Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Stimming - Naughty or Nice?

Hi everyone! I haven't written in a few days... nothing new has been happening. I've been busy working on my big plan, working at some subbing jobs, and playing Wii Beatles Rock Band with my dad! (He got me the Beatles Rock Band game and a guitar for Christmas, and we got a microphone for it as well last week, so now we are always rocking out!) 

There's nothing new going on with me really, but I did want to point out a cool series of YouTube videos called Ask An Autistic. It is by a young lady with autism. I found a link to her videos on a Facebook group, and when I started watching them, I felt like I'd found a friend!

One of the first videos I watched by her is called "What Is Passing? Or, Should I Stop My Child From Stimming?" Stimming (I hate that word, but that is what it is most commonly known as) is something that many adults with autism spectrum disorders think about. Most children with autism stim unselfconsciously, because it helps them center themselves. They don't think about it... they just do it, the way people scratch an itch or cough without making a decision to do it. Often the adults around them are the ones telling them to knock it off. 

As you grow up, you start to struggle with it yourself. Imagine having an itch or having to cough, but knowing that if you do it, people are going to stare at you, think you are strange, and possibly fire you from your job! Would you be anxious to just get somewhere private so that you could cough or scratch your itch? Would you be able to do your best work, or really be present with your family, if you were focusing on suppressing your itching and coughing? And even if you were really concentrating on not doing these things, a cough just might slip out.

In her video, Amythest Schaber talks about how a of the work done with children with autism is done to get them to appear "normal." She talks about the phrase, "table ready," which means getting a child to the point where they can sit at a table at school (or a desk, I guess) being quiet and still, without stimming, and without looking "autistic" in any way. The reason behind this is not to make it easier for the child to learn, but to make it easier for him to be accepted by a group of neurotypical people. 

(By the way, you can probably guess that the word "passing" is borrowed from the old concept of a light-skinned black person "passing" as a white person, and therefore getting all of the privileges that were, back in the day, afforded only to white people. When I think about black people passing as white, I think of how hard it must have been to try to pretend you were something you were not, just to survive, and how other black people who did not have the option of passing might resent you for using your light-skinnedness to get ahead in the world, and how they never should have had to do that in the first place because those privileges should have rightfully belonged to everyone, no matter what color or shade their skin was. What if we substituted the word "black" for "autistic," and "light-skinned" for "high functioning?" That is an interesting concept!) 

Amythest mentions the idea of "Gorilla Stimming." That sounds really funny to me because I keep thinking of a gorilla flapping his hand or rocking! But what she means is, if people with autism just stopped bothering to suppress their stimming, and just flapped and hopped and twirled right out in public, eventually it wouldn't be considered strange anymore. She points out that people are afraid of things that seem different or unexpected... but if people just got used to seeing others stim as they worked and played, it would no longer be upsetting to them. It would just be part of our lives. Long long ago, people would get upset when they saw a woman wearing a dress that exposed her ankles... but then dresses got shorter, and people got used to that, and now it is normal. If we had never heard a person speaking Spanish before, we might be freaked out by hearing people conversing in Spanish, and we might think that they were speaking in some sort of weird tongues or were possessed by demons! But since we live in a world where speaking other languages is normal and expected, most people do not bat an eye when they hear others speaking Spanish. (Yes, there are people who get mad and say, "This is America! Speak English!" But the rest of us generally try to ignore those people.) 

I think it would be cool to live in a world where we were free to stim. When I'm at work, I am constantly stopping myself from rocking (especially when I'm talking... it almost feels like I need to rock in order to make words come out of my mouth!) or flapping my hands when I'm nervous, or hopping when I'm excited. I have heard co-workers talk about former co-workers who "seemed a little spectrumy" or "must have had Aspergers," and their talk is not positive. But I also try never to stop children from stimming, except when it involves self-harm, such as biting their hands or banging their heads. It is a very hard thing to think about.

So what do you think? Is it better to openly stim, and allow children to stim, because it should be acceptable and it doesn't hurt anyone else and it does actually help us to self-regulate? Or do we suppress it, and teach children to suppress it, because we know that it often isn't acceptable and that people might treat us differently? 

I want to hear your thoughts! Be sure to watch the video, too! 


  1. I have a cousin on the spectrum, and it broke my heart to see the way others treated him when he was younger. In terms of the stimming thing, I have to come down on the side of practicality: it would be great if people were accepting of such differences, but the truth of the matter is that they won't. In the long term, teaching children on the spectrum to avoid overtly autistic behavior will be a kindness to them in that it will allow them to be more accepted in the world.

  2. I have learned so much from you here. I was unfamiliar with this term and am really not qualified to offer an opinion, but I think I agree with the comment above. My family is a compassionate group, but many others are not. I would put the well being of the autistic child above that of the public - even though, ironically, the child is required to do the adjusting.

  3. That is such a tough one. Stimming so often isn't even a conscious thing. My son will jump when he's excited. Which was fine when he was in preschool. As a fifth grader getting out of his desk at school to jump? Lots of issues, especially socially with other kids, and it becomes a "what's the lesser of two evils" kind of thing. Ideally, redirecting it to a less obvious stim - who doesn't see people playing with pencils or tapping their fingers quietly or the like? But finding that happy medium? It's a chore... and given the choice, my kid's life is rough enough. I can't have him be the guinea pig who helps make stimming more acceptable.


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