Stimming, for the unenlightened, is repetitive neurological stimulation. Basically, it’s a repetitive sensory data input that distracts the brain from overload and helps a person relax. It can be motion related, like rocking or pen clicking, or tactile related, like running fingertips back and forth on an object or one’s self, or other sensory input related like staring at a candle flame or moving water or listening to a piece of music over and over. I think the key to defining the stimming here is that it calms the mind. It has been compared to zen and meditation, and the joke is that aspies reach nirvana all the time.
I wasn’t aware for a long time that I stim. I knew what it was because I babysat a low functioning autisitc girl for a couple of years some time back, but I didn’t realize I was stimming, too. It’s funny that over the years my blouses all lose their buttons in exactly the same place, because I unconsciously play with the button that is closest to one or two inches above my belly button. That’s a funny pattern not to notice. Or the hems slowly unraveling out of my blouses because I hook my fingernails on the hems of my blouses and pick. Those are little stims. I don’t really space out that much while I do them, they are mostly just to help me focus while I’m in high energy mode dealing with customers or being in public. I have no idea if other people notice. No one has ever said anything.
I love my cell phone. I love to hold it. I love to feel the bumps and curves and buttons. I unconsciously pull on the antenna and sometimes unscrew it out completely. My phone is super to have in my hands when I’m nervous. Mine is a flip phone, too, so I can play with feeling the pressure in the hinge that keeps it closed.
I bet I have a million different ways to stim. The worst one is scratching. Sometimes I have to scratch, and my poor face suffered in a couple of spots over the years. I’ve had to very consciously stop scratching my face. A doctor told me I was breaking down my skin and would soon have cellulitis, a local infection that can eventually turn into staph from the constant picking and scratching because it can never heal like that, and the integrity of the skin is compromised, and bacteria can get in. I’m doing pretty good with it, you can’t tell anymore, but every day I have to consciously stop myself.
Sometimes I move parts of my face till they are exhausted. I didn’t realize for years that I’m a blinker when I drive. I blink in a variety of rhythms until I almost can’t blink at all anymore. I think it has a lot to do with sunlight and headlights. Sunglasses help a bit, I don’t do it so much with them on. I’ve also nearly destroyed my lips chewing on them. If my hands are busy, like when I drive, other parts of me go into action. If I have to sit still at a desk and talk to someone, my feet start exploring. I love running my feet up and down cords under a desk. One time during a really trying customer complaint I realized my feet were actually climbing the wall underneath the desk, both of them flat to the wall surface and my legs at straight 90 angles to the rest of my body. I have no idea if the customer noticed my body was so active in my chair.
Can you imagine me in school as a child? Or sitting in church next to a mom who was embarrassed over everything I did? I learned how to be really still in public as I grew up, but I also became that much more antisocial. I think there is a direct connection between my inability to freely stim and getting along with people. Stimming keeps my nerves ‘down’, and I’m very good at interaction when I can fidget or wiggle or whatnot. Not stimming turns into tension and a bad attitude that I have a hard time controlling, and worst case scenario, throbbing migraines.
I think this is why there is contention out there over stimming at work and bosses being intolerant. Aspies can seem pretty weird, being hooked on needing to do particular movements that don’t seem terribly professional and possibly make them seem a little hyper. Most people think of being relaxed as being still. I’m my most relaxed when I am completely unconscious of my hand continually moving in a stim. I have annoyed the crap out of people with the way I play with pens and office equipment or tap my feet, so I’ve had to really watch that. And I’ve caught myself doing some pretty weird things, like lightly kicking drawer handles over and over while I do scheduling over the phone, or pulling on my nose a lot during a cold.
I especially stim when I get really absorbed, like when I read. Sometimes my stimming gets so disruptive I have to stop reading. I still haven’t figured that one out, because I really like reading. I think my brain just has to spread out the stimulation it’s getting from my eyes and thoughts. The more intense the material, the weirder my stims get. I’ve even caught myself running my feet up the walls to play with the light switch while I lay on the couch and read. I won’t have a clue I’m doing it until I accidentally flip a switch or nearly roll off the couch. The worst thing I can do is have a glass of water or tea anywhere around me while I read. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to jump up and save everything.
My fave kind of stimming is youtube. That is the coolest thing. I can spaz out on a good youtube vid over and over and a solid hour goes by without me even noticing. It’s like a drug or something. I eventually reach a point where I’m almost having an out of body experience because I’m so disconnected, and slowly ‘come back’ realizing I’m not even seeing the vid anymore and the music has become ethereal. Doesn’t take a whole lot to do that, really. Youtube certainly makes it easier.
I mean it about the drug thing. My brain literally pumps out endorphins when I stim. I could space out within seconds on sunlight hitting ocean water and be so utterly content that I would never want food or friendship again. Nirvana! I’ve discovered I can stim in my head like that, visualize light on water and calm my nerves a bit. I’ve done a number of thought experiments like that, and I’ve been told by medical staff I have marvelous control with the relaxation techniques I use. I might still feel like a nervous wreck about to explode somewhere in my head, but it doesn’t show up on instruments anywhere when I focus. I can’t be anywhere around caffeine for that to work. I’m hypersensitive to chemically induced change in my body, so it’s just best not to be friends with anything stimulating.
Woops, not writing a book on stimming here. Just thought it would be nice to put out something searchable from a less frustrating or experimental point of view. If you are aspie looking for ‘normal’ aspie behaviors to compare yourself to, hello. If you aren’t aspie and think this is weird, get in line.
On a Mr. Spock aspie scale of one to ten, rate your nirvana level, one being the calmest and ten being sheer overload. (I made this, you are seeing it here first.)
1. I can stand still and contemplate the universe for hours, as long as I can twiddle my fingers.
2. I can hear you talking and I don’t care, I’m still going to stare off and let you do all the worrying.
3. Your talking is starting to get a little annoying because I was right in the middle of discovering the secret link between the stark, harsh reality of the universe and the human soul.
4. So what if I didn’t take out the trash or get the mail and another day slipped by, what is that compared to the sweet union of universe and soul? Rich people pay big bucks in fancy spas for experiences like mine. Get a grip.
5. Ok, I’m getting the stupid trash out, hope you’re happy, because this freaking out over something so mundane seriously screwed a beautiful experience I was having.
6. I’ll stop flapping my hands when you realize you are minimizing my existence on this planet to a generalized term of unendearment, and I never would have talked to you that way over something as trivial as taking the trash out.
7. Yes, I understand that my existence is defined by my actions and that doing something constructive is healthy, but you’re just going to sit there and watch tv anyway, so excuse me while I go stim somewhere else.
8. No, I won’t cuddle now. Don’t touch me. You think the trash is more important than I am.
9. Ah, food… I like food. Anyone who brings me food is my friend. I will sit by you for food.
10. Don’t talk to me about the tv show, I’m contemplating the stark, harsh reality of the universe of hot nachos and how my soul intertwines therewith through a rush of sweet joy and sensation.
Ok, you can see my scale doesn’t hold to the linear model we are more familiar with. I see experience more as a circle. Or a sine wave. Overload can come at any time, in any place on that scale, and just as quickly dissipate for me. I’m sure others have bigger overloads, or maybe they last longer. I find it easier to deal with overload by letting people know I can be ‘bought’. I’ll accept small gifts and favors (usually food) as tokens of forgiveness. After all, it runs both ways. We’re all stupid to each other.
The biggest challenge is learning to let it go. So someone doesn’t like my stims, I make a joke out of it. I’m weird, I know that. Who cares? Bosses become idiots under a lot of pressure, just be who you are anyway. I think the goal is, if you are working with the public, is not to scare the straights, to make them more comfortable in the business atmosphere. If you have to sacrifice part of your aspie soul doing that and you don’t feel comfortable about it, by all means look for another job. I’ve had a lot of jobs. I’ve never been fired. I’ve always been told I’m the best, no matter what I do, and eventually I usually become the most annoying, too. They are glad to see me go, even if replacing me is a real drag because there will never be another who worked as hard as I did and got all the paperwork right and cared about the merchandise. So what? Life is short, go have new experiences, learn new things. It’s nerve racking to work under a boss who picks on you, I agree. It’s a drag to have to go through the job hunt all over again, I agree. It doesn’t look great on an application to see such a long list of former jobs, I agree. But you know what? I have had so many experiences, met so many people, and have been told so many times I’m really good– how can I even think that 15 years in one place would be better? It has to be about more than the money. I know we all need money, but you don’t get more by sitting there frustrated at your boss because you need to stim and it’s annoying people.
Aspies are known for being wonderfully inventive and intuitive. While you sit there frustrated, use some quality time in your head to problem solve. Investigate your soul, what you really want, how do you get it. Formulate a plan, think about how much you will enjoy secretly taking new steps while your current job keeps feeding you. After all, it’s just a job. If it truly is hell, plan your escape in such a way that you glow with radiance and leave gracefully and on good terms to the best of your ability. Shed crocodile tears if you have to. Play the crowd. Use your skills and wit to your advantage. Just don’t keep blaming other people around you for making you miserable because you can’t stim when you need to. They can feel the hostility coming off that one, and it’s always destructive.
I just say, “Sorry, I fidget, let me know if it bothers you and I’ll stop.” Or, “I guess my nerves are up, I can’t quit moving.” I have a whole bunch of things I say. I know I annoy people, may as well face it head on. I might have an edge here, though. I was unaware of being aspie for many years and had to learn to survive being weird, so I’m not coming fresh out of a diagnosis at a younger age thinking the world needs to move over for me. The world out there doesn’t care if you are aspie. They care if you are worth your dime and their time, and they care how you represent them to the public or to their own bosses higher up. You are selling yourself, trading your time for food and shelter. Stay focused on that. Is it worth the paycheck to learn to adapt? You can adapt far more easily than you think you can. Being aspie isn’t a sentence over your head. It’s just a descriptive term for the way your mind works, mostly. So you are aware of it and that you are different, so what? Everyone is hiding something. It’s a big game, figure it out and play it.
And if you aren’t validated as a human being on the job, that doesn’t mean you can’t validate other people. You may not feel social, but you can say things that make people feel like you noticed or care, even if you don’t. They are more likely to forgive your weird stims and stuff if you are more forgiving of them to begin with. You have the power to step out of the vicious circle of human behavior and change the outcome, even if you are having the worst possible day and don’t feel powerful at all. It’s ok, to have bad days, just don’t get carried away with them to where people cringe to see you walk through the door.
Sorry so long. It’s dangerous for me to hit the computer before breakfast. Good thing I’m not some kind of cult leader or BOSS. hahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Where are you on the “aspie scale” for stimming?
0 thoughts on “Stimming – as described from an Aspie”
I know I am really late to this. I came to this by googling because my son is showing autistic tendencies (genetic, I am Aspie) and my elbows have little cuts and scratches all over them. Ever since he was little, when he is upset or tired, he runs his hands up my sleeves and scratches my elbows. He will try to scratch any skin really, but the tightness of long sleeves and the bend in the elbow are his favorite areas. He will run his hands up his own sleeves at day care to sleep. I was curious if he was stimming because I can then add it to my list to discuss with his pediatrician to see if I can’t get a referral to a developmental ped.
Thank you because this not only pointed out his stims, but my stims as well.
@Mary – I’ve noticed myself that a really good B complex does seem to help with some of my anxiety levels to a point, but since I stim unconsciously, and since I don’t necessarily do it in response to stress because I stim all the time anyway, and since I’ve been doing it all my life, I can clearly see that the vitamins don’t stop it. If your husband gets real relief from the vitamins, and you clearly see a difference, then he might be going through something else. I do all kinds of experiments on myself, have noticed spicy foods and caffeine increase my anxiety levels as much as stress does, so good luck, hope it helps.
Wow, what an interesting “story.” My husband is a stimmer, aspie, whatever, I have never heard of this before. YES, it drives me crazy, he fidgets all the time, he has wiggled his legs and feet so much he constantly loosens up the recliners. He scratches, or finds a spot and picks it til it bleeds, usually right on the top of his head, his crown area, we call it his “think spot” when he thinks, he picks at it. It has been pretty raw at times. He chews on plastic soda caps and straws. He cannot sit still, very noisy and distracting, chews, taps, picks, wiggles, fidgets..anything in his hands while he is watching tv is usually mauled til it is destroyed. He went to the psych doctor today (veteran, goes a few times a year), the doctor has prescribed vitamin B12, something about his level being at 258, should be twice that much, but in Japan, or China they want it over 1000! Dr. seems to think this will help? If anyone has any ideas on how to stop this behavior, let me know. OR, does it ever really matter?
I think alot of people have their own devices that calm them down. I tend to try to make noise of some sort or itch alot. I know that when I’m nervous OR focused intently I cross my legs and/or arms really tight on themselves and curl my toes. I feel hyper-vigilant alot as well.
I’ll run/rush to a place and just stand there, freeze in a pose and stop thinking. It’s so strange. When people come into the room, they don’t notice me until I move towards them, and they’re always rattled just a bit and ask where I came from. I fear some believe I can really travel through walls.
@[email protected] – Thanx. =) I have a feeling that Asperger’s studies will lead to as many breakthroughs as Cystic Fibrosis studies. i.e. CF research made a breakthrough in a certain kind of cancer research, which is unrelated, so ASD research might also lead to a breakthrough in, say, anxiety disorders, even though Asperger’s itself doesn’t necessarily cause anxiety.
@[email protected] – You have been such an interesting person, from past comments discovering you have challenges not yet mentioned, perhaps it would be cool if you were to write a post out about your experiences, whether you feel you are on the spectrum or not. I still can’t tell which way you lean, but I know you’ve certainly described stuff that many of us could relate to, and I think you could say it in a way that would show people the more frustrating side of coping. I’ve written posts on bluejacky speculating that a whole variety of stuff might actually be related on an even bigger spectrum, making Tourette’s, ASD, ADD, OCD, and a bunch of other stuff ‘cousins’, the same way multiple sclerosis and lupus and fibromyalgia tend to be seen nowadays as a progression of medical expression in the body, and actually might all be related in some way (some are advocating endometriosis as the main underlying cause). I’m getting a strong picture of you being in a unique focal point position to really talk about this stuff.
@[email protected] – I believe this is why Asperger’s diagnoses are climbing. That’s why I say it’s not the end of the world in other posts, it may turn out that many of us are on a very mild end of a ‘behavioral’ spectrum that has a common clue that they haven’t found yet. Once we find natural reasons for the compulsive feelings we get and the safety of ‘hiding’, which I think everyone has and does to a degree, then we can all stop feeling bad about ourselves and just say This is who I am, and I’m ok. Not being able to say that is extremely depressing. Hugs for your stuff!
i have OCD and anorexia. my ‘compulsions’ remind me a bit of how you’ve described stimming– when things stress or overwhelm me, i retreat my mind from a situation by adding the calories i’ve eaten for the day over and over and over. it’s an instinct which i have to catch myself giving into.
@[email protected] – I don’t know. I have both tics and stimming behaviours. They’re both related to stress. If I’m stressed, I tend to stim. The stimming doesn’t generally cause stress, though. Ticcing can be caused by stress… or it can cause stress (especially if I try to stop doing it).
At least I don’t do either when I sleep. It’s nice to have a break.
P.S. Love your posts. My dad’s cousin has a teenager who happens to have Asperger’s, and since I was 8 years old my little brother and I would play with him (he’s a lot younger than either of us). It’s now 13 years later and he still remembers all the things we’d play when we were younger. He’s had a lot of ticks over the years. For example, sometimes he flaps his arms around a lot and he touches his lips in a circular fashion. Other times he’ll just rock back and forth. He despises eating food, lol. We always have to urge him to eat more.
He’s very active, though. It gets tiring to be with him. My brother doesn’t mind though, because he has a lot more energy than I do. No matter what, I love that guy 🙂
I’m glad I have him in my life.
I have the same problem you used to have. Unconciously, I pick at my face especially when I’m anxious. Basically, I love rubbing my fingers over my skin and feeling for any types of breaks in smoothness. I could be watching a movie, and be in a trance-like state just touching my face for hours.
It’s really hard to break the pattern. When I’m around others, I make sure I never ever touch my face. This is done only in private or around my immediate family members (who really hate it). It lowers my anxiety, so it gets frustrating when I’m in public and there’s nothing I can do to alleviate it.
We all have a little aspie inside of us 🙂
@[email protected] – I’ve wondered that myself. I know a woman whose son has Tourette’s, and it sounds like there is a difference. I can control my stims once I become aware of them, and they aren’t compulsive, I don’t feel I *have* to do them, but I do them unconsciously, like when people tap to music or something. I think with Tourette’s you can be afflicted with, say, a shoulder wanting to go up and down to the point where driving becomes impossible, and you’re totally aware of it and it embarrasses you to death, stuff like that.
@[email protected] – @[email protected] – I think a lot of people do, it comes naturally to comfort one’s self in some way, so I think that’s how we blend in. The aspies who really shine like neon are the ones who don’t develop an awareness of stimming being disruptive. It took me years to learn that I am disruptive. I was well into my 30’s before I understood the dynamics of it all.
@[email protected] – I did NOT know I flapped until I was into my 40’s, no kidding. I ran across a woman making a joke about herself on the internet and realized I do that too, so I asked my sister if I flap, and she grinned real big and mimicked me. No one had ever made me aware of it. I felt so weird once I became aware. I keep asking myself– how do you NOT KNOW? It’s so weird, I call it ‘waking up’ to myself. It’s taken me a really long time.
My son is a contortionist stimmer. He starts off by bending his arms around his head and pulling on his face. Then he’ll gnaw on his fingers, not to bite but to rub them against his teeth. His legs will start to cross and slowly (somehow) he ends up upside down on my sofa with his feet by his ears and his arms sticking between his legs. I’ve given up stopping him on everything but the fingers in his mouth part. I know he doesn’t wash his hands nearly enough to putting those things in his mouth. He also hand flaps, finger walks, and makes amazing sound effects while playing.
I don’t believe either my husband and I are aspies, but each of us have weird ticks. I wiggle my legs whenever I sit still. Especially if I”m sitting in a chair or pew and my foot is resting on the ground. It will start wiggling up and down until the entire pew and/or table is shaking and I won’t even notice until somebody says something. I also wiggle by clenching/unclenching my leg muscles when trying to fall asleep. They get going in a sort of rhythm and anyone who has ever shared a bed with me has eventually been like “will you STOP IT?” (except my husband who doesn’t mind, luckily). I also do finger tapping when bored. So those are my quirks. My husband is a nail biter and it’s a habit he can’t break, no matter what is on his fingers. It mystifies me. Anytime his hands aren’t occupied they are in his mouth, especially while driving or watching tv.
I was reading all these stimming habits you have and going, “OMG me too!!!”
It’s nice to know you’re not alone.
I am not an aspie, but I think I definitely do stim. I am quite self-conscious, so the things I do are usually private or not noticeable, but I do them.
@[email protected] – Yeah. It works for a bit, but once the band aid comes off or he washes his hands, he doesn’t continue to reapply the bad tasting stuff or the band aids. At least not long enough for it not to be a habit. Eventually something will work. Thanks.
@[email protected] – Have you tried getting him to wrap some sticky tape or a bandaid around his thumb? (Probably bandaid, it’ll be more easily explained to other people. “cut”) Or put something that tastes horrible on his thumb. Like a tiny little drop of tea tree oil. Tastes horrible. Just a little something to make him aware of what he’s doing. But you’ve probably already tried these. I don’t know. Sorry.
I wonder where the line is between stimming and ticcing…
My brother’s stimming is thumb sucking. Whenever he is watching TV, sleeping, doing homework, listening to music, or anything else he can zonk out on, his thumb pops into his mouth. He has no idea he is doing it until you tell him to get it out of his mouth. Now, 5 year olds are still cute when they suck their thumbs, but not 17 year olds. He starts college in the fall and we are very worried. What if he zones out and then sticks his thumb in his mouth in the middle of class? We have to find a way of making him stop or at least make himself aware of it enough that he won’t be completely rejected by every kid in his college. I know Aspie kids don’t normally care about this stuff, but I want to see him do well both academically and socially and the thumb sucking is not going to fly. Maybe we can get him to twiddle his buttons off. I don’t think many people would notice that.
I don’t stim, but I’ve realized after reading this post that I have other habits that annoy people.
My son, however, has similar qualities as you do.
Long post, but very informative in when read. Thanks.