Sunday, September 30, 2007

Regularity for Autistic People, Part 2: Stimming and Your Neurotypical

My "Regularity for Autistic People" posts are intended to explore the common ground between autistics and neurotypicals, with a light-hearted style. As explained in Part 1, the name is a spoof of the name of a blog by an autistic writer.

In Part 1, I explained how being comforted by the routine and familiar may manifest in neurotypicals.

Today, I will describe neurotypical stimming, often called fidgeting, from my inside perspective.

Neurotypical stims or fidgets can take many forms. Some of mine, past and present, include pacing (common), tapping my fingers on walls and fences as I walk down the street, thumb-twiddling (common), clicking clickable pens, gum-chewing (common), squeezing/popping zits and zit-like formations on my skin (a self-injurious and somewhat embarrassing "bad habit"), rubbing/massaging a finger, hand, or foot, twirling or tapping a pen or pencil, and fidgeting with jewelry. I think I even rock a tiny amount sometimes. Other NT stims I've seen include shifting weight back and forth while standing on a train (just saw that one tonight), pencil chewing, and nail biting.

Their purpose, it seems, is to numb out, take the edge off of life, a little like scratching an itch, except the itch is just the diffuse discomfort of living and cannot be specifically scratched. When I perform my fidgets, I either tend to be lost in my thoughts, or just kind of numbed out. Zit popping can be an exception, which often makes me feel a focused anticipation. I can also zone out and think during that though.

NT stims often start subconsciously - we just find ourselves doing them, if that. I can sometimes become aware of the impulse to perform them, though,

Their duration varies. Skin-picking, the most absorbing of them, can last upwards of 10 minutes. Others might last a few seconds, or not even get off the ground because I feel an impulse to start them but then got self-conscious of it and the impulse was too weak to make me proceed.

NT stims tend to increase with greater anxiety, discomfort, or boredom. Though most are "socially acceptable" in their style, they can become socially unacceptable if done to excess, because they are distracting and signal discomfort. The discomfort of another person will often make a neurotypical uncomfortable, even if they are not aware of this fact. (If they are hyper-aware of this fact, they may call thesmelves "empaths.")

If you're autistic and you want your neurotypical to understand stims, maybe you can say something like, "You know how some people chew pen caps and tap their feet? It's kind of like that, but more so, and different, because of the sensory issues." Or...ask them, "How does it feel to be in a rocking chair?" I wouldn't be surprised if rocking chairs were invented by an autistic person, but they really caught on among neurotypicals, attesting to the trans-neurological appeal of stimming.

I went to an Asperger Syndrome conference this weekend, and I didn't get all that much out of it, but one thing that was mentioned was that the partners of Aspies tend to either be the most Aspie-like NTs who tend to have similar temperamental traits to Aspies (like me), or the least Aspie-like NTs who are interested in reaching out to all kinds of people (like the women my boyfriend is usually attracted to). The average NT often can't understand Aspies, and thinks that Aspies should just try harder if they want friends. Perhaps those average NTs would think that if autistic stims are a lot like normal-person fidgets, then maybe the autistic should switch to normal-person fidgets. If that happens...then maybe nothing more can be done.

It's funny...I seem to stim more than my boyfriend, who says he doesn't really seem to have any stims. He reported a couple of them when I first met him, though. Maybe the zoloft reduced the fidgets he did have, which were just about at a neurotypical level. I often like to rub his beard stubble, fidget with his fingers, and rock him back and forth. It can make you wonder who's the real Aspie in our relationship sometimes. ;) But I can read body language more consistently than he can and understand emotions as more than just binary positive or negative ("everything's fine" vs. "OMG it's a disaster") without having to think about it.

People are people, whatever quirks they have. And "lack of quirks" is a quirk in many people are normal in almost every way? Very few, I'd imagine.


Axinar said...

"the least Aspie-like NTs who are interested in reaching out to all kinds of people"

My mother, on the surface, is VERY much the opposite of my father -- VERY outgoing - constantly needing the stimulation of other people.

However, they DO have a great many things in common that are things that tend to be common in Aspie's - very, very literal interpretations of things, AND, most interestingly, although my mother is very outgoing, she, in some ways, has even LESS understand of social cues and what makes people uncomfortable.

One, in fact, would begin to suspect that this autism is not just one "irregularity" but many that are, for whatever reason, often expressed by, perhaps, some sort of linked genetic malfunction.

Casdok said...


Meow Blah III said...

All your stims are like my NT partner's! Thanks for mentioning the Z-word. It's one weird stim we share, embarrasingly gross as it is. I can't stand to watch other people do it, but inderstand the drive. I've come to an understanding that It's like whacking off, it's better to do socially disruptive or misunderstood stims away from public eyes. Clicking pens and picking zits come from the same source, but they are not equal in the eyes of the public.
Without my stims i'd go crazier. :)