Tag Archives: stimming

Ramble on Stimming

This post might be a bit unfocused. We’ll see how this goes.

I’ve seen some disagreement in some of the autistic spaces I’m in around the idea of “stimming is communication.” Apparently some of us are really against that idea. It’s rather made me want to weigh in with my take on the matter.

And my take is – stimming is communication, in the same way that other forms of body language are communication. Some of the arguments against stimming being communication is that sometimes (or many times, or often) stimming is done without the intent to communicate. Apparently to some people, that means it’s not communication.

I disagree. Humans communicate all the time without necessarily putting intent behind it. Over on the neurotypical side, people generally agree that body language is communication. And sometimes NTs will put deliberate effort into their body language, so that it communicates something that they choose. However, many times body language just happens, without forethought explicit choices involved. And when that happens, it’s still communication. NTs like to talk about how up to 75% of communication is nonverbal – and they’re meaning that for themselves. Their own communication is dominated by nonverbal cues. Facial expressions, body language, tone, things like that.

I am firmly of the opinion that stimming is (among other things) body language. When an NT laughs, they are probably not thinking “I wish to communicate my amusement, so I am going to make this particular sound to convey it.” Laughing is simply a natural result of amusement. Same with stimming. Whether I’m flapping my hands because I’m excited or rocking because I’m overstimulated, they are natural results of my mental state. They are also expressions of my mental state, and, among the various things they do, they serve to communicate that to others.

When I say that stimming is communication, one of the things I mean is that NTs should learn to pay the same kind of attention to it that they do to other forms of body language. I am saying that all behavior is communication, and stimming counts too. I’m saying that stimming is another form of body language, and that is one of many many reasons why we should stop trying to stamp it out.

When I stim, I am generally not thinking about communication. I’m excited or happy or stressed or overstimulated or maybe just needing to rock. Frequently I’m alone, so communication doesn’t make any sense. However, I still say that stimming is communication, the same way that facial expressions are communication. I say this because intent or not, they can communicate information to others, if there are others around who know how to read it.

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Filed under opinion, ramble

Making a point with pictures

The following is a picture-heavy post. All images are either creative commons licensed or mine.

These are facial expressions.

Image is of me in pigtails, with a happy expression on my face.

They are a way that people use their faces to express themselves.

Black and white image of a smiling elderly man. Image by alvbarito on flickr.

They are frequently involuntary – for NTs, at least, facial expressions just seem to happen on their own.

Image is of a man with an expression of pain on his face. Image by chrisjl on flickr.

Even babies have expressions, and they certainly aren’t thinking about exactly how to arrange their face.

Image is of a baby looking mischievous. Image by philscoville on flickr.

We also express ourselves through our bodies.

Image is of me going in for a handshake.

Much of this is also involuntary or unconscious.

Image is of two men – one standing and one sitting. Image by mr_physics on flickr.

We even have a phrase for it. “body language”

Image is of me, looking very tired on a horse.

It’s not considered bad or wrong or something to get rid of.

Image is of a man and woman acting flirtatious towards each other. Image by junkchest on flickr.

This is body language too.

Image is a drawing of a person smiling and flapping their hands.

We shouldn’t treat it any differently from all the rest of the body language out there. Ultimately, it’s really no different.

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Hiding stims

The Socially Acceptable Stimming Chair

Once in a while, when I am so inclined and feeling up for it, I spend some time in online autism communities. One topic that tends to come up repeatedly is how to hide stimming. From autism.about.com: “The term “stimming” is short for self-stimulatory behavior, sometimes also called “stereotypic” behavior.”  I find the frequency of this topic kind of sad, because I really wish that it was not a thing. Stimming is not bad or wrong, and I intensely dislike that it’s something people feel the need to curb or eliminate – either in themselves or in their autistic children. I would rather push to make stimming acceptable than hide a simple action that helps me cope.

On the other hand…

I understand that not everyone can fight every battle. If a person is focusing in other areas and just cannot handle prejudice because they happen to flap their hands, it’s really not my place to judge them.

So with that said, I figured I could brainstorm a few things on how to hide stimming.

Overall, I think the main ways I know of to hide stims come down to three basic groups.
1. emulate how neurotypicals stim
2. do something small
3. have a fidget toy or craft.

First of all – everyone stims. This is not something restricted to people on the spectrum. Stimming is natural and normal for EVERYONE. The difference is that autistic people are inclined to stim a lot more, and possibly in bigger ways. So my first possible tip if you want to hide stimming would be to find a stim that is socially acceptable.

A very common one is crossing your legs and rhythmically wiggling your foot. I can remember my mom doing this one quite frequently, and as far as I know she is not on the spectrum. Other “normal” stims include clicking pens (though many people also find this annoying), drumming your fingers, tapping your foot, chewing gum, or even playing solitaire.

Now, despite my lofty “it should be ok to stim” ideals, I do sometimes try to stim in unobtrusive ways because sometimes, I just don’t want to deal with the looks or comments I would be likely to get. A very common thing I do is flick my fingers or twitch my wrist. They are very small actions which are easy to keep within a small area of personal space.

Certain crafts and hobbies can also help. I have a tendency to haul a crochet project with me almost everywhere I go. If I feel anxious or just generally want to be soothed, I haul it out and start crocheting. I am reasonably certain that the rhythmic motion of the hook and yarn is a stand-in for other sorts of stimming. It is not at all uncommon for me to be crocheting in a train station or a group social situation or other such environment.

creative commons image by zyada on flickr

Yarning away

Nee, my significant other, uses rubber knead erasers and plays with them much like modeling clay. Squish, make a shape, squish, make a shape, squish, and so on and so forth. Bucky balls (a toy that is sadly no longer to be made because people apparently kept eating them) are another fidget toy for him.

squish, squish, squish

I still say we would all be better off just being allowed to stim as needed without social consequences. I mean, as long as your stim is not something actually destructive like punching people in the head or something, or terribly distracting to people around you in an environment where that would be harmful, it should not be wrong. Flapping your hands in the grocery store should be an ok thing to do. Still, it isn’t fun to get stared at or have people look at your like you are crazy, so I understand that we sometimes need to find something different to do.

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Just Try Harder

 

Sometimes people say rather hurtful things to me, and I’m sure others, with the best of intentions. They’re trying to give advice and really believe they’re saying something helpful, and somehow just don’t understand how hurtful it can be to hear them. Many of them can be generally classified as exhortations to just try harder.

All we need to do is just put in more effort, or take these classes, or see that type of therapist, or avoid those foods, and if we just worked at it, we’d be fine!

Thing is, it always seems like it carries the implication that I must not be working at things already, and it definitely carries the implication that I’m not working hard enough. It also implies that whatever it is they are encouraging me to fix can be fixed, so the fact that my aspie-ness is showing is somehow my fault. As “helpful advice” goes, I find it insulting and hurtful and not helpful at all. Especially because that particular brand of advice almost never comes when I’ve actually asked for advice. It seems to reside almost entirely in the realm of unsolicited advice, from people who think they know what’s wrong with me better than I do.

Here’s the deal. I do work. I work hard. But I don’t necessarily work hard at the things people think I should work hard at. I work hard to be able to walk up to an associate in a store to ask for help. I work hard to remember to reciprocate social questions. I work hard to deal with my sensory issues. I work hard to increase my mobility so I don’t hide in my house away from the world all the time. I work hard to talk to people I don’t know.

I do not work hard to hide my stimming, even in public. I only sort of work hard to hide my awkwardness in social situations. I do not push myself to keep my ASD hidden away, as though it’s somehow shameful or wrong. Yeah, I will apologize and try to improve if I am unintentionally rude or make a legitimate social slip, but I will not apologize for being strange or quirky or sensitive or twitchy or any number of other things that make me odd, but are not actually wrong.

“Trying harder” will not make my social awkwardness go away. “Trying harder” will not magically let me learn all the social protocols I have yet to learn. “Trying harder” will not cure my sensory issues. I already try damned hard.

I refuse to “try harder” to pass for normal. I pass or I don’t pass. I won’t apologize for who and what I am.

All of which means that “just try harder” is both useless and insulting, and not something I should have to hear from anyone. I can appreciate someone trying to be helpful (sort of) but please pay attention to the sorts of things you say, and what they may sound like from the other side.

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on passing

Recently I wrote my blog post “How out to be.”  In it, I briefly mentioned that I can pass most, but not all, of the time, and much of it’s premise was on the fact that sometimes passing just isn’t possible.  (also, please note – in my blog when I talk about “passing” I am specifically referring to hiding disability)  While I never explicitly stated it, I imagine it would be entirely reasonable for a reader to assume that if I could pass 100% of the time, the question on being out would have a lot less pressure.  Not only that, but if I could pass 100% of the time, I would.

It’s not even something I had really thought about.  It was implicit in that post because it was implicit in my thinking.  Of course I should pass if I can, of course I should try to hide my differences, of course I should make my disability non-obvious.  Then, in an entirely different context, a friend of mine shared this here link.  Now, this blog is really not about my situation at all.  It speaks of disability in terms of masculinity and feminism, and possibly importantly, it spoke of physical disability.  My disability is only physical in that it is neurological.  There is nothing wrong with my body, and it only shows to others in my behavior.  Still, as I was reading I got to this part:

“It also feels like I have spent years betraying other people with disabilities, by hiding mine, and trying to avoid as much ableism as I could, which, much like any sort of passing and any sort of systematic oppression, is always a losing game.”

The author was speaking of passing as able-bodied (not-disabled) and eventually no longer being able to.  And that really struck me.  I thought (well, not in words since I rarely think in words, but this is how it would roughly translate into words), ‘waitaminute, you mean to say that not passing is an option?  And that it might be the right option?  What?’

It actually took a few days for my brain to work through that one.  Who would have thought that deliberately not passing was an option?  Now, I have seen plenty of discussions on the perils of passing.  I have seen people talk about how challenging it can be to pass, how it can feel like never being allowed to be oneself, how they are worried that their ability to pass may be going away, how annoying it is that when you pass people think that means you don’t have problems anymore, and on and on and on.  Never once have I seen someone say that maybe it’s better not to pass.  Because of course you pass if you can.  It’s better that way.

Importantly, there actually are good arguments in favor of passing.  AS does not always get a lot of respect.  I have seen some say that the increases of “mild” autism is making the public think that autism isn’t a big deal, and that such people are taking away much needed resources from those on the more severe end of the spectrum.  I tend to feel ashamed and guilty when I see such statements and I have yet to figure out how to resolve the inner conflict that comes up when that happens.

Additionally, there are people out there who use AS as an excuse to be assholes.  I have no idea how many of them are actually on the autism spectrum as opposed to people who think AS simply means “socially awkward” and decided that it would be a good excuse.  In any case, that has also shaped public opinion.  I don’t want people to think that about me.

Yet another thing – as I mentioned, AS isn’t physical.  Even people with physical disabilities face challenges that they should be able to do what everyone else does if only they want it badly enough, or if they’re just willing to try hard enough.  With a disability like mine, that attitude becomes so much stronger.

Plus, the fact of the matter is, society only tends to tolerate differences so far.  There are accepted ways to be non-conformist, and if you don’t conform to those ways society tends to punish you.  Having AS means that I am different in ways that many people really do not accept.

All that seems to add up to my prior implicit assumption – that if I can possibly pass, I should.  But then I think about the blog post again.  And I wonder if maybe letting myself be who I am might be the right choice in another way.  I could try to reduce the stigma around mental illness.  I could be an example that disability does not have to be physical.

Or in a less grand, societal way, I could think in terms of bettering myself without mashing that up with also hiding myself.  When people use language metaphors I could let it show that I need a little time to decipher them instead of trying to race my way through the logic to figure out what they mean while not letting on that I need to do so.  I love the idea of not being ashamed of being different.  That would take a lot of courage, though.  To be painfully honest, I’m not sure I have that kind of courage.  Especially not in the face of the challenges to not passing I mentioned above.

I feel it is important to mention – this is not simply a matter of being out.  I can be out and still work on passing for normal, or conversely I can refrain from trying to pass for normal but not be out.  In any case, people intellectually knowing that I have AS is a very different thing to people actually witnessing the ways that I struggle, or even spimply witnessing my oddities.  Heck, even stimming in public is a thing aspies try to hide.  Even nice people will look at me funny and avoid me if I’m rocking in a public place.

I don’t really have an answer to this one.  It is a very new ponder for me and I have barely begun to wiggle my way around it.  Still, I find it interesting to think about, and the idea of simply being my literal, strange, stimming self without trying to hide it all the time is very appealing.  Scary, but appealing.

Thoughts would very much be welcome.

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quiet hands

So there’s this blog post I read about quiet hands and abuse.  It’s a really good read and I think it makes really good points.  I am also finding myself all sorts of conflicted about the whole concept.

I mean, in general I totally agree with the point of the post.  And what the author went through as a child is absolutely awful, and I cannot even imagine why anyone would do things like that.  This idea people seem to have that stimming is wrong is very upsetting to me, and I wish people wouldn’t be so afraid of a little repetitive movement.  I feel very sad that the author of that post went through what she did, and I wish the world weren’t like that.

On the other hand, well, I do horseback riding.  I am in a theraputic riding program, and I am pretty sure that I am not the only person there on the autism spectrum.  Sometimes, when there, I hear my teacher say to a student, “quiet hands” or “quiet feet.”  If I were to only go by that blog, that would be a horrible thing for her to say.  Now, I don’t know about what the context is beyond horseback riding.  I don’t know if the people in their life are trying to make it so that they don’t stim, or if this is isolated to riding.  I do, however, know about the riding context.  And in riding, quiet hands and quiet feet are actually really freaking important.

Why is that?  Well, as the blog said, because behavior is communication.  In this case, communication with the horse.  When I ride, I only sometimes talk to the horse with my voice.  Mostly I talk with my hands and my feet and my knees and my thighs and my hips and my torso and my head and… everything, really.  I would never have gotten as far as I have in riding if I weren’t able to have quiet hands and quiet feet.  So if an autistic person gets on a horse, and honestly really enjoys riding, is it still wrong to say “quiet hands”?  Personally, I don’t think so.

I think it’s a context thing.  In most contexts, no one is hurt by someone flapping or exploring the texture of a wall or whatever.  In most contexts, if someone is made uncomfortable by that, that is their problem and no one else’s.  But in some contexts, it matters in a really direct way.  I guess I just think that there has to be some way to find middle ground.

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