One thing that ALL people with Aspergers/ASD have in common is something called stimming. These are usually physical responses to strong emotions. These can happen when I am excited, happy and content as well as when I feel overwhelmed, scared, confused, angry, hurt and anxious.
https://www.healthline.com/health/autism/stimming describes stimming in the following way.
“The word “stimming” refers to self-stimulating behaviors, usually involving repetitive movements or sounds.
Everybody stims in some way. It’s not always clear to others.
Stimming is part of the diagnostic criteria for autism. That’s not because stimming is always related to autism. It’s because stimming in people with autism can get out of control and cause problems.
Continue reading to learn more about stimming, when it requires management, and where to get help.powered by Rubicon Project “
Now, I am a firm believer in stimming. It is reasonably involuntary but is definitely a great help to me when I am managing an overwhelming emotion. When I am in public, my stims can be a key part of me calming myself down. It gives me an outlet when I may not be able to verbalise how I am feeling (either due to the situation/company or because I do not have the words to express my feelings).
So, what are my happy stims? Firstly, I have a tendency to repeatedly tap my partners leg/arm if she is with my and something happens that I am excited about. If I am on my own, depending on the level of the emotion, I will jump and dance around (for example, when I found out my nephews and niece were born, I bounced around for a good 5 minutes with absolute joy). When I am anticipating something good, I will rub my hands together for a few seconds. I’ve done it for as long as I remember, and I think it was the first “stim” anyone else verbally picked up on, long before we knew I was aspy.
When I am trying to deal with something negative, my stims are very different. In the beginning of the negative situation, I will start playing with the two rings I wear constantly (one on each ring finger). If I am unable to resolve the situation/emotion I move to rubbing my hands together with my grip getting progressively tighter. I will also move to rubbing the tops of my thighs. If I continue to escalate in the situation, I will move to holding my hands behind my head and squeezing my head between my forearms – pressure around my head is a major calming sensation for me.
Now, none of those negative stims are an issue if they help me get on top of the situation reasonably quickly. They can quickly escalate to accidentally self-harming when I hit the edge of my internal management and the emotion overwhelms me. I will start to rock back and forth in my chair, or walk around the room. My hand wringing will get stronger and often I will manipulate my fingers in ways that can end up hurting. The head squeezing can turn into squeezing too hard and/or hitting my forehead. When I get to this point, I am no longer in control of what I am doing and outside intervention is incredibly important. When my partner or closest friends are around, they can just grab me in a bear hug. They hold me as tight as they can which not only stops the harmful stims, it also has a calming effect on me. If I am on my own, I can call a few people who can help talk me through things to try to distract myself/keep my hands and body busy.
If I call my partner/best mate/close friends when I am at that point of overwhelmed we have worked out that the following things help me to self calm (with them talking me through when I can’t think for myself): Playing my guitar, playing my guitar and singing, playing my trumpet, talking about my nephews and niece and either taking photos or editing photos on the computer. These are all things that not only take focus and give my hands something to do, they are also things I am passionate about and make me feel the happiest in every day life.
Now, given the fact that some stims can become dangerous, it is no surprise to me that a lot of neurotyplical people believe that they are bad and that they need to help stop me (or other ASD people) from stimming. It doesn’t look normal, it can make other people uncomfortable and its very clear that most people, unless they really love you for all of who you are, would prefer if I didn’t stim or stimmed less obviously when I am with them.
My response to this is simple and straight forward. Unless I am a danger to myself, another person or animal, let me stim!
Why is it so important that I am ‘allowed’ to continue to stim? As stated at the beginning, stimming is how I manage overwhelming emotions. If I cannot use the coping strategies I have (stimming) I will be unable to continue to function as I do now. I will stop going out in public as I do not want to be in a position I may feel overwhelmed without the ability to manage them. I will have top remove myself from my relationship because, loving someone and living with someone has significant highly emotional moments that I need to be able to process and manage. I would not be able to go out with close friends, my partner or family, because stimming is sometimes the non-verbal way I can give people a cue that I am not ok/something is not sitting well with me. The obvious caveat is that, if my stims become harmful, absolutely stop me, but that rule is usually reserved for those closest to me who I trust. They are able to help me calm myself without the stims, something I can’t always do for myself.
I am “lucky” in the fact that my stims are not too out there or obvious and are things I can do quietly without effecting others. Some people with ASD have more overt stims like dancing with happiness, flapping their arms or having a full meltdown. These stims should be as equally accepted and supported as my quieter ones. Instead of passing judgement and either trying to stop the situation or calling the person “crazy or weird”, maybe take in that this person is so overwhelmingly happy that they just had to dance. Or, if someone is having a meltdown, try and understand that they are not attention seeking, spoilt or nuts, they are overwhelmed and trying their hardest to manage that. Everyone, ASD and neurotypical, can hit that point of overwhelm that you just want to cry or scream, or throw something, people with ASD are simply more likely to actually do those things than the neurotyplical ones.
Be kind, try and respect how hard I am working to manage when I am stimming and give me the space to find a way to function in those moments.