So here goes, the start of a self-exploration of what autism means to me. In this first blog I’m going to talk about stimming.
The term ‘stimming’ refers to self-stimulating behaviours that are often used by people with autism or other developmental disorders. The most common one you’re likely to think of is flapping your hands – my son does this a lot when he’s excited! Some people rock, some people jiggle, hum, bang their head, make noises; there’s really no end to the variety of stims possible.
My stim is not a very healthy one – I pick at my skin. I’ve been doing it since my teens, I think, but it has taken me the best part of twenty years to realise why. It’s not the easiest thing to write about, as I’ve always been quite self conscious about it, and how it makes my skin look. I have a skin condition that means I get a lot of little bumps and miniature cysts on my skin and I find them completely irresistible to pick at.
I mostly do it when I’m stressed, and when I’ve got a lot on my mind. For a while I wondered whether it might be a form of self harm, but that didn’t sit quite right as pain was never the object of it, plus I also do it when I’m happy. It’s not quite accurate to say it helps me to think things through, because my thoughts don’t really follow a coherent narrative while I’m doing it – it’s more like the process of focusing on my skin allows my brain to rest for a minute. It’s sort of like a car where the engine is running but it’s in neutral and just idling – not quite switched off, but not going anywhere, and no particular forces are being exerted on it as it just turns over quietly to itself. I find it really calming.
I know it’s not a sensible thing to do, and I know that I ought to stop. I’ve read a lot about trying to replace harmful stims with safer ones, but in truth I’m unlikely to do that because it makes me feel good. It feels a bit strange to be owning it so publicly after so many years of being embarrassed about it, but I have gradually come to accept it as part of who I am.
What are your stims? And if you’re thinking ‘I can’t be autistic because I don’t flap’ – yes, I have had similar thoughts myself.