Photo © the author

[image: Close up of fingertips grasping

a worn black pottery shard.]

Hannah King

September 17, 2018 is International Day of the Stim! For more articles and information, see

I found this old piece of pottery at the beach. It’s been worn smooth from the waves, and it fits perfectly in my hand. My thumb rub it over and over and over and over—it feels great.

My thumbs are major in my stimming, always have been. I think one reason my thumb stims survived the years of stim-suppression I underwent at school and home is that I could stim—surreptitiously—with my thumbs. It was easy to tuck my hand into the folds of a cardigan sweater and reach for the nubby underside of a button, or to slide my thumbs and fingers quietly along the coolness beneath a school desk. And while I loved to glide my hands across a tree trunk with abandon when no one was watching, I could also quietly pinch a piece of moss-eaten bark between my thumb and forefinger, anytime.

I was told that stims were bad at a young age, and was shamed for them. It has taken me half a lifetime of learning to realize that my stims never should have been pathologized, to realize that no one should have been making a big deal about my stims, and that my stims have in fact been a helpful way for me to stay grounded—and also to cope in intense sensory situations.

Some of my early stims (such as walking in circles) have been extinguished, but many remain, though in modified form. I no longer tend to jump when I’m happy they way I did as a child, but I rock up and down at the knees. And though I used to flap my hands when I got excited, I now only flap when I’m very agitated: my hands fly around my head like a flock of birds, which is a way to get settled but is also a warning flare. If you see me flapping my hands, please give me some space!

For someone my age (40), the idea of stim toys, designed and made by autistics and for sale online, is totally amazing. (Way to win, Neurodiversity Movement!) All my life, I’ve just been grabbing at things that feel good and making use of them.

The closest thing I had to a stimmie toy when I was a child was a gift from my father’s fishing buddy, Uncle Scott, who handed a soft piece of marble to me one day, like an afterthought. “It’s a worry stone,” he said. I realize now that it was quite intentional, and also kind, when he gave me that gift. He somehow knew that would be the thing I liked the most: with one pointed edge, and a silky indentation just perfect for my thumb.

I wasn’t able to thank him at the time, but he was one of those special people who didn’t need a thank you to understand gratitude. We should all feel so comforted, understood, and validated for the beautiful forms of comfort we forge from the ordinary.

My new piece of pottery is a lot like the worry stone Uncle Scott gave me all those years ago. I’ll use it when I’m thinking hard, especially if I’m communicating—or when I’m just relaxing. Claiming it as a stim is part of healing from the abuse and suppression I faced as a kid.

Stimming shouldn’t have to be secret. NO ONE has the right to suppress an autistic person from stimming. Our hands were not meant to be quiet. Stim on!


This essay was originally featured at