This week’s blog posts are a little bit different, as I posted twice for this week. However, that was only because I had a little “social report” that went hand in hand with a very recent event, and you might see “social reports” like that every once in a while, but, as a rule, I’m sticking to the current schedule of having one blog post per week.
Last time, I kicked off the #TakeTheMaskOff Challenge here on my blog, and talked a little bit about masking and my own experience of masking. This week (Week 2 of the challenge), we’ll be talking about stimming, how it’s related to masking, and my own experience of stimming.
Now, before we move on to the main topic, since this challenge was meant to educate and make others aware about these things, if you have any questions at all, whether it has to do with masking or stimming, or anything related to autism, please feel free to put it in the comments below, and I will try to answer and explain things the best way I can.
To be honest, I’m glad that stimming is one of the topics in this challenge as I have been wanting to write about stimming for a while now.
Stimming, or self-stimulating behavior, according to the Child Mind Institute and the National Autistic Society (UK), is when one has repetitive movements, use of objects, or speech. Examples of stims include leg and hand fidgeting, twirling of hair, twirling, flapping of hands, rocking back and forth, fiddling with objects, etc. Stimming can also be harmless and can also be harmful, such as when the individual bangs their head on a wall, or picks their skin to the point it bleeds.
For a person with autism, stimming is lifelong, and one stim often gets replaced with another, if they are discouraged from doing so. Individuals stim as it can help them overcome overstimulation; help give them extra sensory input if they are understimulated; as it helps with emotional management; pain reduction; and as it is soothing or comforting for the individual.
Now, you may be wondering how stimming is different from the usual mannerisms (tapping of fingers on a table, fidgeting) of a neurotypical. It is very different when you observe it because more often than not, stimming DOES stand out and it usually is sustained for a long period of time.
For me, stimming helps me concentrate and focus on what I’m supposed to be focusing on, because more often than not, I am pretty much overstimulated. Stimming helps my brain focus on that one task or thing, instead of processing everything around me, from sights, to smells, to sounds, while doing that particular task. I also stim for emotional management, mostly when I’m anxious; and apparently, another stim of mine that has become an unconscious unhealthy habit is that I clench my teeth when I’m stressed. Stimming also calms me down and is a self-soothing behavior for myself as well.
My stims are pretty noticeable. My fingers fidget all the time; I swing my legs, and tap them and my feet; I rub my fingers against each other for comfort; I pull and twirl my hair; I fidget a lot when I’m supposed to be standing still and I do often rock from side to side.
More often than not, as some of these stims don’t really look appropriate in social situations, there have been many times in which people have told me to stop fidgeting or moving. Back then, I thought that there was something up with me because I couldn’t seem to stop it at all. Or, it would stop, only for it to resume with a vengeance without me even knowing that I started doing it again. I think that there were also points in which I tried sitting on my hands, but that didn’t work that well either.
After a while, I realized that trying to stop or mask my stims didn’t really help because there were times when one stim got replaced by an even less preferable stim, or stims that were more harmful, like picking my skin. I also realized that masking my stims would make me more exhausted and I wasn’t really able to concentrate on whatever I needed to focus on at that moment.
So, instead of masking and stopping it, I just decided to embrace my stims, and replace it with stims that would give me the same effect, but less noticeable. Of course, most of my stims are pretty noticeable, but there are also some that are less noticeable such as fidgeting with my bracelet, holding on to whatever is dangling off the keychain on my bag, clasping my hands in my lap, or crumpling a small portion of my scarf in my fist, or just simply touching my scarf and feeling the material rub against my fingers. Sometimes, when I do catch myself doing a pretty big stim, I replace it with one of my smaller stims, but there are a lot of times in which I just let it go for the moment. However, when I’m at home, most of my stims are there in full force, and I just let it be. After all, it’s not disrupting anything or slowing down anything that I need to be doing anyway. Others have different coping strategies, and I do often wonder if that fidget spinner does work for those who do stim.
So, don’t worry if you stim, or your kids do stim. You should get worried, though, if it is a harmful stim, as you should try to replace it with a more harmless stim instead.
In the end, stimming is life long, and is definitely part of who I am, and of others who have autism or on the spectrum as well. Stimming shouldn’t really be made a big deal out of, unless it is harmful, and if you notice that your stims are too big, then maybe you can learn how to replace it with smaller ones, as that is less stressful than not stimming at all or trying to mask it.
Once again, it can be seen how masking anything, including stimming can be exhausting and unhealthy for those with autism, so, in my opinion, if it isn’t harmful or will directly affect your everyday life, accept it and learn how to cope with it with strategies that won’t require you to mask at all.