Stimming, Improvisation, and COVID-19: (Re)negotiating Autistic Sensory Regulation During a Pandemic

Erin Felepchuk


Many autistic people consider repetitive and sensory practices such as stimming central to their identity and culture. In this paper, I argue that stimming is an improvisatory practice because it constitutes an articulation of autistic aesthetics and sensory preferences, is a crucial component of autistic culture, and consists of moment-by-moment negotiations with environmental and sensory barriers. Autistic people often stim with the help of technologies such as music and stim toys or tools to mediate between inner worlds and outer environments that may over/underwhelm us. I argue that during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the objects we touch (and our bodies) have become potential locations for transmission of the virus, our relationship with stimming (and our stim tools) has changed. This article connects critical improvisation studies, discourses on autistic stimming, and affordance theory to present a framework for understanding autistic stimming during the COVID-19 era: as improvisatory responses to the opportunities and barriers presented by the pandemic. I argue that stimming during the COVID-19 era is a continuously mediated response between our body-minds and the affordances of our environment, and I maintain that this process is a lived improvisation.


autistic; stimming; improvisation; COVID-19

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Copyright (c) 2021 Erin Felepchuk

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