#TakeOffTheMask: Stimming

I’m a stimmer. I stim to calm and to self-regulate. It is (and always has been) necessary for my mental health well-being.

One of my favourite-ist ways to calm myself as a child was to twirl myself around until the ‘butterflies dance’. Why? Because it blocked out all the shit stuff. While I was spinning, I couldn’t think of anything else except the fluttering sensations in my body.

Those few minutes allowed my brain to reset itself.

I didn’t know that I was autistic.

I didn’t know that I was stimming.

My ‘stimbox’ includes rocking, spinning and stroking tactile materials. It also includes me picking at my skin until I bleed. Then, come the scabaroonies which I will pick off time and time again. Scabs are the gift that keeps on giving, right?

If you happen to see me manically ripping the skin off my lips, I’m probably mega-anxious.

If you see me rocking gently, I could be happy, excited or apprehensive.

If I’m rocking like a psycho, it’s best to assume that I’m experiencing brain-snap, so I’d back away s-l-o-w-l-y.

When I stim, my brain overrides some of the stimulus that makes me anxious.

When I suppress my stims, stimulus (and anxiety) becomes amplified.

Lets get one thing clear: EVERYBODY STIMS. If you’ve ever chewed your nails, hair, pen-top, or shoved your finger up your nose and left it there longer than is necessary – you’ve stimmed. The difference is that non-autistic people’s stimming is more socially acceptable. Nobody gives a toss if someone bites their nails, right? Hand-flapping? Tosses are very much given and people turn into judgemental @rse-holes!

I used to be semi-successful at suppressing my stims. Just as I was semi-succesful at camouflaging myself, but since I burned out, I’m not so good at it because I don’t have the energy to suppress anymore. That and I can’t take medication for my anxiety disorder because I have Fibromyalgia – a condition which can affect how your body reacts to medication.

Stimming keeps me sane – literally.

I stimmed recently at my son’s school presentation day. It was necessary because the stimulus levels were THROUGH THE ROOF! It was a sensory nightmare – which is ironic considering the event was for an ASD specialist school.

I rocked gently, back and forth or from side to side. It calmed me enough for me to be able to remain in my seat. Plus, I fixed a mini-fan to my phone, which went down quite well with the lady who was sat next to me. However, the room was full of autistic students and their parents – some of which will have been autistic too, so I doubt that I stood out at all, but even if I did, I doubt that any shits would have been given.

When you mask, you suppress or adapt your stims. On top of having to think about what to say and when to say it, you have to suppress the urge to stim naturally. Maybe that will give you some indication of how social interaction can be so exhausting for autistic people?

With the controversial ABA approach, stims are literally shouted ‘out’ of autistic children.

‘But it works! Little Jimmy no longer flaps his hands!’

It works for you, but little Jimmy has turned into a robot. He’s been trained to obey.

You don’t ‘cure autism’ – you suppress an autistic person’s need to be themselves which could potentially result in mental health disorders.

“We’re not trying to deny kids the right to be who they are,” Dr John McEachin, co-director of the Autism Partnership, an ABA service provider,

Denying autistic kids the right to be who they are is EXACTLY what you are doing, mush!

Often, autistic people are unable to communicate verbally how they are feeling and parents/carers are too focused on trying to eradicate their stims to understand that stimming gives a clue as to how a person is feeling/coping in a situation. A change in stimming frequency (or intensity) might indicate that a person’s anxiety levels are rising and it would be wise to remove them from the situation. Understanding the role of stimming could help to prevent a full-blown meltdowns and improve an autistic person’s overall well-being.

What would people rather see. A child flapping his/her hands or a child running out into the path of a car because their anxiety has hit the danger zone?

Your homework for this week is to go out into the community and observe people stimming. Foot-tapping. Finger drumming. Doodling. Stroking hair. All self-stimulatory behaviour, but it’s only autistic people who get called out on stimming. The problem is that our stims are generally more visible and it makes people feel uncomfortable and we can’t have that, can we?

Some stims are simply not acceptable in public and in those cases it’s necessary to encourage more appropriate ones. For instance, some people firk with their crotch area when anxious. Nobody wants to see people firking around in their crotch areas unless it’s by mutual agreement, you get me?

Other stims are harmful, as with head-banging and other self-harming behaviours. To understand this behaviour, you need to know that when a person self-harms, it’s because their anxiety is overwhelming them to the point of requiring pain to block things out. I’ve never self-harmed in this way, but I’ve seen it many times and I understand that it’s a total loss of control due to severe anxiety. If it makes you, the onlooker, uncomfortable to see this. Can you even imagine what the person who is in pain feels like?

“Stimming is rarely dangerous. It can, however, be embarrassing for parents and siblings, disconcerting for teachers, or off-putting for potential friends and co-workers.” (somewhere on the internet, but I’ve closed the tab on the page and cba to trawl through my history)

I’d argue that stimming can be dangerous. Banging one’s head against a brick wall isn’t exactly soft-play, is it?

As for the second sentence in this quote..

This is the problem.

We make ourselves mentally ill so we don’t embarrass our families or make our teachers, peers and co-workers feel uncomfortable.

The worst it’s going to get for these people is to feel uncomfortable?

The worst it’s going to get for autistic people who suppress their stims is to be mentally ill.

Actually, worse case is premature death.

Instead of trying to force autistic people to conform to the detriment of their health, how about society adopts a more tolerant attitude to stimming?

OOH LOOK! A FLYING PIG!

 

Autism: Confessions of a Skin-Picker

 

What’s Stimming?

Stimming is self-stimulatory behaviour. It is repetition of movement, sound or movement with objects.

It’s done for relief and pleasure.

Simplified: Stimming calms or stimulates.

Everybody stims, however, NTs have more socially acceptable stims and are more able to control them.

With an autistic person – stims are necessary to their mental health well being.

We stim to release tension or to stimulate ourselves.

Some people stimulate themselves to feel pain for pleasure, like my friend who liked to pull her leg hairs out one by one using tweezers.

*eyes are watering*

I didn’t know I was autistic until five years ago – so I’ve had forty plus years of generally hiding/suppressing behaviour that I now understand to be stimming..

It started with spinning where, as a small child, I would spin myself around until the butterflies danced in my stomach.  Then came infants school where there were boxes upon boxes of colourful (and tactile) objects that I liked to stroke or manipulate in my hand. Doing this soothed my anxious mind – albeit temporarily. I wasn’t interested in constructing things like the other children. Sod THAT for a game of conkers! I just wanted to sit in a corner and stroke stuff!

Speaking of conkers…

I like to touch them. (NOT a euphemism)

Then came the glue..

You’re probably reading this and thinking, ‘Glue? Oh my God, she’s a glue sniffer!’

Rest assured. I wasn’t (and have never been) a glue sniffer.

I may, however, have had a brief dalliance with Tippex in my high school days..

One of my all time loves is art and that love started in school. However, art was sensory for me. Visually? Great. Smells? Not so great.

I loved the smell of paint. Still do, but not when it’s combined with the aroma of curdled milk, cabbage and dried vomit as was the case in school. That said, I loved to create pieces of art so I forced myself myself to tolerate everything else..

The other sensory issue was that I almost pathologically HATED getting stuff on my fingers..

My mother told me that I was using a knife and fork a lot younger than my brothers were. She presumed it’s because boys are generally slower than girls? I think it’s probably because I disliked the feel of slimy food on my fingers. *shudders* This also explains why I find making pastry so unpleasant, hence, I avoid it wherever possible.

Whoever invented ‘Jus Rol’ has my unwavering adulation.

So, glue..

The first time I used glue – the stickiness made me anxious but I had communication issues so I wasn’t able to ask if I could go and wash my hands. I was starting with palpitations when THIS happened:

The glue dried and I discovered that peeling it off my fingers was quite possibly the best thing to happen to me since Enid Blyton!

I could happily lose myself in a glue-peeling session which made my school day slightly more tolerable.

Note: FFS don’t try this using Super Glue!

Glue-picking was the precursor to my most used stim – skin picking.

Yeah, a lot of my stims are gross.

When I was 21 I got chicken pox. Initially, this was crap because I was pregnant at the time. I was the size of Brazil with spots that itched like fuckery. I remember the one thing that people kept saying to me: ‘WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T PICK THE SCABS!’

That’s like telling Mary Berry to stop baking and become a binman..

OF COURSE I PICKED THEM!!

I especially loved the scabs on my head because I would pull them ever-so-slowly through my hair which was, like, orgasmically pleasurable.

I’ve always picked my spots. And other people’s. Feeling that satisfying ‘pop’ as zit matter is released at high velocity? That’s right up there on the pleasure scale for me. Welcome to the pleasure dome mateys! I literally don’t understand how a person can have a big fat juicy zit and NOT want to pop it? Weirdos.

Downside is: I have scars.

LOTS of scars.

I also pick the skin off my lips. Sometimes with my fingers – sometimes with my teeth. NOT the best of stims if you like vinegar on your chips!

Zit slaying and lip picking are stims I try and save for ‘me time’ because even I know that it’s socially unacceptable to be pecking at yourself in public like a demented pigeon. Even so – sometimes I forget myself..

My bad, motherfunglers.

Rest assured that once I’ve acknowledged my skanky behaviour, I switch to a more socially acceptable stim – like fiddling with my cube/keys/phone/pebble/whatever.

Should I mention that I’m allergic to nickle so when I wear cheap earrings, my skin weeps, then crusts over? I guess you’ll know where I’m going with this so I’ll move on..

My, not gross stims, include rocking back and forth or side to side. I take more in when I’m rocking because I am less focused on my anxiety. It’s a gentle movement but if I’m having an anxiety crisis at home, it’s full on IN YOUR FACE back and forth rocking sometimes combined with manic pacing up and down.

Then there’s my fidget cube. I say mine. I may have nicked it from The Boy because his stim of choice is to chew his nails..

I also use a spinner which I like to spin near my cheek because I like how it feels on my face. No doubt, I’ll probably end up in A & E one day with a spinner-related facial injury..

NOTE: I’m trying very hard NOT to think of the scab..

Next, is my thumb ring.

Yep, I just lurve touching my ring.

Leaaaaaaave it.

I always wear one on my thumb which I manipulate with my index finger or my left index finger and thumb. It started off as me trying to give myself an edgy look? Then I realised that manipulating it calmed me down, so I’ve worn one for years. My current one is metallic rainbow colours so I get visual and tactile pleasure. Win and win!

I also LOVE soft materials. I wear soft leggings and stroke my legs, but not in a kinky way. I love blankets too – especially fleecy ones. They comfort me and keep my extremities semi-warm as I seem to be lacking blood flow in my hands and feet. Plus, under a blanket, you can hide from the world.

Also, people trying to sell you PVC windows. Or God.

Going back to pastry, I was once informed that cold hands make better pastry? So it’s a shame that I dislike the feel of it on my fingers or I could be the pastry queen of the North by now, no?

I get that I have some gross stims. I mean, picking my skin is pretty, er, what’s that word the young un’s use? Ah yes, ‘minging’ but it gets me through the day and through life. It’s not like I sit in Costa flicking my skin into people’s skinny lattes is it?

FYI, I am picking my lips right now as I’m editing this post for the 135th time.

Finally, people may tell you that stimming is offensive or unacceptable. The problem is with them, not you. Stimming has a purpose. It is part of the armory that we need to exist in this world. For this reason (and many others) it is perfectly acceptable to tell them politely, but with conviction, to eff off.

Me? I stim to calm myself and because it feels good.