Does every single Autistic use “fidgets” designed for stimming?

Are there autistic people who have absolutely no interest in using fidgets or other inanimate objects for stimming?

Just what is stimming anyways?

A common behavior among autistic individuals is that of stimming, short for self-stimulatory behavior.

Stimming can manifest in various forms, whether with one’s body or with an inanimate object.

Thus, stimming can present as hand-flapping, rocking or other repetitive movements such as tapping one’s fingers to their face, flicking a pen back and forth, crumpling paper, watching the blades of a fan spin or even playing with putty.

©Lorra Garrick

However, stimming devices, of which there are tons these days, may also be used.

While stimming fidgets, such as toys or tools specifically designed to provide sensory input, have gained popularity as a means to manage stimming behaviors, it is essential to recognize the diversity of the autistic community and understand why not all autistic individuals use stimming fidgets.

The Spectrum of Autism

Autism is often referred to as a spectrum because it encompasses a wide range of features, strengths and challenges.

No two individuals with autism are exactly alike, and the manifestation and intensity of traits can vary significantly.

Some Autists may engage in stimming behaviors more prominently, while others may display only minimal stimming.

This diversity highlights the complexity of autism and suggests that there is no template approach to addressing stimming behaviors.

Understanding Stimming

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Stimming serves various purposes for autistic individuals. It can be a coping mechanism for sensory overload, a way to self-regulate emotions or just plain existence, or a means of expressing joy and excitement.

While stimming is a natural and necessary part of many autistic individuals’ lives, the choice of stimming fidgets is a personal one.

Some Autistics may find comfort and relief through the use of stimming fidgets, while others may have different coping mechanisms or simply not feel the need to use external tools.

I fall into the latter group. I could never gain any type of self-regulation by handling an inanimate object.

Yes, there have been things I “wanted to feel” such as, for instance, a velvet pillow, but not in the sense of stimming.

Many neurotyicals will briefly feel something, such as a real fur coat or a silk scarf, as well. It’s human nature.

But beyond just a curiosity feel, I’ve never had an interest in repetitive motions involving an inanimate object.

The one exception, and I don’t consider this a true exception, is that I can be drawn to feeling fake ponytails hanging in a wig shop.

But since I stim with my own ponytail and loose hair, I consider fake ponytails to be an extension of stimming with my own hair.

But now that I think of it, there IS an inanimate object that, technically, I stim with: music. 

When Autistics listen to the same song over and over in a row, this is considered a form of stimming. I definitely have done this.

Sensory Preferences and Aversions

Sensory sensitivities vary widely among autistic individuals. While some may seek out specific sensory experiences, others may have aversions to certain stimuli.

Stimming fidgets often provide sensory input that can be comforting for some but may be overwhelming or unpleasant for others.

The choice to use or not use stimming fidgets may depend on one’s sensory preferences and aversions, highlighting the importance of recognizing and respecting the diversity of sensory experiences within the autistic community.

Communication Styles

Communication styles also play a crucial role in understanding why not all autistic individuals use stimming fidgets.

Some nonverbal autistic individuals may find alternative means of communication more effective, such as sign language or communication devices, and may not rely on stimming fidgets as a primary form of expression.

Additionally, autistic people who speak may communicate their needs and preferences through words, reducing the reliance on external tools for self-expression.

Individual Differences in Coping Mechanisms

Autistics develop a range of coping mechanisms to navigate the challenges they face in daily life.

While stimming is one form of coping, it’s not the only one. Some autistic individuals may have developed alternative strategies to manage stress, anxiety or sensory overload that do not involve stimming fidgets or other inanimate objects.

Social Stigma and Acceptance

The use of stimming fidgets is sometimes influenced by societal perceptions and acceptance of autistic behaviors.

In some environments, there may be stigma or misunderstanding associated with stimming, leading some individuals to avoid using fidgets to conceal their stimming behaviors.

On the other hand, in more accepting and understanding communities, people on the Spectrum may feel more comfortable openly using stimming fidgets as their preferred medium for self-regulation.

Cultural and Environmental Factors

Cultural and environmental factors also play a role in shaping the preferences and choices of autistic individuals regarding stimming fidgets.

Cultural attitudes towards autism, as well as the availability and awareness of support resources, may influence whether an Autistic uses stimming gadgets.

Additionally, the nature of the individual’s environment, such as the presence of sensory-friendly spaces or accommodations, can impact the need for and use of stimming fidgets.

Stim Away!

©Lorra Garrick

The relationship between autistic people and the use of stimming fidgets or other objects is intricate and multifaceted.

The diversity within the Autism Spectrum, including variations in sensory preferences, communication styles, coping mechanisms and environmental factors, contributes to the varied experiences surrounding the use of stimming accessories.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical and fitness topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. In 2022 she received a diagnosis of Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder. 


Top image: ©Lorra Garrick