Why I stim

This post was requested by someone close to me who wanted to understand more about why I display some of my stimulatory behaviours which other people often view as strange or bizarre.

I have a lot of self stimulatory behaviours. I have a habit of biting almost anything I can lay hands on, particularly my staff ID badge at work and biro pens (I have broken a lot of them because I will bite through the end and they will splinter and be unsafe to use). I bite my nails too (although I am trying very hard to stop) and people will often laugh at me when I mention how orally fixated I am! I constantly have tassels from hoodies or jackets in my mouth and, over the years, these will disintegrate completely due to me chewing them. I find the sucking sensation soothing and gnawing the edge of objects gives me a sense of relief when I am worried about something. When really stressed, I have been known to compulsively eat paper.

I also move around a lot-I pace, run the length of rooms over and over again, march instead of walking “normally” and sometimes will just get the urge to suddenly run, even when I am in the middle of a shopping centre or suchlike. When I was a child in primary school, I used to spin around in circles in the playground, clapping (which used to be another stim of mine but has greatly reduced over the intervening years). I struggle to explain why I do this to other people but I will try for the sake of this post. I experience a lot of pent up energy and pacing and running let it out. I often make up stories in my head and play them out whilst listening to music and pacing the hallways of the building I live in (the other residents here are used to it now and I only pace in the downstairs hallways where I won’t be disturbing anyone by treading on creaky floorboards!). I find that excessive movement helps my creativity and imagination. Oddly enough, when I get to the gym, these sudden bursts of energy desert me and I find it really hard to motivate myself to exercise on the machines! When something makes me angry (true anger (as opposed to frustration which I experience frequently) is a rare emotion for me but, when I do experience it, the force of it scares me), the only way I can get rid of that anger is to “burn it off” through running until I can feel calm enough to sleep.

I also carry out a lot of stims with my hands. One that I was very well known for at university was clasping both hands together with all 10 fingers interlocked with the middle finger of my right hand slightly raised and then tapping this finger repeatedly on the skin between the fingers of the opposite hand. As I have a tendency to stare at my hands while I am doing this and often mumble to myself as well, people used to refer to it as “talking to the man in your finger”. The reason I do this is simple-I like the tapping noise that skin on skin makes and clasping my hands together also makes me focus on something other than being anxious about what is happening in my life at that moment. When I am in an awkward atmosphere, I will play with my hands repetitively, twisting them  and staring down at them. Again, it helps me focus on what I need to say because it gives me something else to concentrate on.

Rocking is not a big one for me although I will rock sometimes when watching TV on my own. I will bounce around if there is something exciting happening on TV and, if watching TV alone, I will sometimes get up, run around and then throw myself back onto the sofa or bed when something on the programme has made me happy. I don’t do this when watching TV with other people as they don’t understand where my sudden energy impulses come from and I often get frustrated trying to explain it to them verbally.

One of my other main stims is circling newspaper articles in ink after I have read them. I will circle every line. For me, this is a sensory release as I do it in a very fast and frenzied manner. Again, it is a way of releasing pent up energy and frustration but it also reinforces the information in my mind as it means that I read each article twice. This one goes in phases-I went through a couple of years where I did it every day. Now that I’m working, I don’t always have the time to do it so it’s every now and then that I do this now.

What I feel obliged to point out here is that people without Aspergers or autism stim too. There are loads of people out there who “talk with their hands”, gesticulating wildly when talking-that is a form of stimming. People have a tendency to fiddle with everyday objects such as Blu Tac because they find it soothing to have something to fiddle with-again, this is stimming. Stimming seems like one of those traits that is viewed as “normal” when other people display it but “odd” and “strange” when people with autism do it. I guess those of us on the autistic spectrum stim in ways that are not seen as “normal” by other people or are deemed to stim too much.

My final thought on the subject is this-please remember, next time you see a child or adult on the autistic spectrum stimming, consider that this is helping them to get through life in a confusing, overwhelming and often hostile world. It is a coping mechanism for many on the autistic spectrum. I do not try and stop other people’s coping mechanisms so please respect mine. My view is, if it is not harming anyone, let it be.

Thanks for reading.

5 Responses to Why I stim

  1. very good , i understand now . think it sounds like you need to keep busy when you are on your own!. you need a hobby to vent you feelings !! What yer think ?

  2. bjforshaw says:

    Tapping and chewing are classic stims, but the list is long and diverse. Almost anything can be a stim — humming and singing work for me to regulate my sensory system. Stimming seems to be getting plenty of attention recently: autisticook also wrote a great post about it, and is compiling a survey of different stims. Over 1000 responses now!

  3. Love this post, Steph. I pace a lot especially at night when I’m worrying or anxious. I find I really have tired myself out in order to fall asleep and I do swing my arms around occasionally as well.

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