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
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
- 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.
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.’