Tied to the track

Stim.sTim.stIm.stiM.stiM.stIm.sTim.Stim.

Numbers (and counting) have always played a big part in my life and my daily routines. I count everything. As a kid it was obsessive at times. I counted windows in houses, stairs I climbed, lines in sidewalks, knobs on kitchen cabinets, dashes on the road, chairs in a restaurant, etc… When I wasn’t actively participating in something, I was counting. I would count and re-count things even when I already knew how many I had: Matchbox car collection; Star Wars figure collection; Breyer horse collection, and so on. And for the record…

I still count, not as obsessively, but I do it.

And with pleasure!

 

Is it Bad?!!

You guys know how I feel about rules and breaking them:

Not gonna’ happen!

However, it was brought to my attention that my childhood counting obsession was a form of stimming because I did it every day for hours a day (alongside spinning, pacing and reading backwards).

[for those of you who do not follow my blog, I was diagnosed in adulthood and through my new-found Autistic friends, I have learned/continue to learn so much about myself]

I learned quickly that stimming is considered an autistic trait and generally frowned upon by NT society. So, I perused the internet for a bit, Googling the word so I could get a well-rounded idea of what non-autistic people considered stimming. And here’s what I came up with in the simplest of terms and in my own words:

Stimming is/are mannerisms, sometimes obsessive, that are attributed to autistic people (even though we’re not the only ones that do it!) that make us look…  AUTISTIC. And to that I say…

L o v e   ME   —>  L o v e  m y  STIM(s)

 

Stimming and What it Means to Me 

From the outside, I think stimming can look like a bad habit easily broken. Just stop it, right?! Easier said than done. I’d like to share with you why I stim (counting, plugging into my iPod for hours of music, saying a word/phrase over and over, rocking, fingernail biting, etc…). I partake in stimming because it makes me feel good and, now that I’m older, my stimming is either publicly acceptable (music), or undetectable (counting).

So why do I do these things? What’s the point? I mean, if some of it is socially unacceptable to NTs and draws negative attention to me, why do it?

It’s what it does for me.

It’s not counting for the sake of counting, it’s that when I count everything (everyone) disappears. You see, while I enjoy stimming to stim, it also helps me during very stressful situations. And being autistic, stressful situations run the gamut. The funny thing is, when I describe these anxiety-inducing situations, NTs look at me kind of funny. You see, it’s not the big things, I handle those with ease, it’s the little things. The things NTs tend to call ‘everyday life’ I call

confusing.aggravating.overwhelming.frustrating.exhausting.

My son doesn’t flap his hands because he wants kids to make fun of him. My daughter doesn’t bite everything she comes in contact with because she wants people to stare. And I don’t bite my fingernails for a fashion statement. Believe me, attention from strangers is the last thing we are looking for! We do these things because what goes on around us is too much:

  • the sounds
  • the smells
  • the touches
  • the weather (gray skies/rain… ugh; wind… hate it!!)
  • the people (their greetings and how they speak to us)
  • the unfamiliar places
  • changes in routines
  • expectations
  • and the list goes on and on…

Hand-flapping, biting, chewing, counting – these are the things we employ to release energy (show joy, relieve anxiety) and to calm ourselves. Let me divulge something to you:

We know stimming is frowned upon – because people are always trying to stop us - but when we compare our stim of choice to mustering daily irritations without it, we have to weigh the pros and cons of each.

Stimming generally wins.

(because it’s comforting)

 

To Stim or Not to Stim 

I don’t have a problem with stimming, matter of fact I love it! And knowing how helpful and necessary stimming is in my (our) life, I do it whenever/wherever I feel the need. I understand that in an instance where stimming involves others and without their permission [e.g. my son likes to continually play with the veins in my neck and press his lips over them again and again – he’d do it to other people (and has…oops)], it is necessary to address the stim. Re-direction and positive attitudes work wonders! And re-direction is not another way of saying punishment.

Definitely not.

Re-direction in this case means find a different stim that’s just as pleasing, but doesn’t involve strangers!

While re-direction may be necessary (it’s ok and kinda’ cute when a 3 year old obsesses over someone’s neck, not so much when it’s a 10 year old), so is stimming! But, I can’t agree with the “Just Stop It” approach. When you tell us “No” or “Stop it” and forbid the behavior, then we need to do it ten-fold, we just gotta’

I know, I speak from experience!

When I was a kid and my Mom tried to stop my stimming, that behavior became an obsession. I found myself having to do it, not because it felt good, but because I thought it would be ‘taken away’ from me. That I would no longer have my magical outlet! Then panic would ensue and I would find myself doing that particular stim whenever and wherever.

 

Here’s Where I Stand on Stimming 

If the behavior is not harmful to my child or anyone else, then go for it! I have found with my kids that some stims (if they involve unsuspecting by-standers)  can be re-directed to more acceptable stims, and as we get older  – some of us end up self-monitoring ourselves anyway!

Stimming is not wrong and it is not something we should be made to feel ashamed of! It’s a part of autism. Does it make us look autistic? Yes. But we are autistic, so it makes sense. I will leave you with this thought, though:

When we can say we are a society that’s not merely aware of autism, but a society that’s actually in acceptance of autism, then stimming will merely be a characteristic of a person

not a symptom of a disorder.’

19 thoughts on “Stim.sTim.stIm.stiM.stiM.stIm.sTim.Stim.”

  1. Like with me son he got his routine If it does hinder him We let go It a small thing ti worry about Each of us Stim in our own way

  2. What an amazing piece you have written. As an NT I find it incredibly helpful to understand what stimming means to you and why you do it. As a teacher it is helpful to know how to deal with it – redirect instead of trying to stop. What you have said makes so much sense. I think you should print out this blog and send it to schools so all teachers can read it!
    Cheers
    Justine

    1. Thank you, Justine! Please feel free to share my blog with others. I’m always so excited to reach teachers, You’re so very important in this equation! I wanted to share with you 3 other posts I’ve written that you might find helpful:
      1. You’re Not Trying
      2. Decompression
      3. Sensory Integration…
      And if you would like to print and share any of the posts, you are more than welcome. I only ask that you do not edit the posts and that you please credit me as the author :)
      Thank you for reading and commenting!

  3. As a middle-aged man who was relatively recently diagnosed with autism, I (previously) thought that EVERYBODY counts things, all the time! I simply CAN’T go up or down a flight of stairs without counting them, sometimes taking some two at a time just to vary the counting pattern in my head… 1,2,4,5,7,8,10,11,13,14, landing, and so on. Unless I’m trying to talk with someone as I’m walking, I’m often counting my paces as I walk. I count the facets on light fixtures in meeting rooms, and the upholstery tacks in a chair.

    Thanks for sharing such a well-written description of counting as stimming, a concept that I hadn’t really connected until I just found this post!

    1. Oh, this is so great! Amazing what we find out, isn’t it?? I didn’t realize that it was considered odd to count everything. I can’t help it, though, and don’t want to. It just feels good to my brain.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m so glad you found it helpful :)

  4. Hi there. I’m an NT mom of a 6 year old autistic boy. He doesn’t obviously stim as far as I can tell, but I think maybe verbally he does a bit when he learns something new that he finds interesting.

    I was wondering, do you think that stimming might be sort of a meditation in a way? How you describe it seems like the Buddhist chants, or some of the repetitious chants of other religions. It seems to serve a similar purpose of finding the calm…

    Thank you for your blog. I just found it recently and love to hear from autistic adults so I can help my son find his own autistic voice, and be confident in being his own quirky self.

    1. Hi. Interesting you should mention chant, when I was younger my silent mantra was: “look them in the eyes. look them in the eyes…” over and over to make sure I maintained eye contact. This was years before I was dx’d, but it always calmed me to think it to myself as someone spoke. It forced me to maintain eye contact, but unfortunately it also made me miss a lot of what was said to me. oops :)

      My verbal stims, which I don’t do now as much – rarely in fact – for me was how the vibration felt. I like to make sounds that vibrated in my throat and chest. Very relaxing!

      Maybe your son has a lot of ‘hidden stims.’ That’s what I called the ones I did so no one noticed. Counting was the biggest, but reading backwards and saying words/phrases silently to myself were big ones, too.

      THanks for reading and commenting and asking Autistic People. YaY!!!

    1. You’ve never stimmed? Are you sure (many of our stims are stims and we don’t realize it)?? It’s wonderful – give it a try!

      1. Now I come to think of it, I suppose there is something… I’ve never really thought of it in this way, but there’s a way I sort of toss my phone (I basically flip it, so it’s pointing the other way… I remember doing this in lessons with a calculator a few years ago.. so I suppose I do have a stim of sorts ^.^

  5. Brilliant! I am NT and if ever i see a kid or an adult twiddling, clapping, rocking or clapping I just think, go for it! I mean why the hell not, it’s fine, it’s liberating, My son is NT but is visually impaired. He just can’t help humming loudly when he is concentrating, gaming on the iPad or eating. Everyone stares at him, I look people in the eye and say isn’t he fabulous? He then gets embarrassed and tells me to shut up, tee hee, he is not bothered by people staring at him when he hums but he is mortified by my behavior! Let’s all act together to change the boundaries of so called normal and make life for everyone more comfortable and less stressful.

    1. Well, we embarrass our kids cos we love them so much (it’s in our job description)! I love that he stims like that – the humming, how beautiful! And I’m with you on making life more comfortable and less stressful for everyone. Wouldn’t that be something?!! Thanks for reading and commenting, Lesa, I really appreciate it :)

  6. Hi there I’m 33 and think I’m just realising that I’m a stimmer . Thought i had just habits but kept it to myself . I’m always counting and know loads of phone numbers from years ago and present . I bite my hand . When I think of something I tense up and shake and I’m out of breath sometimes . I make weird noises . But I do all this in private . So can anyone help me . Have I got autism ? Am I a stimmer . Do I need to see a doctor ?

    1. Hi, so sorry for the delayed response! It seems comments weren’t getting through, so I just received yours!

      It’s not only Autistic people that stim. Just about everyone I know stims in some way (tapping a pencil on the desk, bouncing their knees as they sit, rocking, pacing, etc…), so stimming itself does not mean a person is Autistic. And I couldn’t possibly answer whether or not you are Autistic. An actual diagnosis for an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) would have to come from a professional, which I am not. Are you “a stimmer?” If you are a person who stims, I suppose you could call yourself a stimmer :) As to whether or not you should see a doctor, that is a personal choice. If you are interested in seeking a diagnosis, then you would have to see a professional for that. I hope this helps, and again, I apologize for the delay and responding. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  7. I just came across this post – I’ve never heard the word ‘stim’ before, but the counting thing… I thought that was just me. (And I have to count things in pairs, or threes, or some groups of N… mod 0 if possible. It used to bug me no end when there was a prime number of lights on a street, or lines on the road, or… you get the idea.)

    1. Oh, I soooo “get the idea” as you said! 13 is my favorite numeric stim and I use it constantly – trying to get license plates, dates, phone numbers, house numbers, time, etc… to in some way, shape or form equal the number 13. I even employ letters of the alphabet (especially in license plates) when there aren’t enough numbers or the numbers won’t equal 13. And oh the frustration when they don’t! Thank you for reading and commenting :)

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