The High Cost of Self-Censoring (or why stimming is a good thing)

As an adult aspie, I often feel that I need to self-censor in social situations. Don’t say the wrong thing. Don’t stare at people. (But don’t forget to make eye contact!) Don’t laugh at the wrong time. Don’t speak too loudly or too softly or too often or too infrequently. And above all, don’t stim.

Stimming makes people nervous. As a kid, I stimmed like mad. I’ve been rewatching old home movies and there I am stimming my way through Santa’s Land and Disney World and every birthday party ever. I’m bouncing, rocking, twitching, flapping, hopping. I’m hammering with anything that remotely resembles a hammer and rubbing my fingers over every nearby surface. I’m constantly in motion.

Four decades later, my stimming is more discreet. You’d have to be watching closely to notice that I’m rubbing my thumbs over the spacebar on my keyboard when I stop typing. Or that I’m fidgeting with a bottle cap under the table at a restaurant or playing with my hair while driving or folding and unfolding a piece of paper while I wait in the bank.

Stimming is so much a part of who I am that I when first read about autistic traits, I completely denied that I have stims.

That little kid in the home movies grew into a teenager who learned to stim more subtly to avoid drawing attention to herself. I’ve found socially acceptable stims like doodling or manipulating objects (pen, stress ball, cell phone) with my hands. I’ve tucked away my more obvious stims for use in private.

Well, mostly. The day of my Asperger’s assessment, I started out stimming discreetly during the interview with the psychologist. By the time I hit the three-hour mark in testing, I found myself rocking back and forth as I tried to work out the spatial reasoning puzzles.

Happy stimming feels a lot like this
Happy stimming feels a lot like this

There is too much comfort in stimming–it’s too much of a biological imperative–for me to completely extinguish it.

I recently read that medicating a child to reduce stimming is a good way to help the child concentrate on school work. Yes, if the behaviors are self-harming or severely disruptive medication might be the answer (though if it were my child, redirecting toward a less harmful stim would be my first strategy).

But for kids who are rockers or fidgeters? I have a feeling that the medication does more to make the people around them feel better.

If anything, stimming improves my concentration. It’s a release, like sneezing or scratching an itch. Have you ever tried to ignore an itch? What if someone told you it was wrong to scratch yourself to relieve an itch? What would that do for your concentration?

Stereotyped Movement (Stereotypies)

Stimming is the most common term used to describe the repetitive movements characteristic of autism, but a more formal term (and the one used in the DSM diagnostic criteria) is stereotyped movement or stereotypies. In this case, “stereotyped” has a different meaning than the one we’re used to. In a behavioral science capacity, stereotyped movement refers to repetitive, nonfunctional movement.

Like so much of what the experts term nonfunctional about autistic behavior, I’d ask nonfunctional for whom?

A Little Insight from our Primate Cousins

Trying to understand what stereotypic movement is and why it happens led me to reading about stereotypic behavior in captive animals. In an issue of “Laboratory Primate Newsletter” (Volume 23, No 4, October 2004) I found a surprising answer.

The researchers concluded that stereotypic behaviors in captive animals aren’t truly abnormal; they’re a reaction to abnormal environmental conditions. In other words, monkeys should spend their days swinging from trees and running about in the jungle, not sitting in small cages. When the monkeys can’t indulge their natural behavioral tendencies, they resort to stereotypical movements like “pacing back and forth, running in circles, somersaulting, rocking, self-biting, earpulling, hair-pulling, eye-poking, etc.”

Sound familiar?

The article goes on to say:

“Many stereotypies are signs of frustration, with the subject being chronically thwarted from expressing basic activities (Reinhardt).”

Yes, stereotypies are related to frustration at being chronically thwarted from expressing basic activities.

Think about all of the things that feel like basic needs to an aspie. Being immersed in a special interest for long periods of time. Being alone. Sticking to routines. Avoiding excessive noise, strong smells, or crowds. How often do we feel thwarted when trying to pursue the things we find comforting? Chronically seems like a pretty good description to me.

When you look at it from the perspective of the animal researchers, aspies are engaging in stimming (stereotypies) not because we’re abnormal but because we’re constantly at odds with our environment.

While it’s impossible for the majority of us to indulge our aspie tendencies 24/7, it’s important to recognize the cost of self-censoring. When I’m happy, the urge to bounce up and down is nearly irrepressible. I’ve learned that it’s okay to bounce when I’m with my family. In fact, my husband’s reaction to my unbridled, childlike joy is often a huge smile. It makes him happy to see me happy, even if my way of showing it is more appropriate to a four-year-old than a forty-three-year-old.

Self-censoring is exhausting. Letting my aspie side rule feels liberating. Why would I want to extinguish that?

98 thoughts on “The High Cost of Self-Censoring (or why stimming is a good thing)”

  1. You have explained this so well. When my daughter rocks back and forth at mealtimes I find it annoying and, if we have guests, a little embarrassing, but I realise it is a comforting thing for her and, if she couldn’t do it, she would probably not be able to bear to stay at the table and eat with us so I have learnt to ignore it. Well, most of the time, I’m not perfect! So, thanks again for making it easier for me to understand and Happy New Year to you and your family.

    1. I think you’re very right about stimming allowing your daughter to stay at the table. It’s great that you’re so understanding. You don’t say how old she is, but perhaps as she gets older, she’ll replace rocking at the table with something less obvious. It happened very naturally for me.

      Happy new year to your and yours too!

    2. I find this firsthand account very interesting. My brothers and my children are on various levels of the spectrum and I teach children who can force themselves to sit quietly in other classes but who erupt in music class when they are expected to use movement and cease movement. I remember my brother would go from one “busy motion” to another; when asked to stop tapping his fingers, he would start tapping his foot. I really wonder how much of this is from enforced stillness with very little opportunity or demand for exercise. I do not stim. But my happiest hours were spending over 8 hours a day playing the cello (because the site monitor didn’t check how many ensembles I’d joined in one day). Hmmmm…Is this so different? I think not. Right back to that “socially acceptable”. And you KNOW the medication makes them sit still in class so they don’t distract themselves and everyone else. Oddly, the ones who doodle seem to be able to pay attention. I thought the meds were for headbangers and the ones who couldn’t stop RUNNING around the room.

      1. You must be quite the cello player after all that practice!

        Doodling got me through the most boring Macroeconomics class on earth. I had more pages filled with doodles than with notes and still managed to squeak by with an A. πŸ™‚

        1. I will have to re-learn how to doodle to get through the most boring Research Methods class on earth.

          Because they spent over an hour on how to use a search engine. An hour and five minutes, actually – I timed that and other parts of the lecture, and also wrote down demographic stats on the class composition, though I’m not sure how significant a sample size of 14 is… Perhaps I could spend next class figuring out the math if I look up the average demographic stats for my country

          … yes, the class is so boring that spending it doing a statistical analysis of how probable the demographic distribution of my class is according to national demographics is far, far more interesting.

          Also, I was rocking and jiggling my leg and flipping my pen and chewing gum and fluttering my fingers all at the same time to keep myself in my seat. So booored.

          (this is why I am aghast at people who are all “elementary schoolers have to learn to sit quietly even if they’re bored!” FFS, I can’t do that, and I’m 26! How is it fair to expect it of a 6-year-old?!)

          1. Oh man, yes to all of this. That Macro class was horrid. The professor alternated between reading the powerpoint slides (I could have done that at home and faster) and telling us stories about her life. I learned next to nothing. The following semester a professor happened to write the equation for the fundamental macroeconomic model on the board as part of a lecture on something else and I nearly fell out of my chair because suddenly the whole damn macro class made sense.

            Doodling, writing, doing assignments for other classes–I had so many strategies for keeping my brain occupied during boring classes. If I hadn’t, I don’t think I would have made it through some of those 2.5 hour classes with my sanity in tact. It’s no wonder little kids are such crazed balls of energy when they hit the playground at recess.

            1. prof forbids laptops so I can’t work on other stuff, nor can I take notes (my handwriting makes handwritten notes useless).

              Also: Crazed ball of energy? I rabbit-hopped across campus after I got out of that class. Then I spent 2 hrs in a special interest. Totally get it. πŸ˜„

              1. That prof probably forbids laptops because people are so obviously bored!

                I had an hour long drive home after that class, mostly through the kind of wide open highway you see on Breaking Bad so I used to go like 90 all the way home because I was so wound up. :-/

                1. Related to your driving comment, is that why driving (esp. on long open highways) is SO BORING to me? I can’t usually JUST drive, as bad as that sounds. I need to be doing something else, like voice to text memos or emails.
                  And perhaps this driving thing is why I felt the need to listen to the same albums again and again. (My car CD player and radio have been broken for the past 2 years… fun times!)

                  I didn’t know that could be a potential universally Aspie phenomenon?

    3. Oh, you’re gonna love this. People who rock (WHAT THE HELL IS STIMMING?) don’t care if you don’t want them to do it or not.

      And wait, it gets better, they know that you’re judging them every time you do so! YES, they are acutely attuned to prejudice.

      As am I. I am a rocker, albeit DISCREETLY.

  2. I never thought that I stimmed. When I first found out about Asperger’s it was one of the reasons why I thought that I couldn’t be autistic. But then I started noticing myself: rocking with my eyes shut cleaning my teeth (always), running my fingers along iron railings (ditto) tapping my fingertips against themselves or hard surfaces, scratching my skin, pulling out my eyebrows, sucking my thumb (yes, still at 48!). Most of these activities are strongly self-censored around other people. But the best stims, my most treasured ones are totally acceptable, probably not even noticeable to people. I stim visually. I look over and over and over at the same specific visual stimuli; seagull flight, winter trees, moss, pavement cracks for example. When I am in an indoor environment I unconsciously scan the room for some pleasing visual form, books, a plant, the corner of the walls, folds in cloth and I practically stroke that thing over and over with my sight. I think it explains why I am an artist!

    1. It’s funny to realize that we’re constantly stimming without knowing it, isn’t it? Now I know why I need to touch everything when I go shopping (or stand in the elevator or ride in the car and on and on).

      I’ve heard lots of people mention visual stimming, but I don’t think I’ve experienced it much. I’m more of a tactile stimmer. I like how you related your stimming to your art – great way of seeing the upside!

    2. Interesting. I’m pulling out my eyebrows for a long time. Never thought it could be some sort of stimming. But I feel relieved after doing it, and it overcomes me especially when I’m distressed. What I do during my childhood, I can’t remember, however.

  3. Like liberatedape, I too, never thought I stimmed. I always believed I was just terminally fidgety. I think the closest I came to thinking I was doing something to relieve pressure was my skin picking and eyebrow/eyelash pulling habit, and, as a child, biting my hands/arms. I recognise these now as stims, as well as all the jiggling, turning, face patting, foot swinging, finger twisting, bouncing, visual tracing etc. I’m also a sniffer, but that might be more OCD than stims!

    1. I’ve heard others say that they stim by smelling things so that could be the case. It’s amazing to learn how many different forms of stimming there are and then realize that I do/have done so many of them.

      1. I literally never thought of smelling things as stimming until I read these comments – but now I realize that’s actually one of my major stims, and the reason I’m always comfortable in libraries. Books have lots of different smells, but they’re nearly always pleasant and calming to me. I smell every book I read, and I recall many of my childhood favorites by their smells.

        Overall, this post explains very well some things I never really knew how to explain. The idea that we stim when we’re separated from basic needs and at odds with our environments really hit home for me.

        1. I love the smell of libraries and bookstores! I’m curious whether you remember other childhood memories by smell or is it just books? I have powerful memories associated with certain smells and sometimes I’ll smell something and be hit with a long forgotten memory.

          Glad you enjoyed the post and can relate!

  4. It’s funny how one’s brains will read whatever they want: “The High Cost of Self-Censorship (OR WHY **SWIMMING** not STIMMING IS A GOOD THING)” πŸ˜‰ I wonder if repetitive sports activities such as swimming, biking or running qualify as stimming. They can certainly have a soothing, therapeutic, healing and even invigorating effect.

  5. (Already posted this as a comment on the tumblr post, sorry for the repetition)
    TW- sort of emotional abuse?

    I had a partner who was irritated by my stimming (not that I knew it as stimming at the time). He was very critical and acted like me wobbling my leg or rocking myself was something I was doing to purposefully annoy him. At the very least, he seemed to think I was being thoughtless and selfish by repeatedly falling back into the movements and that it would be effortless for me to stop. He never understood how much more focus and energy it took just to hold myself still and how uncomfortable that was. I was constantly on edge around him (not just for this reason). He turned the natural state of my body into something hurtful that I should feel guilty about. Even more recently, if I catch myself stimming around other partners and friends, I end up apologising and berating myself for being thoughtless, selfish, or lacking self-control. Since being diagnosed with dyspraxia with all its overlap into autistic traits, and since learning more about Asperger’s and seeing how well aspie perspectives and experiences line up with my own, I feel like I’m learning to be more accepting of parts of my mind and body, even if some of those parts have been deemed unacceptable by others.

    1. I was going to reply on Tumblr so I’m glad you posted it here as well. I’m so sorry you had to experience this. It’s so hard when people judge you based on their own perception of what is and isn’t easy to control (or should be controlled at all). It’s great that learning more about ASD is helping you accept your stimming and parts of yourself that you’ve felt judged on. I’ve found that the more I read about other autistic people’s experiences, the more I’m able to accept some of the “odder” aspects of myself.

    2. >>I had a partner who was irritated by my stimming<< If you think of a love relationship as a Bank Account, where you make love deposits and hate withdrawls and can then tally a balance and see if it's positive or negative, then the lower or more negative your balance, the more almost *any* unwanted behavior will be irritable to somebody. When people are happy and feel loved, they're a lot more tolerant. When they're unhappy, almost no matter what you do, they'll be irritated.

      This is why it pays to be attentive and caring with our significant others, so they will focus on the things that really matter. It's also a kind of give and take, you put up with my quirks and imperfections then I will do the same for you.

      If it's something that can't be easily changed, like hardwired neural paths, then being understanding is simply a part of really loving a person. We're all imperfect. The ways we're imperfect are simply different.

    3. I agree totally with what musingsofanaspie writes in reply to you. Particularly about accepting yourself. One of the positives I have experienced with my autism diagnosis is a much greater willingness to accept the ‘differences’ in myself and everyone else too. Confirming my autism has made me more tolerant of others and also inspired me to be more tolerant of myself. I wish you all the best on your own journey towards acceptance. (also, stim with joy!)

      1. “One of the positives I have experienced with my autism diagnosis is a much greater willingness to accept the β€˜differences’ in myself and everyone else too.”

        I found this too, especially in being more understanding and accepting of other people with differences.

  6. Thanks for such a thought provoking post, it’s always nice to see people in the comments saying things that match my experiences so closely too πŸ™‚

    I too thought I didn’t stim and took this as evidence that I couldn’t be autistic, then researched what stimming actually was and realised I actually stim pretty much continuously! I also couldn’t make it through my diagnostic assessment (that lasted hours) without becoming fidgety and squirmy by the end.

    I agree very much with what you said the first part of the post, but I’m not sure if the stimming as a sign of frustration idea completely works for me though.

    I think that the primate instinctual ‘frustration’ talked about in that article isn’t analogous to the human emotion of frustration, but a more fundamental deprivation of something critical to mental wellbeing. Animals (and people) kept in captivity under inhumane conditions adopt stereotypical movements due to chronic under stimulation. The neglected Romanian orphans found abandoned in unattended orphanages in the 1990s exhibited similar behaviours, as do prisoners kept away from all sensory input. This is the reason why most countries consider sensory deprivation and solitary confinement to be forms of torture.

    In contrast, I understand autistic sensory stimming to be the result of innate sensory over- and/or under-sensitivity of the individual, rather than a reaction to deprivation in the environment (such as suggested in outdated theories like ‘refrigerator mothers’). Either one or more of the body’s senses is chronically under-stimulated causing discomfort that needs to be fixed by supplying additional input on that channel, or one or more senses is over-stimulated causing overloading that needs to be controlled by providing something regular and predictable on that channel that can be focused on instead.

    I have both those types of sensory stimming. The most common sort for me relates to under-stimulation due to having a hyposensitivity to certain sensory input, most notably proprioception (muscle sense). I pace and stretch and skip sideways and walk on tip toes, sit in ‘uncomfortable’ positions, wriggle my fingers, jiggle my legs etc. I also seek lots of tactile input, constantly rubbing on surfaces or rubbing things against my face, and visual input, staring at patterns and crossing my eyes to make stereogram-style images. All of these things feel really good and I do them when I’m at my most calm, relaxed, comfortable and happy. I do them most when I’m alone, if I do them when I’m around other people then this is not a sign of frustration with them but a sign of comfort that I don’t feel the need to suppress myself in front of them.

    On another level, these stims (and some of the other types described below, in fact) feel so good, especially tactile input and deep pressure, that if I’m feeling upset I can use them to self-soothe myself and make myself feel better pretty quickly. Although I would only do this in private or somewhere I felt very comfortable and safe.

    If I’m forced to suppress these due to social inappropriateness then they come out in one way or another, I might start to chew the skin off my lips, painfully clench my jaw or grind my teeth, twitch my nose until it aches or chew on my wrists. These are less comfortable and tend to only come out as ‘bad habits’ when I’m forced to hide my natural stims. I need to stimulate my hyposensitive senses, doing so is natural to me and if I can’t do so in the most comfortable ways, I’ll start to express the need in less desirable ways. Maybe that’s closer to what sensory and socially deprived animals do but it feels more like displacement of one type of stereotyped behaviour to a another less comfortable but more acceptable one.

    The other type of sensory stimming is when I’m over-stimulated, stuck in a sensory overloading environment of loud noises and bright lights. Then I stare at things, push on my closed eyelids, hum or make clicking noises in order to drown out the overloading input and focus on something predictable that I can control. This is often combined with some degree of dissociation from my surroundings. This is a sign that I’m extremely uncomfortable and need to get out of that environment. Maybe this is like the reaction of a captive animal, maybe they’re over stimulated not under stimulated, despite what the theories I’ve read say. Maybe they’re adopting stereotyped behaviour in order to repress instinctual needs that can’t be expressed? But either way, it’s not the result of deprivation, more the opposite, it’s a method of regulating sensory input so I can continue to cope. It’s best to get out of the environment though, and if I get stuck in that sort of situation for too long I start to get pretty distressed.

    The third type of stimming I exhibit doesn’t fit the over/under-sensitivity model at all but works more like what’s described by people with ADHD who fidget in order to concentrate better, touching on what you said above about how not being allowed to stim actually hurts concentration.

    If I need to keep focused during a conference call, I fiddle with my Tangle or another fidget toy to keep my mind on the call (when I was at school I used to fiddle with pens or doodle in the margins instead). If I need to think really hard about something, I’ll likely end up pacing my flat so the restless part of my mind is occupied and doesn’t distract my thinking. This isn’t (necessarily) a sign of frustration, it’s a sign that my mind is usually racing with thoughts and needs to be occupied by more than one thing at once.

    That kind of stimming *can* be a sign of frustration of a sort as I also seem to end up fidgeting and pacing when my mind’s stuck on something other than what I’m supposed to be doing (for example wanting to respond to a blog post about autistic traits when I’m meant to be doing something else!), and again, if I’m prevented from doing this, then I’ll find it harder to function and I’m more likely to get fatigued or depressed. But I don’t think it’s analogous to the stereotyped movements of deprived animals, it’s more a natural side effect of how my brain works – thinking produces movement. If I’m preoccupied by some idea I need to process, I’m probably in motion.

    And finally there’s the bounciness, flappiness, skipping and singing that comes from when I’m really happy. It’s debatable whether this actually counts as ‘stimming’, but I often see it listed as such, so I’ve included it. This isn’t frustration on any level, in fact it’s me being as unrestrained as it’s possible to be. Of course, and as you say, if I had to suppress that side of myself and force my emotions to be more restrained then it would likely lead to unhappiness and shame (as in fact happened when I first entered secondary school).

    So I’m not necessarily disagreeing with your hypothesis, mostly augmenting it. I very much agreed with the first half of your post and much of the conclusion and the overall message that stimming is a good thing. But I’m not sure if it’s really helpful to compare my natural state with the state of deprived and traumatised animals.

    I see stimming as natural and normal for me, something that I do when I’m at my happiest and most contented and comfortable, it’s also something that I can use to self-soothe when I’m upset, help myself to concentrate on one task, or regulate my senses when I’m overloaded. So all in all it’s an important outlet that should be allowed whenever it doesn’t upset or scare other people (who are aware of the reasons).

    Oh my, this comment is long (wow am I useless at being concise or what?!). Having re-read your post and my comment, I think we are mostly agreeing. It is bad to force autistic people not to stim, it would result in a great degree of discomfort and distress, and a loss of concentration and ability. When we’re prevented from stimming, we do it anyway, but in ways that feel self destructive or shameful, so it’s bad to try to force all stims away, rather than trying to redirect them.

    I think my problem is that in the primates analogy inhumane deprivation of natural traits causes behaviour that looks like autistic stimming, where in the case of autistic people the stimming itself is (one of) the natural trait(s) being deprived. So it makes it look like you’re saying that stimming is because society is putting us in (metaphorical) cages, not an innate and natural result of our sensory differences.

    When I’ve been in Autistic Space (the Autscape retreat and in various groups of accepting friends), and I’ve felt totally accepted to be freely myself around others who are the same way, I’ve stimmed far more than I have when I’ve been restricted, bullied and judged. I think auties and aspies would stim more if we lived in a society totally accepting of our behaviours and needs, not less.

    (And I apologise for not being able to say that in a quarter of the words I used, I’m not very good at knowing what to edit out without changing or losing the meaning).

    1. Your comment is making me think hard about the analogy I used and that’s always a good thing. First, I can see how it might be offensive to have compared autistics to lab animals. Yikes! So to anyone I offended with that, I’m sorry. I’m putting it down to my autistic sense of metaphor – sometimes I come up with some odd ones for sure. Also, I wasn’t intending to draw a direct parallel between being caged and being autistic but I can see how it might be taken that way.

      I was thinking more of the frustration I feel at the pressure to act “normal” or to pass or fit in with the rest of society. My natural instinctive behavior is quite autistic. If I didn’t self-censor, I’d drive most people bonkers in no time. I have strong perseverative tendencies in my speech/thought and will ask/state the same thing over and over, even after getting an answer. I’m echolalic and will randomly repeat stuff other people say. I’m quite content to get up from the dinner table and lie on the floor while everyone else finishes eating. This is not acceptable adult behavior except with close family.

      The list is pretty endless. I feel like I have to “contain” myself quite a lot around other people. So that’s what I meant by “being thwarted from expressing basic activities.” Maybe it needed more explanation? πŸ™‚

      It’s really interesting that you stim more when you’re comfortable/relaxed/alone or when you’re thinking. I find that my stimming almost exclusively happens when I’m anxious, nervous, upset, stressed, etc. Or like you mentioned, when I need to concentrate on something and I’m getting fatigued, which is I guess a form of stress.

      I’m still uncertain about the sensory stimulation aspect of stimming and how that fits into my neurological make-up. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about and haven’t yet managed to wrap my head around. It’s really helpful to read your thoughts on why you stim and what purpose the different types of stimmming serves. The way you broke it down into distinct categories gives me a better starting point that anything I’ve seen so far.

      I think you’re right that we’re fundamentally agreeing. Stimming is an important part of who we are and not getting to express that aspect of our neurology is damaging.

      I hope people will scroll down here and read your comment (I always read all of the comments on a post and assume many others do too) because you shared a lot of insight into a subject that I’m just beginning to understand.

      1. Coincidentally last night I watched the film Snow Cake which is about an autistic character who lives independently, has control over her space, and doesn’t change her behaviour for anyone. A lot of the story is about the unfiltered pleasure she gets from stimming, which she does continuously in various forms. That’s how stimming seems to me, something you’d see the most in ‘free range’ autistics.

        Maybe this is partly related to what we were talking about before about passing? I grew up never being made to feel bad about how I behaved at home, and to always have the reasons for limits clearly explained, so I only ever suppressed stimming behaviours at school or at meal times, then did them freely for relief, relaxation and fun the rest of the time, so it’s hard for me to see them a sign of (or result of) something negative.

        And oddly, lying on the floor is actually one of my types of proprioception stimming, often combined with rubbing the carpet and staring at the ceiling, funny you should mention that! πŸ™‚

        1. “Maybe this is partly related to what we were talking about before about passing? ”

          I was thinking the exact same thing last night! It sounds like we had very opposite upbringings in terms of what was expected/acceptable behavior. That probably explains a lot about how we express ourselves through stimming.

          Also, really funny – when my daughter was visiting last week, one night after dinner she got up and went to lie down on the floor with the dog. She’s NT but I think she’s picked up a lot of my behaviors/habits unconsciously. πŸ™‚

      2. WordPress ate my previous comment on this, so I’m stuck repeating it by memory.

        Actually, the animal studies research was highly relatable for me, though not in a way one would expect. I’m both transspecies and an Aspie, but until recently, I hadn’t heard the term “stimming” because when I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, nobody had taken the time to explain what that meant. Whenever I would do these things, it would usually be out of frustration with my human body for being unable to fulfill basic dragon needs, like flight and interacting with other dragons, so I would attribute them to me being transspecies and having a hard time coping with that. Now that I’ve read this article, I’m starting to wonder if maybe Asperger’s and species dysphoria are really two sides of the same coin, and perhaps if I had a dragon body, there wouldn’t be so many misunderstandings due to my Asperger’s simply because people wouldn’t expect the human behaviors they’re used to from a dragon. This has certainly given me a lot to think about, and I’m glad that you used the analogy you used.

        1. Looking at Internet resources like Wrong Planet, there might be a legitimate link between AS and species dysphoria after all. While I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that anyone doesn’t belong on this planet, allistic (I like this term) people seem as much like aliens to me as they do another species.

          I vaguely recall someone on the Wrong Planet forums talking about walking digitigrade now, and I think stimming was mentioned. That’s definitely something I do when I’m particularly stressed or frustrated about dragon issues, and it helps me feel like there’s at least one thing I can do in this body that I really need to do.

  7. I am the ultimate fidgiter. I also paint, sculpt & love hands-on activities. I build things & make stuff. And I will always play with bottle caps & and other random stuff. I just think of this as connecting with the world in a kinaesthetic way.

    1. It sounds like you’re super tactile. It’s cool that you’re aware of this and have turned it into a enjoyable pastimes.

      As a kid I loved art class because I liked getting to touch all of the different materials. πŸ™‚ Unfortunately I have zero visual arts aptitude so it’s not something I’ve pursued in any was an as adult.

  8. Growing up undiagnosed or misdiagnosed is so hard. I think there is a lot of overlap between OCD traits and Asperger’s traits as well. I have some OCD tendencies and I don’t know if it’s a separate issue or part of my AS. Thank you for the kind words. I’m so glad you’re finding the posts helpful.

  9. I only just recently started self-censoring, and it can be hard at times. I end up getting really ‘stimmy’ when I get home because I’ve been holding it in. This is especially true for my excitory stims, as my inhibitory stims are discreet enough for me to still do them in public. My excitory stims, however, are still a struggle to hold in, but I’m getting better at it I think.

    1. It’s so hard to have to be conscious of stims and repress them in public. I’m actually going in the opposite direction that you are and letting myself be more openly autistic when I feel like it. People will have to deal with it! πŸ™‚

      1. Well, I only recently found out that I may be autistic (I haven’t been diagnosed just yet), so I’m more hyperaware of everything that I do at the moment. It doesn’t really help that I just started my first job, and I’m working with children over half my age. It’s not exactly easy to realize that your mannerisms resemble those of a hyperactive seven-year-old. xD I’m also the youngest instructor at my gymnastics center, so I’m already feel kinda under the spotlight, if you will.

        It’s funny, because when I found out that I may have AS, I adopted a few new stims. I stim more often at home than I used to (or maybe I’m just more aware of it…), but I’m also more careful about it in public because I now know why my peers view me as odd.

        1. Ah, that makes a lot of sense. I went through a stage where everything I did felt like it was linked to my autism. This drove people the around me a little crazy. πŸ™‚ Now I’m going to the opposite extreme and I’m all “look how autistic I am – Yay!”

          I bet you’ll make a terrific gymnastics teacher. It sounds like something you enjoy, which will come through in your teaching, and once the kids get to know you, I bet they don’t pay much attention to your quirks. I taught martial arts to kids for years and had a ball with it.

          1. xD Yep, that’s definitely the stage that I’m at right now!

            Oh, thank you. πŸ™‚ I really do love it, and I love being around the kids. One of the parents told my mom that I was their daughter’s favorite coach the other day, and that I’d really boosted her confidence. The mother told my mom that I’m compassionate, and that it really shows.

            I’m actually on of the most friendly coaches there, but I think that may be because I’m terrified that I’m going to hurt someone’s feelings if I don’t keep a constant smile on my face. πŸ˜„ But yeah, I really enjoy it. πŸ˜€

  10. So that’s why I have a tendency to fidget a lot when I’m out in public but almost never at home. Thank you for the thought provoking post. Hopefully more like this will be posted and people will be able to understand me more.

  11. Hi!
    Love this post. I used to be ashamed of stimming before I discovered that I am most likely and aspie. I learned to censor most of my stimming rituals that others found weird other than foot tapping and moderate fidgeting. I stim intensely in private, to the point that I move my bed a few inches across the floor sometimes. I caused a lot of guilt and stress for myself trying to control this behavior. Now I see it as a gift. My imagination takes flight, I visualize vividly and I gain tremendous insight and problem solving when I do this. Do you find that stimming can be more than scratching an itch sometimes?

    1. Thank you! I know that I stim when I’m concentrating, but I’m not sure if it contributes to my creative process. I’m still rediscovering my stims, so perhaps I just haven’t gotten there yet. It’s great to hear that you’ve been able to embrace your stimming so positively and that it’s an asset to you. Your comment made me smile. πŸ™‚

  12. Not sure whether I have an Asperger (I have been “different” since I was about 3 years old, but no diagnosis has been given so far), but since my early childhood I stim while daydreaming. It always annoys me when “experts” say stimming is purposeless, because for me it has always had a purpose, special purpose, helps me daydream.

  13. Not sure how I’ve managed not to comment on this post already, because I’ve seen it a couple of times now, but still, it’s another fantastic piece. So many people push us to learn coping skills because “you’ve got to learn to live in the real world” (which is a fair point, in my opinion), but then stop us from using said coping skills in the next breath because it’s DIFFERENT and WEIRD and EMBARASSING (and they throw in a few of the usual myths for good measure), and it’s so bloody irritating. Then we have a meltdown and get told off for that too because it’s MORE embarassing. Most “treatment” for autism is based on making autistic people pass for neurotypical, rather than social skills and advocacy and learning to say no and other things that ACTUALLY CAUSE PROBLEMS. As a result, many of us struggle to express dissent or even make a decision if we don’t know which one is the “right” choice, because we’ve been taught to comply at all costs. If we speak out about this, we’re either too “high functioning” to be “really autistic” or we’re too “low functioning” to know what we’re talking about (this, often, coming from people who aren’t autistic at all)… Sorry, I know most of this isn’t relevant, but the whole thing just makes me so angry. I might have to blog about it at some point rather than just leaving angry comments in your blog. πŸ˜›

    1. This is all relevant and I agree with everything you’ve said here. Honestly, I don’t think we can say it often enough because each time one of us says these things is one more time that it might get read by someone who hasn’t been exposed to how problematic certain approaches are. So thank you for ranting here and please do post about it on your blog! πŸ™‚

  14. I like rubbing my thumb against my pointer finger. It seems very subtle (no one has ever mentioned it) but I also bite my lip and lick my lips a lot which I feel is not only more obvious but a little awkward but if I am staring at the ground (which we are not supposed to do) no one sees it (or rarely does) I don’t remember stimming as a child and maybe that is why I was so anxious. I liked running my fingers through my hair a LOT but that is “normal”
    Now, I choose to stim when I am alone. I shake my arms out really hard to calm down but only when I am alone and it does a world of a difference. No wonder I’ve been such a fidgety person all my life! No use in fighting it. πŸ™‚

    1. I wasn’t sure if I stimmed as a kid until i watched some old home movies and saw myself stimming like mad, especially when we were somewhere away from home. But like you, I have a lot of discreet stims now, so discreet I can conceal them under the table or in my pocket. It feels good to stim more openly in private and there’s definitely no point in fighting it!

  15. Hm. I’m just now working on figuring out a lot of my stims, because I’ve been made aware of how much I need them.

    From an aural point of view… when I’m driving, I need to have music on. If I don’t, I get all tensed up, and then I have trouble focusing on the road because I’m in pain and focused on the tension. I also like to listen to music when writing (I have a whole 6.3 hour soundtrack called Songs to Write By on my iTunes). I know as a kid I apparently used to chew on my right index finger, and even nowadays, I sometimes feel the urge to do that – or at least suck on that part of it that I chewed on. I’ve started carrying a couple of squeeze balls around, because of someone (can’t remember who, just remember that it was an adult autistic blog) mentioned the idea of having a “stimming kit” as useful. I’ve always picked at my skin (have only learned in the last week or so that that can be a stim). I regularly twist my rings around my fingers.

    Any and all posts about stimming are more than welcome, because they help me figure out my own needs and what can help me. So thank you!

    πŸ˜‰ tagAught

    1. I’m in a similar place, reconnecting with my stims and letting myself indulge in some of the more obvious ones that I guess I learned to suppress. The stimming kit is a great idea. I can’t remember who mentioned it either. Maybe E at The Third Glance? She’s smart like that. πŸ™‚

      I actually have another post that’s sort of about stimming (mostly about childhood signs of autism) going up tomorrow!

  16. Attempting to learn more about non verbal communication, I read the book “What Every Body Is Saying”. It’s about understanding body language and how to tell when someone is comfortable or uncomfortable, written by a guy from the FBI. It’s proof-positive that we ALL stim. He had every reason to believe that a woman he was questioning was telling the truth, except that her hands always went up to her neck-line (a pacifying behavior) whenever he asked “Is your son at home?” and she answered “no.” In lying, “no”, she was filling her body with irritants and her nervous system automatically requested a pacifying response, revealing her lie to his watchful eye. The suspect, her son, was indeed home. My son has autism and a hard time with sensory overload. His stimming is perfectly appropriate and his only way right now of suggesting “I need help.”

    1. It’s great to hear that you recognize your son’s stimming as communication. It’s often a sign (for me) for me of increased stress, though at times it can be a sign of extreme happiness as well.

  17. I tend to stim the most when I’m bored or deep in thought. Our car has an ash tray that has a lid that you press to open and press to close, and I’ll often find myself opening and closing it repetitively. I also chew on the insides of my cheek and often find myself twisting or lifting my legs alternately when I’m talking to someone (not sure if all these are stims, but they do tend to elicit a “what are you doing?” type response.)

    1. I think any repetitive type of movement can be a stim, depending on why you’re doing it or what you get out of it. I’m actually working on a piece right now that ties stimming with concentration/deep thought/cognitive workload. Apparently we have a limited pool of cognitive energy and when the demand for deep thought increases, the resources available for inhibiting stimming decrease, which might explain why we’re more likely to stim when concentrating hard on something.

  18. One of my earliest memories is repeatedly flicking my thumb’s nail against my index finger. The best was when lying in bed, I’d flick it on the corner of my mattress and the box springs would murmur a comforting song in my ear. My family called it “thumping.” I moved on to clicking my tongue against the roof of my mouth. Later I moved on to biting my nails, playing with my hair, and smelling the palm of my hand, with the latter particularly alarming my mother. I must have been around that time when I started picking at my fingers, which I continue to do today despite my valiant efforts to stop. I am much better since I keep my nails short and clip any loose skin as soon as possible. At work I try to always have a pen in my hand to touch and fiddle with, although I have been known to have pen parts fly across a meeting room at inopportune times. I’ve started wearing silicone wristbands, which can be tied in a knot, making them a textured thing I play with any time.

    Several months ago, I got a big promotion at work. It involves me supervising a big team of people, and having to concern myself with a lot of things I don’t particularly care about. I don’t have an office. I’m there in a cubicle. I used to be able to keep my stimming fairly subtle, playing with my fingers. But I’m under so much stress and dealing with more people face to face in pressured situations that my stimming has definitely escalated. I have an urge to mutter ba-ba-ba-ba but manage to stifle it to a whispered pa-pa-pa-pa. My legs are flailing. When my arms start going I rub my hands through my hair. In my chair I close my eyes and cover them with my palms and rock forward and back. When meeting with my assistant director I close my eyes to concentrate, whereas I used to look down. I’m guessing my staff thinks I’m on drugs, or maybe autistic, who knows. I’m sure they think I’m quirky. I sometimes can’t resist singing a line of a song triggered by a comment. Like if someone says, “I got it done just in time,” I would probably croon “Just in Time,” from the broadway show Bells are Ringing.” (great song by the way). There is nothing wrong with stimming, but I wish I could get back to the subtler stuff.

    A while back I’d actually told my boss that I saw a lot of asperger traits in myself. She was newly dealing with an aspie in her own life, and I suggested some books for her to read. It obviously hasn’t affected her confidence in me, as she is the one who promoted me after that.

    I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up. I come home and decompress and go back and do it all over again. I’m spending more time on my”special interests” and less time taking care of other things. When the weekend comes, I’m stuck taking care of the other stuff, in theory, but barely. I’m still heavily decompressing. On weekends when i bring work home, I’m a mess during the following work week.

    I was fine managing my smaller group, but this promotion is becoming untenable. I’m trying to figure out my next step careerwise. In the meantime, Musings, I know you are self employed, so this might not become a topic for you, but if in your travels you run across any relevant info please let me know. I have good working relationships with my staff. It’s more dealing with stress’s effect on my stimming on the job, and having new tasks that are of no interest to me.

    1. I wonder if your stimming might settle down a bit as you adjust to your new position? Did you find that when you were promoted to managing your small group that you needed some time to adjust or was that a less stressful transition?

      It sounds like the people you manage and your boss are all tolerant of your stims and that your boss has confidence in you, which is cool. I know that other people have had an autism specialist come in to talk with people they work with and explain what types of behavior is typical and nothing to be concerned about and what might need some accommodation. I don’t know if that’s an option for you or if you feel it would help. Maybe just telling yourself that other people don’t seem to care and not thinking too much about it right now would be helpful. I do know that trying not to do something can make it worse. (Funny true story: another blogger told her autistic son that he didn’t have to worry about getting sick on his well doctor visit because it wasn’t like he was going to lick the doorknobs and the first thing he did upon arriving was start licking all of the doorknobs, something he’d never done or expressed any interest in before.)

      Another possibility is to brainstorm ways, perhaps with your boss’s input, that you can make your job less stressful. For example, since you’re in charge, can you rearrange some communication to be via email or chat? Can you delegate some or parts of the tasks that don’t really interest you? Would it help to be able to walk around or do some other sort of physical activity that’s a less obvious form of stimming during meetings you’re leading?

      The roller coaster feeling you describe is one that I know well. When I’m in a high stress period, I need a lot more time to decompress and I fall so easily into perserverating on special interests and letting other things pile up until it feels like it’s all going to collapse. As you said, this isn’t something you can keep up long-term. I’m bet your boss would rather you come to her with your concerns now than have a complete breakdown or something like that in the future (based on how you’ve described her).

      1. Thanks for your thoughtful response. My previous group grew gradually so my initial promotion wasn’t that stressful, and I started out supervising colleagues I already had good relationships with. Managing had not previously been anything I particularly enjoyed, but I’ve become as comfortable with it as i have because we’ve got such a wonderful staff. However, given my druthers I’d like to get back to working independently and let someone else do the managing. This seems to be a pattern in my life. I’ve started my career over a few times. I start out low level, learning new things and enjoying my work, then mastering it and getting bored, then getting promoted to manager, and not enjoying my job, and then making a break for it. I need to learn to move on to something else instead of becoming a manager. I know that there are other aspie managers out there, but I just haven’t met any (that I know of) or read anything by them. I do enjoy aspects of it, but it’s not really my calling. It’s a lot of work for me to be “on” and on call so much. I definitely feel like I’m pretending to be a manager rather than being a manager. I do it well but it’s not how I want to spend the rest of my working life. I wrote a little about this on my tumblr after reading Look Me in the Eye,and Journal of Best Practices, which both touched upon this phenomenon. (aspies being very good at their work, then getting pushed into managerial roles that they don’t want, for obvious reasons)

        We do a lot of email and chat already, but face to face is also needed. And regardless of my autistic tendencies, I think it’s very important for our cohesiveness and morale and creativity to not just be at our desks alone all day but to interact face to face at times.

        Your point about delegating is a good one. We are not fully staffed right now, and I’m doing a couple people’s jobs. This will change when the hiring is done, but the albatross for me isn’t the heavy workload itself but the new things that I will be responsible for in this new role. My boss has actually taken a lot off my plate in the interim, but I’m not really looking forward to taking them back from her. She promoted me so that I’d take them off her plate and they can’t be delegated to someone else, alas.

        Anyway, thanks for your suggestions. I appreciate it. Just writing about it has taken a weight off me. I haven’t been diagnosed, and I’m not sure that I will, so it seems premature for me to out myself to my staff and HR when I’m still getting used to the idea ofAS myself.

        Here’s a thought — Maybe I’m just noticing my stimming so much because I’ve been reading so much about AS and it’s so on my mind. Maybe my feeling that my stimming was minimal before is ridiculous. Maybe I was always acting this way but just never noticed.

        The good news and something that will go a long way for me personally if if works out is that my boss has requested an office for me. With a door. πŸ™‚

        I hope none of my team is reading this all. Lol.

        1. I really don’t enjoy managing either. I’ve written a series about being self-employed that talks about my experiences with managing people and having a “real” office (that I’m going to start posting this Friday). It follows a similar trajectory to your experience – starting something, having it grow too large and then scaling back or shifting to doing something else because what I really like is the doing. I’m fortunate to be able to delegate a lot of the things that aren’t my strong area or don’t interest me, because I’m the boss. πŸ™‚

          It’s definitely possible that you’re feeling overly self-conscious or self-aware because you’re learning more about AS. When I first started reading about autism, suddenly everything I did felt autism related. It got to be a little obsessive for a while. I’m coming back around to just being me but it’s definitely a big adjustment to take in such a huge realization later in life.

          1. I’m looking forward to reading your post on managing people!
            I know what you mean about the self-awareness stuff. I’m trying to slow down and take it easy in that regard, which is helping.

  19. If only I had known that my so-called “nervous energy” was actually stimming, I could have saved myself so much anxiety over the years! I always thought that it was nervous energy that should be suppressed to keep the tactile feedback from getting me even more anxious, like the reverse of how the tactile feedback from smiling when you’re unhappy can trick your brain into cheering up a little. Since I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I’ve stopped suppressing it and found that my formerly pathetic ability to control my anxiety (especially sensory-overload-induced anxiety) has markedly improved. Thanks a lot, school system, for just treating me like a defiant, obstinate, overly demanding brat instead of thinking, “Hey, maybe something’s up with her neurologically, and she’s having all this trouble and asking for all these extras because of that!” and leaving me to figure out what was up on my own after decades of hopefully-not-irreparable damage had already been done. I’d sue them for the cost of my diagnostic evaluations, but I’m sure the statute of limitations has long passed.

    Although it’s overall been more of a benefit than not, that’s definitely one of the ways my giftedness has bitten me in the behind. While it certainly makes a cool story that a 7-year-old could figure out that tactile feedback can influence emotions without ever having been taught that (I learned about the smiling much, much later on), if said 7-year-old knows what anxiety is but not what stimming is, that’s a recipe for trouble. On the bright side, at least no one ever criticized me for it, and at least I didn’t suppress all of it. *sigh*

    1. Yay! It’s great to hear that stimming freely is helping to control your anxiety too. It’s cool that you were able to put some of the pieces together at such a young age and that now things are finally falling into place. Growing up undiagnosed can be so confusing. 😦

  20. Thank you for this thought provoking post. I have a 7 year old boy who is on the autism spectrum and he’s recently started stimming more noticeably (a new stim we never saw before). I will no longer ask him to repress his stims because it makes me uncomfortable or annoyed. He’s doing what he needs to do to keep himself together. What a brilliant form of self regulation. I’m so proud of my kid. πŸ™‚

    I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog while googling about increased stimming. I now know I’ve got nothing to worry about with my son and I’ve found an insightful new resource. Thank you.

    1. Yay! I’m so glad you stumbled on this article too. πŸ™‚

      Stimming is a very effective form of regulation and you’ll see your son’s stims fluctuate throughout his lifetime. New ones aren’t really anything to be worried about, though an increase in stimming might mean an increase in stress. But when you say more noticeably, I think you might just mean that his new stim is more obvious rather than more frequent?

      1. Yes, I believe you are right–this new stim is very noticeable whereas his previous stims were not. He is more stressed due to full day school and a recent change in therapy programming. We are hoping his anxiety will decrease as he becomes more comfortable in his new environment.

  21. Ajsmama, I think you can be confident that you are reading your son’s stimming correctly. In my experience as a mom to an Aspie and as an Aspie myself, I can assure you, stimming is often increased when coping with change and adjusting to a new environment. I don’t think it hurts to explain to a somewhat older child how stimming can be viewed as very disruptive, while still supporting the child’s need to stim. I think our job as parents is to help mediate our child’s journey in society, taking lots of steps for explanation about what is going on, and offering some choices about how to deal with the interaction. And of course, this takes lots of patience and can make one quite weary. But we can take some satisfaction that we are doing the very best we can.

  22. Beautiful. I love this. It’s not about being abnormal it’s about reacting to being at odds with our environment. So well said. This was something I denied I did, because it was so unconscious I didn’t recognise it in myself anymore. For me as a musician it’s rhythmic patterns – muscle twitching in time to music in my head (there’s always music in my head) or pulsing my fingertips to a song, imagining a computer keyboard and typing a word or phrase I’ve just heard… These are such constants in my life it was hard at first to step back and notice them. Now I catch myself all the time and have a laugh!

    I can also relate to the bouncing for joy. I remember still in my teens when my mum put my favourite meal on the table I’d be humming and rocking while I ate I was so happy! Ha ha…

    1. I didn’t think I stimmed either until I really started paying attention and also reading more about all the different ways that adults stim. It’s actually comforting now to know that I have stims that are always with me, in good times and bad. I’m so glad you were able to discover the joy of stimming and it’s made you happy too!

  23. I love the caged animal analogy.
    I use animal behaviour as a way to understand Human animals.
    I relate human behaviour back to the animal instinct which drives it.
    It’s the way I try to make sense of it all.
    I’m over 50, recently diagnosed, And I have just rediscovered stimming, and I love it. I don’t remember doing it as a child but I do remember constantly being told to sit still, don’t touch, pay attention, be quiet.
    In all my years of struggle as an undiagnosed aspie I never found anything which worked to calm me or focus me.
    Now, I stim, and it’s like magic. Within seconds I regain my focus, I calm down. It stops me focusing on everything around me. It helps me filter out unnecessary distractions.
    I can’t just ignore my surroundings. I notice everything, every movement of other people, a leaf falling from a tree. It’s all a distraction and I can’t focus my attention on a task when there are other people around. If I stim I don’t get distracted because the stim is a self made movement and/or sound and I’m already aware of what it is and don’t need to look at it or figure it out. The intensity of my stimming has to be greater than the intensity of my surroundings or it doesn’t work.
    Quiet stimming in a loud environment does nothing.
    Non visual stimming in a visually stimulating environment does nothing.
    A thought I had based on my experience only. The idea of changing a childs stim to a different stim wont have the desired outcome for the child unless the new stim has the same intensity and stimulates the same senses.

    1. Rediscovering stimming is amazing, isn’t it?

      What you said about changing the child’s stim is definitely true. Sometimes it can be hard to find a stim that has the same intensity and feel. I think, as a child, I instinctively replaced many of my stims with similar stims that were less obvious. For a parent or teacher to help a child replace the stim will probably require a lot of communication and experimentation. As much as possible, the child should be encouraged to take the lead. So I think it’s possible, but needs to be done with a lot of forethought and planning.

  24. I never really thought about it until I heard about aspergers, but the random need to drum my fingers, rock back and forth, and sometimes make noises or whistles makes more sense now. I still want to and sometimes do, but social norms have put the ‘abnormal’ label at the for front of my mind. Stimming always felt right, until I was told it was only something mentally ill people do, and watching my truly mentally ill family members doing similar things made the anxiety and stress over containing it worse. I want to stim sometimes, but that subconscious note makes me feel disgusted with myself at allowing it to happen. Stimming helps the anxiety, but makes the stress worse and I feel like I might lose control.

  25. so i was diagnose with aspergers about a year ago. i also have depression, anxiety, panic attacks and slow proccessing speed. we only knew about the anxiety, finding that out in 3rd grade. i am now in high school and struggled through life never knowing why i couldnt understand people or why no one seemed to like me. i never liked to hang out with other kids and always stayed by the teachers. with all my special problems it makes day to day life very hard. when someone walks by me in public i get stiff and it starts feeling hard to breath, i get real panicky. i rarely look up from the ground in public, afraid that i might catch someones attention and do something wrong. always afraid of screwing up. my mom used to and still does get upset with me when i dont answer immediatly, even though its not my fault. she rarely ever pays attention to the good things i do, only ever paying attention to every bad thing i do. i always feel attacked because most tones sound threatening to me and i dont like conflict. when in a tough situation i hid under a blanket, behind a pillow, etc. i just recently found out about stimming and am now realizing how often i do it. usually i rub my fingers together or up and down my arms, or i twitch my legs. but i also have a habit of stimming by picking at the skin on my arms which is now littered with scars. i dont really know how to stop as its just something that i start doing when really stressed. i dont notice until after i have quit or someone grabs my hand, which makes me jump and become even more paniced. any tips or help anyone can offer to me?

    1. Hi, Lily,
      I’m about 3 times your age, so it’s been a while since I was so under my mother’s thumb. I do remember her pointing out my weird stims and telling me to stop. I’m sure it came from a place of love, but she didn’t realize that if I stopped a particular stim, I’d just pick up another one, maybe even more weird to her. I ended up with picking the skin on my fingers, to the point that they’d end up bleeding and looking really bad. That stim went on for decades. It’s only been the last year or so that I’ve managed to stop that. (You can read above what I wrote a couple years ago when I still was doing it.) I actually used hypnosis to get me not find it beneficial. Instead I now substitute figiting with a ridged toothpaste cap or ridged plastic bottle cap, or my watch or bracelet. Stimming serves an important purpose for me, and I don’t think it would be healthy to stop altogether, but I’m grateful that I was able to channel my stimming into something that isn’t so unhealthy and unsightly.

      Sometimes stimming can be alarming and distracting to others, but we’re not the only ones who stim, and sometimes people don’t even notice what we’re doing.

      Have you considered recommending that your mother read Musings of An Aspie? Some parents have shared here that they learned a lot about their children by reading these posts.

      Hang in there!

  26. It figures… I finally stumble into this & it appears to be a ghost town..

    I have no diagnosis & don’t know if I will pursue one (I’m having a hard enough time being taken seriously by the medical profession on more straight-forward things). It was by accident that I took a test which led to a test and… I probably fall on the spectrum? Hmmm…

    I was looking at ADD (I reuse to use ADHD because the H just doesn’t fit so many) and then found this. Anyway… I didn’t fit the H but I do remember lots of leg bouncing & foot jiggling as a child. Once I joined the drumline in high school, it moved to my hands. And, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve internalized things. I thought maybe that was my H for ADHD, but then I had to look up stimming in reading things around here & I started looking at it differently. Nervous habit? Stimming? Now I’m wondering. Which brings me to the next weird thought… If one internalizes stimming (to keep from drawing attention, etc), could that result in a raging case of earworms? I’ve suffered from constant earworms for years and no neurologist will even answer a simple question about why this would be or what I could do about it.

    I won’t say more because most posts around here are more than a year old, so I don’t expect an answer. And, while I talk to myself plenty, I don’t make it a habit of doing it in public.

    1. Hi jester. I suspect that quite a few of us are still reading new posts, which we receive as emails. It’s not the ghost town you suspect it to be. I’ve found that squelching a particular type of stim merely leads to another one popping up. I’ve not had experience with it leading to ear worms.

      Stimming in and of itself doesn’t mean that someone is autistic, but if you find yourself having numerous other characteristics in common with ASD, keep reading, and you might eventually get a formal diagnosis, or self-diagnose. Either way, what’s important is that you embrace who you are.

    2. I just found the site too & have got so much out of reading it! Re earworms; interesting thought that it could be related to suppressed stimming. I get a lot of them & have a lifetime of rigidly suppressing stims behind me (I self-diagnosed at age 62) & I have just started to question the requirement that I appear “normal”. I’m also finding it hard to allow myself to stim after so many years of rigid control. I’ll be watching to see if earworms frequency changes with increases in stimming.
      Re diagnosis: I’m realizing that knowing how my brain works is very important but I can find out a lot of that for myself thru this sort of site. Medical people are usually so uninformed that I wind up trying to explain my differences to them. ie: knowing that I don’t show usual levels of distress has led me to tell my Dr. & others “listen to what I say, not how I say it.” I know now that lack of apparent distress is why my medical problems often weren’t taken seriously in the past. Being able to explain this is changing my health care success.
      Good luck with the earworms πŸ˜•

      1. I never knew what an earworm was until today. I take things so literally I thought “Do I even want to google this? Is this going to be gross? Why would a worm be in his ear?” But duh, it’s a song or tune that gets stuck in your head! I never knew there was a term for this! The term for it is gross though, like a mental image I totally don’t want! Hah!!

        I will get a song stuck in my head, and I will have to listen to the song OVER and OVER and OVER again, sometimes 100 times in one day. It’s sort of an insane level of listening to one song. I will even keep my iphone in my pocket and listen on repeat as I do things throughout the day (I am a stay at home mom). It drives my family insane, so I don’t do this in front of people, only when I’m alone.

        However a song will resonate with me in a particular way, or give me a particular feeling, it’s hard to describe. Then I receive some kind of emotional stimulation from it, and enjoy that, so I listen on repeat. It’s very odd, and I have associated specific earworms to specific times in my life. I don’t like music the way other people do. I like my earworms, very specific. I like songs that make me feel good, so I listen on repeat.

        Recently, I got “Kissed by a Rose” stuck in my head and I didn’t realize I was singing it so much until, when it came on TV for a commercial my husband looked at me and said “If you sing this, on repeat, again, I will go insane” I had no clue it was that bad!! I like to sing a lot, and will get a song that I like to sing stuck in my head and will sing it non stop. Recently it was Justin Beiber’s “Sorry” because I just like to sing the chorus, and again, my husband had to just say “Please for the love of everything holy, STOP!!” He puts up with a lot from me!!

        This blog has been so helpful to me, it’s become like a lifeline for me as I navigate my somewhat new diagnosis of ASD. I still don’t know if I want to accept it, because I have coped as thinking I’m just a really messed up NT for so long. Even embracing the terminology of Aspergers, Aspie, ASD, is hard. Honestly, I like to study human behavior on a mass scale, like the scientist who studied ants (and made very clever comparisons to ants and humans). I think it’s interesting as a species that we like to label and categorize our behavior so that we can fit into our complex societal structure. So in a way I think the whole idea of labels is really silly, as we are just complex highly evolved creatures on a giant rock in outer space. Yet, in our society, the label is important and the label has allowed me to connect to other people who are like me and it makes me feel less alien.

        I am so grateful for this resource, I am reading like crazy (in major research mode). I am so glad to have found this!! When I feel lonely I read and feel connected again.

        1. I totally get the research mode reference, that has been me for 2 years now, just gobbling everything I can find that helps me know who I am & how I really am meant to function. Yes, this site is excellent, has helped me enormously.

  27. Dang did I need to read this. (And sorry I know it’s been a few years so I doubt you’ll come across this.)

    When I was first diagnosed I only went to therapy for a year, and even now I don’t remember much of it. I ended up being left in the dark, only knowing that I had Aspergers, and that the reason I had trouble communicating wasn’t exactly my fault. But not until recently have I taken the initiative to try to learn about my own disability (and I’ve been taking everything with a grain of salt; I don’t really get meltdowns but boy do I get shutdowns.)

    I’ve recently heard about stimming for the first time a few months ago, and wasn’t sure exactly if I had done it. I didn’t flap my hands, though I did have the urge at times. Then I found out there were ALOT of forms of stimming. One’s that dealt with touch, and hearing, and noise-making.

    I’ve actually been extremely tense and stressed out especially this last year, and I’m finally realizing that a small part of it may be the fact that I’ve been “censoring” myself for so long – not letting myself stim. This last week I’ve been starting to let myself once again, at least the less noticeable/disruptive ones.

    Anyways sorry this is random; thank you for this I needed to hear it.

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