If I'm autistic, why don't I stim?
I only figured out I'm autistic in 2022. I'm still learning. Writing these articles is how I learn things. They're all works in progress, to various extents. No-one can speak for an entire minority group. These are just my personal experiences, things I've found out from talking to my friends, and discussions I've seen on autistic forums. Please don't take me as authoritative. I'm not.
Once I finally worked out I was autistic, a question bugged me: how come I don't stim? I've seen autistic characters in films and TV shows. I don't flap my hands like that. It turns out that's only one form of stimming. There are many others.
As a child, I was bullied for hard blinking (which is pretty much what it sounds like). I only recently discovered that this is a known thing that has a term. I thought I was the only one.
As an adult, I often listen to field recordings and ambient music on my digital Walkman, both to block out distracting ambient sounds while working, and to offset the anxiety I feel when venturing outside. I don't leave home without it. I also sometimes repeat mantras (meaningless stopwords, listing the first twelve powers of two, etc) in my internal monologue, and loop music in my mind.
Listening to my Walkman aside, I don't consciously do any of these things on purpose. They just happen, like an intrusive thought.
Guess what? These are all examples of stimming. It's not that I don't do it, it's that I found more socially acceptable ways of doing it.
There are other socially acceptable forms of stimming that even allistic people indulge in: hair twirling, chin stroking (the latter being seen as "smarter" than the former, due to sexism), nail biting, foot tapping, and pretty much any kind of fidgeting.
Stimming is something I believe all people do when sufficiently anxious or overwhelmed. It's just that allistic people are seldom anxious or overwhelmed enough to warrant it. At any rate, it's certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
We've all seen the cliché of a kid flapping his hands, but stimming is a much broader category than just that. It's about finding a sensory input that is stimulating in some way, and then just using it to release energy and self-sooth. This can range from stuff like biting nails and cracking knuckles to fidgeting restlessly, walking in circles while thinking or even just focusing on a phone game for a while as your brain refreshes. It takes all sorts of forms, and while a lot of autistic kids in particular struggle with finding ways to stim that are socially acceptable and not dangerous to themselves many of us ultimately figure out what works for us. It's cool, it's not hurting anyone.
- "Humanizing the DSM's Diagnostic Criteria for Autism" Mykola Bilokonsky, Reddit
Stimming: If I'm autistic, why don't I stim? | Stims