Is it normal that I don't stim?
After months and months of people talking to me about this…… Yes, it is normal, and it’s perfectly okay that I do not stim, and I actually struggle with any conversations about stimming as well. But those who know me understand this and warn me if stimming will be discussed so I can move away and not hear it.
For those who are new to this term, stimming is the short word for ‘self-stimulation’ which sounds really odd, so we prefer stimming instead. The other thing to be noted about this topic is that it’s not just an autism thing either. All humans stim, you may not see it as stimming, but it is, it’s the clicking of pens at your desk, twiddling your hair or fingers and many many other ways.
Stimming helps regulate emotions and feelings whether that’s overwhelm or sensory overload, but it can also be a way of sensory input or sensory seeking, again to help with regulation. There are lots of stereotypes of autistic stimming that you may already have in your head, or have seen in the media or films. Some autistics will do these stereotypes because it appeals to them, while others might have other ways of stimming, but it is still stimming because it is helping them. So common ones everyone knows is rocking, making sounds, and flapping hands, or playing with stim toys. But it is just whatever works for that autistic individual.
So, I said that I do not stim, but it is human nature to stim. Again, I’ve had lots of help with this topic from my autistic community at university. So, I do some things which help me regulate, and this is mainly in the form of headphones and music. I am never without my headphones and people have noticed that when I’m stressed or overwhelmed I do make really small rocking movements or a make small hand movements. My stimming isn’t obvious, its there somewhere it just feels unnatural to me but that is on account of how much I mask my autism. I may also not stim because it has been repressed when I was younger. I used to suck my thumb up until I was about 9, quite old to still be sucking a thumb and my parents would tell me to stop. I also bite my nails; this is regarded as a more harmful stim. All I know is that I have always bit my nails all my life and everyone tells me to stop, tried to make me stop but I couldn’t and I still bite my nails. I also don’t see this as stimming because I have done it all my life and most of the time its subconscious, I don’t see it as regulating my emotions either. When I was in secondary school, I had severe anxiety around my GCSEs and I did have a fidget cube and a fidget spinner, but soon the whole school had them so they were subsequently banned and I wasn't allowed them in my exams. This was helping my anxiety during my exams but also at this point I had no idea I was autistic, I just knew I had severe test anxiety and was managing that.
I am back doing the structured autism program, SYA (So, You're Autistic ) for the second time because I now have my diagnosis. Stimming is one of the sessions in this program and because Chloe who runs it, knows me and knows I struggle with this topic, allowed me to miss the session on stimming. The first time I did the stimming session last year was when I realised that I find it difficult. I recognised then that I did not stim, and I felt uncomfortable being around other autistic people stimming. But I felt that I should stim, because I saw it as an autistic thing, so if I didn’t stim then I’m not autistic and this still sticks with me even now when I know I’m definitely autistic. I just couldn’t connect with it at all, and it really distressed me. Everyone was telling me that stimming helps regulate emotions and improves wellbeing, but I didn’t do it, so was I making things worse for myself because I didn’t do it? Maybe its to do with being alexithymic so I can’t understand my emotions so can’t regulate them. But for whatever reason, I just do not stim, and it distresses me that much that I now avoid all talk of it. One day I might learn to unmask just that little bit and perhaps then my stims would be unlocked, or I find out the reason why this is all distresses me, but for now I do not stim.
I am still autistic; I still have my diagnosis. I just don’t stim, but that’s okay. I am here to tell you that all autistic people are different, we all stim differently, and I just don’t stim at all. Maybe you are an autistic person reading this realising that you do not stim either, but you aren't alone because I am just like you. So next time you see someone rocking, or playing with a stim toy, think to yourself that that person might be autistic and instead of staring, just let them be. They are doing what they can to help alleviate whatever sensory input is bothering them, they are coping as best they can and its okay, its all natural and we can start by accepting that because it will start making a difference to society and autism awareness.