When I was about five or so, I went to have portraits taken. I had a rather subtle stim at the time that involved pressing my left index finger against my right index finger, which I then bent repeatedly. The photographer kept trying to place my right hand over my left, and I finally let him only to switch back at the last minute so I could keep right on stimming. And I’ve been doing it ever since. It was one of those things that I never realized was a Thing until I found out about AS. Kind of like collecting a hundred bottle caps and organizing them by color or constantly getting distracted by squirrels and shiny objects.
Stimming is a powerful coping tool. All autistics know it and some therapists and educators are finally beginning to realize it. But in it’s more overt forms especially it’s still considered socially inappropriate. And that’s where things get difficult.
I think we need to examine why stimming is socially inappropriate in the first place. I have my own theory on this. Stimming signals to others that we are different in ways that violate social norms. Being the social creatures we are, these social norms are important in ways that we often don’t even realize because they are subconscious. In the distant past, different was dangerous. When we see someone who dresses differently, who acts differently, who does things we don’t expect, it triggers a fear response that makes us uncomfortable.
I believe that with enough awareness and understanding, this fear can be overcome. Not too long ago, while I was at the grocery store, I saw a young girl jumping up and down and flapping her hands. And I got it. I knew exactly what she was doing. And because of that, not only was I not uncomfortable, I thought it was beautiful. The more we understand, the less we fear. The more we are exposed to it, the less unusual it seems. The more we accept stimming, the more acceptable it will become.
While I am strongly against supressing stims altogether, I sympathize with those who wish to teach themselves or their children more discreet ways to stim. I don’t like making people uncomfortable, so I keep my own stims discreet. The thought of my children being bullied is frightening to me, so if it turns out that they’re on the spectrum I will explain to them why they might want to find ways to stim that aren’t overly noticeable yet still comforting. But ultimately the choice is theirs, and I hope someday we can live in a world full of dancing and jumping and twirling and rocking. What an awesome place that would be.
In the meantime, I’ll be rubbing my fingers and staring at shiny things.