we asked 32 autistic adults to share their perceptions and experiences of stimming, including the reasons they stim, any value doing so may hold for them and their perceptions of others’ reactions to stimming. Using thematic analysis, we identified two themes: stimming as (1) a self-regulatory mechanism and (2) lacking in social acceptance, but can become accepted through understanding. Autistic adults highlighted the importance of stimming as an adaptive mechanism that helps them to soothe or communicate intense emotions or thoughts and thus objected to treatment that aims to eliminate the behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1782-1792
Number of pages11
Issue number7
Early online date28 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • Wellcome Trust
  • 108676/Z/15/Z
  • adults
  • autism
  • neurodiversity
  • repetitive behaviour
  • repetitive movements
  • self-stimulatory behaviour
  • stereotypies
  • stimming


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