Like many people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, I “stim”. That is to say that I engage in “stereotyped and repetitive motor movements”. That is also to say that there are certain activities I can (and often need to) do over and over again in order to help me anchor my brain, relax my nervous system, and give me something to focus on.
By engaging in these movements, I can pay closer attention to what someone is saying and better absorb its meaning. Or I can think through a complex train of thought. Or I can release my nervous energy without harming myself or anyone around me. Or I can switch from one task to another with less difficulty. Or to distract and occupy myself while waiting for someone.
You get the idea.
Each Aspergian/autistic person’s “stims” are different. What works for one may not appeal to another. And many of us have several stim activities, because what works for us at one moment may not do the trick at another moment.
Until I found out that I’m on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, I was embarrassed by my stims. I knew I enjoyed them immensely; I knew that they gave me the relief I was looking for. But I had no “legitimate” reason for carrying out those activities. And I certainly didn’t see very many other people around me doing anything like that.
Score one for self-consciousness.
So, only since I discovered the truth about my Asperger’s/autistic neurotype did I actually mention my stims to other people and talk openly about them.
Score one for self-acceptance. 🙂
One such stim I have is to examine sections of my hair and look for split-ends. There–I said it. I may have mentioned it before, in passing, but only briefly, as I didn’t want to belabor the point; I was still getting used to saying (or typing) these words out loud.
Examining my hair for split-ends brings a surprising amount of satisfaction, one that is difficult to describe in words, because the words don’t exist (at least, that I know of). What I feel could be explained (although not 100% accurately) as the satisfaction one gets when they’ve improved something in some way. Every split-end found and dealt with is one less split-end in my hair.
And I have lots of split-ends. My hair is long, extremely thick, and fairly dry, so it splits a lot.
Score one for Stim Job Security!
Although I can use this stim to help me “change gears” from one activity to another (a phenomenon known as “task-switching”, a common challenge for people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, including myself), sometimes this stim becomes a task in itself that must be switched from, especially if my engagement in it has gained enough momentum.
Sometimes, I get “locked into” that stim. It’s hard for me to find a Stopping Point.
The Inner Critic helpfully awakens. Or at least, that’s her impression. Yep, she even critiques my stimming activity. How nice.
She’s already finger-wagging. OK, just this section of hair that you’re currently working with; then it’s time to get to work.
I know, I know. But I’m so relaxed here. I’m not sure I’m ready to dive into an obligatory task yet.
Well, you’ve been at this a half hour already. You’re already behind schedule for the day.
I know. I’m just fleshing out this thought, getting prepared to exercise my brain.
Suit yourself. But you can’t let this go on much longer. You’ve got things to do.
I know. I’ll get to them. Now get out of my head so that the stim can have its intended effect and I won’t have to do it as long.
Alrighty then. But I’m going to check on you in a few minutes.
And she’s not kidding; placating the Inner Critic without actually doing what she wants is like hitting the “snooze” button on an alarm clock without actually turning off the alarm. In another nine minutes, it’s going to go off again.
Better get stimming.
Being caught in a stim is like waking up in a nice warm bed on a cold winter morning. You don’t really want to move; the thought of getting up and around and doing what needs to be done is not exactly appealing. You’re sort of stuck in bed. It’s just too comfortable to think about expending that energy and facing that colder air.
To me it feels like inertia; the stim can gather its own momentum and take on a life of its own. It’s also probably an Executive Function issue; I might be having trouble sequencing my to-do list for the day and working up the motivation to get started.
One bundle of hair here–oh, and let’s get the ones on the back of my neck, too. Haven’t paid any attention to those in a while. It’s also all-too-easy to forget about the ones on the sides near the front. It’s like I take those for granted, so sometimes I might assume I’ve attended to them more recently than I actually have.
Will this be the last hair section? Or maybe I’ll do this one over here, and then “cut myself off” from the activity? How did I ever get through life before discovering my split-ends? Oh yeah, that’s right–I bit my nails instead. Dreadful, really, because I did it too much and they always ended up jagged. Yikes. The hair is a much better solution…
…until the helpful Inner Critic, much like the un-snoozed alarm clock, comes nagging again. 🙂