I’m always in motion, rocking, bouncing, singing, humming, flapping, and making random sounds. I’m a stimmy human, but for almost thirty years, I had been stimming without really understanding or thinking about why. Being diagnosed autistic in my late twenties uprooted me – and gave me new appreciation and curiosity for stimming.
There are stims for every occasion, stims as part of my body language and stims done with intention.
There are stims I hide because doing them in public will bring too much attention and nasty looks. There are stims I hold in and bottle up because other people find them distracting or “obnoxious.” When I’m alone, I let them all out – finally freed from the eyes, ears, expectations, and comments of others.
Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Technically, I can sit still and can prevent myself from doing the types of “big distracting stims” that tend to get on other people’s nerves – like jumping around, singing, or talking to myself. I often hold myself together so that I am “appropriate” for “adult situations” like business meetings, conference calls, and appointments but there is a limit to how far I can go before needing to recharge my batteries.
In the past, I’ve described autistic energy regulation like a video game health bar.
Certain activities will drain away at the “autistic health bar” – some faster than others. The triggers differ for every autistic person. Sitting still and holding in stims, acting “professional” and “polished” while remaining engaged is difficult, and very tiring for me but not impossible. After a long business meeting or an intense social outing, I often feel a bit like a “fuzzy zombie” or hungover even without having a drop of alcohol.
If I don’t retreat soon enough, I can end up with physical symptoms like meltdowns, migraines, and indigestion. Recovery time is a must when my autistic batteries get low. Fortunately, for every activity that takes away health from the “health bar,” there are also activities that recharge and regenerate – giving health back.
Intentional stimming, often with music or with nature, brings me peace. I stop to put on the perfect song, rock and sing to myself wildly, take time to watch field grass blowing in the wind as my legs bounce wildly under the table as I work from home.
When I was undiagnosed, I had no vocabulary or understanding of why my experiences seemed to differ significantly from the people around me. All my life, people seemed to think I was intentionally acting out, being rebellious, or difficult. People have also always been quick to tell me when I did something “weird” or “annoying” or “unattractive.”
Many of my more apparent stims were banished to the privacy of bathrooms stalls and empty hallways in elementary school – as my teachers punished, scolded, and even mocked the stims out of me. When other students picked on me, I was told that I should “try harder to blend in” or “stop acting out.”
I wanted to be invisible for many years. When my self-esteem is low, I hide.
Not being true to myself, stuck in a state of assessing, and adapting – struggling to fit in instead of merely just exhausting in my natural state is exhausting.
For many years, I let people dismiss my needs and sensory experiences – mostly because I thought everyone had the same difficulties and were toughing it out (like I had been doing). I often did many things in hiding – because I’d let myself grow ashamed of how my body naturally moves.
Now that I have a better understanding of my neurology, understand the purpose and functionality behind stimming, and what is needed to take care of my autistic brain, I’m determined to take better care of myself and let my body do what it needs so that it can work at optimum efficiency.
The past few years have been filled with massive change and self-discovery.
I’m re-learning the art of stimming, allowing myself to move organically, even in public settings. Finally setting myself free.
Curious if others who learned the truth so late in life also experienced similar feelings, I use my keyboard to ask my question:
“#ActuallyAutistic #AskingAutistics who were late discovered – did you have to re-learn to let yourself stim or have you always stimmed freely?”
I stim with my toes. They have always been strategically hidden by shoes. Whenever I was asked not to tap or shake my feet, I felt deep shame. I recently was asked not to on camera, explained what it was to the crew, so they filmed it and used it to be a genuine reflection.
Vonny LeClerc, @vonny_bravo
My stims were shaped by others’ criticism and bullying to be “normal looking” and almost invisible — like bouncing my leg, tapping my fingers, etc. I haven’t unlearned that.
Aaron Hosford, @AaronHosford
I am re-learning. I always had my hidden stims (mental, toes in shoes etc) but I am trying to let the bigger one’s out now, sometimes. At home.
It was pointed out to me I do things with my fingers, so I just let myself do it more. Started off as popping my knuckles, then grew to a preflight check for Elite Dangerous and now I stim to help me think.
Jimmy Regan (He/Him), @jimaxyn
I’ve always had the little stims: finger flicking, arm swinging, paper clip squeezing… Now I have a box of fidget toys at my desk and I’ve embraced flapping in a big way. It’s harmless and it feels good!
I still am learning to allow myself to stim and “be autistic”. All my autism traits were “undesirables” and I wasn’t allowed to behave how I NEED TO. Stimming isn’t the only thing I’m having to relearn. Being okay with NOT being the best socially has been difficult.
Stephanie Lynn, @SoulFullMoon
I had to relearn that it was okay to do x thing, or that x stim was triggered by x need, and that x need was valid.
My story is similar. Many of my stims are dance movements, so people saw me as this quirky person who dances everywhere. I have learned now to also let out the un-pretty movements, especially when I am alone (e.g. whilst walking unaccompanied through a busy shopping centre).
Tania Melnyczuk, Tania.co.za
Read more #AskingAutistics articles by Christa Holmans, Neurodivergent Rebel
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