hidden stims revealed
We know stims are self comforting devices we use to help regulate our behavior and to provide good feedback when we are feeling stressed, distressed, or simply need comfort or more ( or different) sensory input than our current status. It is a device of self input that helps us feel able to cope with whatever demands life is making at any time.
Older adults have spent a lifetime trying to change their stims.
They have been told to keep themselves quiet, stop that, don’t do that, and frequently not only chastised but sometimes punished or physically controlled by others through touch or application of physical restraints, etc.
As an example, I used to suck my thumb when I was little . Approaching age 4 I was pressured in many ways to stop sucking my thumb. I was scheduled to go to kindergarten and there was fear I’d be mocked or ridiculed for thumb sucking. The campaign of many adults pressuring me to stop sucking my thumb was eventually irresistible and I stopped sucking my thumb. Instead I began picking fuzz from my favorite blanket when the scent of the blanket and its softness did not comfort me enough. I like the way it smelled and soon began putting the fuzz in my nostrils to smell the “blanket smell” better. That became inconvenient because I was not able to carry the blanket with me wherever I went to comfort myself. that comfort behavior was switched to my chewing my finger nails. I kept that habit for about 7 years, when social pressure made me self conscious about my grubby hands and nails (public shaming every day by one of my teachers in middle school). I began to chew gum and got scolded in school, so I switched to chewing toothpicks, then sunflower seeds, and finally discovered jawbreaker candy which I could sneak into my mouth in the change between classes and which would give sweet comfort all through class without anybody ever suspecting, if I was very careful! I had to give up jawbreakers after suffering bad and broken teeth, and for the past 40 years have been over-eating instead.
This took a lot of mental sorting to find the pattern of the hidden stim in the past, from its origins to today.
How many evolutions have stims passed through in your lifetime? Do you substitute alcohol, drugs, super intense hobbies or activities of any sort for what was once an innocent childhood stim?
If your current stims are hidden it may be a bit of difficult emotional homework to dig deep and discover the links to attempts to find self comfort and self regulation and still be “socially acceptable”.
I was re-reading info about adult stims the other day, and laughed out loud with a sense of “aha” discovery. Explanation following :
Stims can be had from arranging and re-arranging things, From moving things about, from changing visual patterns or even concentrating on various images or things that move and create pattern, such as watching a ceiling fan or the motion of a spoked wheel, or looking at op-art or other strong visual patterns. Since my stims are direct and physical, I had not thought very long about this form of stimming.
I want to relate something from my sometimes very exasperating and frustrating childhood.
Our mother was perpetually obsessed with trying to make our poor, low income, tired and shabby little home look elegant and sophisticated.
In this quest she continually decorated with new details, dyed the furniture covers, throw pillows, Bolsters, or other items she sewed.
Mother made elaborate arrangements of fruit, flowers and other displays on the table or in other places.
She used us ( me and my sibling) as “moving crew” and perpetually had us dragging furniture from place to place in our living room. “put it there” “oh no that doesn’t look right, move it over there” “no that’s not right either, try here”. This could go on for an entire afternoon.
My poor father came home to a different house many days of the week. He never knew where his favorite chair would be, never could appreciate the “new look” which was always clever, creative and satisfying to our mother, and exhausting to us as her furniture movers, cleaners and physical laborers.
I laughed out loud when I realized that all of that had been our mother’s stims!
Think long and hard about some of the things you do that are very characteristic of yourself. Are you practicing a moderated version of a stim???
hidden stims revealed
One thought on “Autism Stims”
I didn’t realize until recent months that I was doing what you’ve called “moderated versions of stims” (not too surprising, since I’ve only been identified as autistic since May 2022, and I’m 71 years old! Yes, I’m female.)
For me, they are mainly visual and tactile stims. Here are some examples:
Visually, I’ll stare at something with a pattern, for example a grid or grating, and run my eyes repeatedly back and forth over it with a soft focus. I find this very centering and calming. Or stare with fascination at colored lights (something I’ve been doing since early childhood.) And I’m very into the autistic classic of watching moving water, especially lakes and rivers that sparkle in the sunlight. Sometimes even a photo or video of that helps.
In the tactile realm, I run my tongue over the back of my bottom teeth inside my mouth, rub my hand over a lightly textured surface like cloth or smooth wood, or rub my index finger over the back of my thumbnail.
One of the breakthrough moments in accepting that yes, the tests didn’t lie and I’m autistic, was recovery of memories of more overt stims, such as body-rocking, that I’d done as a child but was trained out of by social and family disapproval, just as you have described.
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