Creativity & Stimming

Image is of a guitar being played

In 2019 I carried out a study to explore how late-diagnosed autistic women (like me) managed their health and wellbeing. You can read the summary of my findings here. This is the last of four blog posts describing the themes I identified when analysing the interviews. You can find the first one here, the second one here, and the third one here.

Theme 4: creativity and stimming*

Along with helpful environments, this was another theme that I wasn’t expecting to take up such a large part of the interviews! But being creative was important to all the study participants.

Some talked about how creative practices such as painting, writing, dancing and playing an instrument were helpful. And some told me how creative thinking or learning skillsets from scratch such as computer coding, interior design and building was really important for their wellbeing. They talked about the benefits of creativity in terms of being grounding, relaxing, focussing and resetting.

Spending time being creative helped the participants to manage fatigue and overload and, in turn, this reduced physical symptoms like chronic pain and digestive problems. The more time they could devote to being creative, the better they felt. Creativity combined with time spent alone made for a double health and wellbeing whammy!

The effects of stimming seemed to be very similar to creativity. Both needed to be done frequently in order to help the participants feel grounded, relaxed or focused. Sometimes, the line between stimming and creativity was blurred, such as when practising a musical instrument or doing repetitive craftwork. Sometimes stimming was used unconsciously and sometimes it was an intentional, planned practice, particularly since diagnosis or identification.

Both being creative and stimming were used to reduce feelings of overwhelm and sensory overload for the study participants; and they also supported and magnified positive moods. Many of our Autism HWB contributors have written about the positive effects of being creativity and stimming too.

So, over to you! If you’d like to write us a short post about your creative projects and how necessary they are to your health and happiness, we’d love to hear from you. Maybe painting, building worlds with Lego, or creating with binary code wards off anxiety or depression for you. Or if you have developed a stim practice that calms you, relieves pain, refocuses you and/or elevates your mood, let us know what it is you do and how you work it into your day. Contact us here and we will email you the details.

*Stimming: autistic people often employ repetitive movements or actions to soothe or focus, a process called stimming. Actions such as using stim toys, repetitive hand movements or rocking are generally considered to filter out sensory stimuli and relieve emotional distress.

Flo is a founder member of Autism HWB and a post-graduate researcher exploring wellbeing strategies for autistic people.

You can find her on Twitter @FloNevilleNAT and Instagram @nourish_align_transform

Published by florence neville (she/her)

PhD student

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