Straight from the Source - Why Stimming is an Essential Part of My Life With Autism
Posted on 08/01/19 in Advocacy by Nera Birch
Stimming is a big part of my life. It is something I do every day all day. It is also something that I’ve had a love-hate relationship. On the one (flapping) hand, it is a coping mechanism that is critical to my success in life. On the other, it seems to upset or bother a lot of people when they see me do it.
When I stim in public, I get a lot of stares. Since most people don’t “see” my autism, when I stim, it looks very strange to them. I’ve even been told before that I was imitating special needs people and how rude that is. This is one of the reasons I used to hide my stimming in public. Another reason is that I was encouraged not to stim as a child. Up until very recently, stimming has been seen as a behavioral issue rather than a coping mechanism. I wish I had the words and ability as a child to tell my parents, doctors, teachers, etc. that stimming would have helped the behaviors go away or at least deescalate the situation. Having to bottle up the stimming and emotions in public was a huge part in contributing to my intense meltdowns at home.
My stimming is different based on what is causing it. Any emotional overload, be it happy or sad, is too much for me to handle. I feel things on a very deep level. Stimming helps me alleviate those intense emotions. When I’m happy, I tend to run, jump, and squeal. If I like the way a word sounds, I repeat it. When I’m upset, I rock more and groan. When I’m nervous or overloaded sensory wise, I stim with my fingers and hands. There are also some times when my stimming indicates that I want deep pressure. For people with autism, many of whom have communication issues, our stimming is a language unto itself. It’s time for the world to learn our language instead of insisting we don’t use it.
The biggest thing I want people to take away is that when I am stimming, that doesn’t mean something is wrong or that I’m having a difficult day. In reality, it means that I’m letting myself be autistic. I’m not trying to hide it, just because the public doesn’t understand what is going on. If a little flapping in public stops a meltdown later on at home, I’m all for it. As part of the neuro-diversity movement, we want to do away with the stigma of stimming. It is part of who we are and we are not ashamed.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Nera Birch is a self-advocate with a passion for bringing awareness and advocacy to the Cleveland area. She comes to Milestones as a former volunteer and speaker, with a long history of public speaking alongside the Milestones coaching team about topics important to the autism community. She is a regular contributor to The Mighty and other disability publications.
This article was written by a self-advocate for Milestones Autism Resources. Views and opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own. Milestones strives to create conversation around important topics in the autism community and to provide members of the community with a platform to share their honest perspective. In addition, while Milestones Autism Resources’ policy is to practice person-first language, we encourage all self-advocates to identify themselves as they wish, so you may see language throughout the blog that does not align with Milestones’ internal person-first language policy.