(cn: mentions of bullying, ableist language)
In today’s post, I’d like to talk a little bit about stimming. And more specifically, learning to feel comfortable with stimming again.
My story with regards to stimming is possibly common for autistic people. I used to enjoy stimming in public when I was younger. I used to spend a lot of lunchtimes by myself in school stimming and enjoying myself whenever I wasn’t with my peers. I also did it at home a lot. I don’t feel comfortable detailing everything but what I will say is that I use a variety of stims and some of them are very noticeable and distracting to others.
In the past I tried to suppress stimming altogether. I wanted to fit in and seek approval from the peers which is common for kids and teenagers. However it would ultimately be fruitless. I don’t remember exactly what made me decide to supress my stimming. Maybe I was teased. Maybe I had unknowingly internalised ableism. Maybe I just decided one day to stop just so I could fit in.
Either way, it didn’t end well. I was more stressed, more volatile and more unable to cope. In trying to suppress an essential part of how I deal with the world, I had unknowingly made things worse for myself and likely pushed me further away from social acceptance with my peers. Eventually, I started again. I don’t remember how I came to this decision either but I think it involved my mum talking to me as she was bearing the brunt of my behaviour and it was needed for both our sakes.
Then I moved schools when I was in year 9. Thanks to outside circumstances beyond my control I became very stressed so my stimming became verbal. I was screeching like a banshee in almost every lesson. I was distracting others unintentionally and I couldn’t help it. I was out of my classes a lot while that was going on. However, I didn’t care. I needed to let the stress go so I had to stim.
I do wonder what the consequences of that was. Even long after the circumstances that caused the stress receded, I struggled to make friends and be accepted at that school. I can’t help but wonder if this very vocal stimming had something to do with it as my peers had very coloured first impressions of me. I don’t know for sure if this is the case but I wouldn’t be surprised if my reputation was something along the lines of “Subtle is the new special needs boy who has problems.” If that was the case, I had unintentionally worsened my own chances. But it had to be done therefore it was a price worth paying.
I had established a more calmer way of stimming by that point but I still was repressing that part of myself in public or if I did I disguised it. For example, I invented something called the “swaggy finger” where I rock back and forth while raising and lowering my ring finger and made a joke out of it so I could blend in with my peers better. I often masked in school until I return to a safe place often stimming for a while once I am able to.
Once I had left school and started uni, I started to learn to feel comfortable in my own skin. I had been told this by several people that this is what I needed to do but I never understood it. It took many years, but as my confidence grew the stims started coming back on their own.
I catch myself sometimes groaning as I walk. Or flapping in my seat. Sometimes I stop myself. Sometimes I let myself keep going until I want to stop. It’s nice being comfortable in your own skin where you feel content doing this naturally even if you’re unaware. If stimming was like a drug this would be like monitoring my dosages and applying the appropriate amount when it is required. It makes me happy, which is a great feeling. Because stimming is part of me and who I am. The right people will understand that.
It is really nice learning to embrace stimming again. I also use music to help me consciously do it which has led to me finding a wide range of soundtracks and vocaloid songs to zone out to (I do sometimes tweet about it) which vary widely in genre, tempo and type. Aids like these can be important for autistic people.
However, I do try to consider other people though as this is something I feel autistic people should factor in if sharing the same space as allistics. This is because not everyone will understand or be so accommodating of something seen as different* despite the need to embrace neurodiversity.
For example, I sit at the back of waiting rooms and public places so I do not distract people sitting behind me, for example. Plus I put headphones in when I work so I have a distraction to decrease the chances of me stimming without realising so I distract others. Furthermore, a lot of the more distracting stimming I do in a safe place where few people can interfere such as my bedroom. So I do still suppress to an extent through masking – but I’m a lot more liberal and structured about it. I’m also not too hard on myself and I allow myself to offload excess stimming urges later.
To conclude, stimming is important. It is a key aspect to an autistic person therefore it is important to understand it. Stimming isn’t something that should be stopped – it should be embraced as it is an integral part of who someone is.
That’s all for today,
*I believe this is the case to much greater and more dangerous extent for autistic women and people of colour, however I am not an expert on either so I won’t comment.
Featured image credit: Getty Images