AUTISM GUIDE : SLANG, ACRONYMS AND JARGON
Stimming (verb): exhibiting a repetitive behaviour, such as pacing, hand “flapping,” or repeating words or phrases to oneself. Short for “self-stimulation.”
Autistic people often stim when they are excited, happy, anxious, or overwhelmed. Some do it for comfort under stressful situations; others do it to express either positive or negative emotion.
Most stims are harmless (flicking fingers, rocking back and forth, etc.) but a few are harmful (hitting or biting oneself, etc.).
Neurotypical people stim too — twirling a pen, bouncing a leg, and pacing are all examples of stimming. It’s generally arbitrary which stims are socially acceptable and which aren’t.
Meltdown (noun): a crisis response to an overwhelming or stressful situation in which an autistic person exhibits extreme emotion and loses control of their behavior.
A meltdown often manifests with screaming, crying, and/or physical lashing out. An autistic person in a meltdown will likely not respond to attempts to reason with or comfort them.
Meltdowns, especially in children, can be misinterpreted by bystanders as mere temper tantrums. Parents of autistic children often face judgment and impatience from people who don’t understand that a child’s uncontrollable behaviour is due to a disability, not wilful disobedience.
Shutdown (noun): a crisis response to an overwhelming or stressful situation in which an autistic person becomes quiet, still, and withdrawn.
An autistic person may physically leave the situation that has triggered their shutdown. This could either be an area with loud sounds or bright lights, or it may be a situation that triggers intense emotion by other means. If unable to leave, they may merely “freeze” and become unresponsive.
Shutdowns are more subtle than meltdowns and can therefore go unnoticed. If an autistic person is showing signs of increasing stress, and then suddenly goes still and quiet, it may be easy to assume that they have simply “gotten over it” and are no longer stressed. On the contrary, their perceived calmness is due to their stress peaking into crisis.
Masking (verb): the practice of hiding or suppressing behaviors typical of autism in order to comply with social norms.
People with less severe autism can sometimes force themselves to adopt “neurotypical” behaviours as a survival strategy. This can include forcing themselves to make eye contact during conversation, mimicking other people’s facial expressions, disguising their stimming, or developing pre-rehearsed responses to questions that frequently come up in conversation.
Masking is often uncomfortable and/or exhausting for autistic people. It takes significant mental effort to “pretend” not to be autistic, and in the process of masking, an autistic person may force themselves to tolerate a stimulus or situation that they find deeply distressing.
Sensory diet (noun): a set of activities that can be practiced in order to help an autistic person become more accustomed to certain sensory stimuli.
Autistic people can have issues with sensory processing, meaning that they either over- or under-react to certain stimuli. This can impact their ability to behave appropriately in social situations, pay attention in class, or otherwise impact their daily functioning.
The aim of a sensory diet routine is to use physical stimuli to adjust an autistic person’s state of mind so that they are neither over- nor under-stimulated by their surroundings. This allows them to function at their full potential as called for by the situation.
Sensory diets are commonly designed by specialised therapists and tailored to a specific autistic person’s needs. They can include physical exercises such as jumping jacks, sensory experiences such as light brushing of the skin, or activities such as using a fidget spinner.