What is Stimming?

A big topic about the autistic community is that of stimming. Some people have been often known to refer to it as fidgeting. I would say for me, and likely for many other autistic people, that’s where a line would be drawn.

You see, most people stim. But it is often referred to as fidgeting. It’s often excess energy being burned off.

So what is stimming, and why is it different for the neuro-divergent community?

A stim is short for self-stimulation behavior or actions. I feel the need to address two sides of the same coin. Two conditions in particular share stimming as a trait. Autism and ADHD. I fall in both columns. In conversations I’ve had with other autistic individuals, I rarely hear them say identify a reason for stimming that is anywhere near my oft used main reason.

But in talking to individuals with ADHD, there is some commonality.

My main reason for stimming is for focus. I need actions that can occupy enough of my brain so I don’t go in a million different directions for the task at hand. These stims can take many different forms. Sometimes I do them at the same time as my task. Sometimes, i hop back and forth between my stims and my task.

However, I also stim for other reasons. If I’m nervous, happy, sad…

From the autistic perspective, stimming can almost be considered additional forms of communication. Considering I often find myself unable to find words that I think are an accurate depiction of how I am feeling, stimming is part of body language that communicates as loud, if not louder than my words.

Also, stimming can alter sensory perceptions. Given that sensory processing is a big highlight of the autistic experience, adjusting your sensory perceptions can be helpful. For instance, even when I am supposed to be standing still, I am never really standing still. I’m readjusting how I stand. I’m shifting weight back and forth…almost swaying at times.

Stimming is also related to masking, because the regulation that stimming provides. It allows autistic people to keep level enough to mask in front of others.

When I think back to my childhood, I can’t necessarily identify one particular stim. My mother would always tell me “STOP FIDGETING!” But, there is one thing that comes to mind. It is a stim, but not one of physical movement.

I always had this propensity to ask the question “What if?”.

I drove my mother crazy with it at times. But even now, I am inquisitive. I always want to know what’s going on, why it’s going on, and how exactly it works. My imagination ran a little more wild as a child though.

My mother always swore up and down that she was going to write a children’s book one day with all of my best “What If” hits. She’s already a published author, and an accomplished artist. Hopefully she sees this and decides to work on it now that she’s retired.

Thanks for reading through this one. This is week two of the “Take The Mask Off” campaign. Please search this hashtag on social media and read, watch and listen to perspectives from other autistic people.

Friends

This is a touchy topic…a hot button conversation…

But I’d like to talk about it in context…

Do you know how hard it is for an autistic person to make friends?

Let’s talk about the process of making friends first. You have to get up the courage to talk to someone first. That can be easy or tough, depending on your nature as an introvert or an extrovert. But the key is to find something you have in common.

Then you have to be able to make small talk. Sometimes it is around that thing you have in common. But it is a tougher proposition if you haven’t figured that part out yet. You may start with the weather, big local news, or the latest sports scores.

It’s really like dating. You go through a feeling out process. You try to find someone you enjoy being around. You find someone you can have conversations with. You find someone that passing time with feels like fun instead of a chore.

Eventually, you can build that friendship. You talk about deeper things. This person is another sounding board in your life. This is another person that can hold you accountable. They’re not just friendly with you. They are REAL with you. Eventually, you move up to the status of BEST FRIEND. You are thick as thieves. Those are awesome types of relationships to have.

Let’s add a layer on this. When an autistic person wants to make friends, there is often difficulty in the grey area. We often go at just a small drip to make sure the pipes don’t freeze, or we go full bore. Going full bore is how you will often see an autistic kid going. Yes, this will create some awkwardness at times. But many times, other kids haven’t gotten the learned behavior of shutting out differences. As autistic kids get older, you will see them be less outgoing because, unfortunately, they’ve learned that the world doesn’t accept them for who they are. They feel shut out. They feel rejected. They feel not wanted. (Yes, I realize some autistic people do live in their own head and don’t detect this behavior, but some do.) It can be demoralizing to be rejected. So there is a learned behavior to push away and to not engage.

Yes, there are autistic extroverts. I am one of them. But the introvert tendencies that happen are not just self-preservation for physical and mental health. They are learned behavior from the standpoint of bruised ego and hurt feelings…things that no one realizes has happened because it is not often we tell anyone. We end up learning that others don’t want to hear our problems because they aren’t classified as problems in others’ minds.

I’ve had good/best friends in different seasons of life. Unfortunately, they’ve all moved on to something else. The friendships never deepened to the point of making lasting bonds. I have plenty of acquaintances. There are plenty of people who are friendly, and I try to return that friendliness every chance I get. There are people who are always concerned about if I’m having a good day and how I am doing, for various reasons.

But let’s be honest…

For as hard as it is for any person to make a new friend, I as an autistic person have to work three times as hard as the next person. I’m not just overcoming that hump of making a connection. I’m having to make sure I don’t register as awkward to others. I’m not allowed to be myself because others have a hard time seeing through pre-conceived notions of what behavior from a person should be.

Making friends as an autistic person is a tough as being that good television show with the genius story lines that gets axed by the network after one season. You never get a chance to see the layers. You never get a chance to see the story unfold.

But why do I have to work so much harder than everyone else?

I don’t write this seeking pity. I don’t write this begging for friends. I write this to be open. I write this so I can keep myself healthy. I write this to be real with myself. Many times as I write this, I’ve asked myself if I really want to blow this lid away. Frankly, I do. I do it in the name of helping others understand. If this is a battle for me, you don’t know how many more people face this same battle. And if you are facing this battle, you are not alone.

Be real.

Be authentic.

Be open.

Be accepting.

The Myth Of “High Functioning”

You may call someone high functioning, but inside they are a hot mess.

I’ll begin with this.

I get it.

The phraseology of “high functioning” in regards to an autistic person is in the social-ingrained lexicon of society. I can’t be mad when people use it when they don’t know any better. What I can do is work to dispel the myth.

Let’s start with my kid. I know his patterns on how he gets tired and wore out. He’ll get tired faster than I do. That’s what kids do. However, when he does not have the freedom to be himself, you can see those physical signs of being wore out sooner in the day. Let’s use going to church on Sunday morning as an example. He’s not your “perfect” little child who is quiet as a church mouse, but he does fairly well for what he can do. In an hour of this, I see his physical signs of being tired. On a day of his own making, that doesn’t show up until almost dinner time.

Let’s dip in to how it works with me. I can provide you with some more specifics.

  • Eye contact: I can make eye contact with you. But after a few minutes, it physically hurts. I can sustain that eye contact, but my involvement in what’s going on goes down fast.
  • Technology use: If I am in a group meeting setting where I am supposed to be listening to what someone is saying, don’t be surprised if I take out a computer or my smart phone. Yes, technology use is often considered addictive, but that same effect helps occupy enough connections in my head where I actually can listen and focus.
  • Too much chaos, or other negative energy around me: If I am supposed to be focusing and working on something, this is a non-starter for me. The severe nature of negative energy permeates in me and can, if overload occurs, cause a short circuit in my brain.
  • Speaking extemporaneously: Sure, at times I will know something about a subject and can speak at length about it. That’s what you might hear referred to as an “info dump”. I can speak off the cuff about anything, but not often. The pressure of doing so draws that energy from me. Despite of that energy draw, there is no guarantee I can come up with something of any consequence. I do much better writing out my thoughts. I can edit myself.
  • Sound/Noise: For me, the volume of something is not a big deal. The big deal is multiple sources of noise all competing at the same volume level. My brain hears all these sources individually and tries to process them all simultaneously. But it can’t accomplish that. This differs from others who can ignore background noises entirely, banishing them to the singular white noise.
  • Three-dimensional spatial issues: Having someone behind me in most cases is very stressful. It’s not something that will cause a meltdown, but it is something that saps my energy in an exponential manner.

So, some days I can handle this stuff really well (and this is by no means an exhaustive list). Other days, I am not able to handle even half of this. I put my best face on in public, because socially it is not acceptable for things to effect me the way they do. But when I am not in sight, I let go, and sometimes can’t function for a little while.

Every autistic person battles their own issues. Every autistic person has trouble with this social disability. Some of us are just equipped to keep the effects hidden better than others.

You may call someone high functioning, but inside they are a hot mess.