Rejecting the medicalisation of Autism has been the least difficult part of exploring my Autistic identity.
However, being aware of just how many misinformed social narratives there are, is more problematic. I have found that this can be more easily modulated by:
1. Making connections with other Autsitic people who embody positive Autistic identity.
2. Reading and listening to the work of Autistic adults.
3. Processing my own experiences though writing.
In this piece I want to focus on stimming.
Stimming is a naturally occurring, regulatory and repetitive movement that feels enjoyable and calming.
Examples include spinning, leg bouncing, hair twiddling, tapping, flapping, shaking, pacing, watching repetitive visual stimuli, and many, many more.
Everyone stims. Neurodivergent and people who are described as having the predominant neurotype.
Each person stims in their own unique way, but more often than not Autistic people stim more frequently.
For some, it is a private and sacred act, for others it is something their body needs to do across the whole day, regardless of context.
Stimming is highly beneficial to any nervous system, but especially to the Autistic nervous system.
For me, stimming provides a way of shaking off fear, anxiety or distress and a way to being with and expressing excitement, joy and awe.
It can be a part of expressing any other emotion.
Stimming allows the body to feel safer and more grounded. It frees the body from some of the energy arising from strong emotions or experiences.
Stimming can also help release sympathetic activation, helping us to complete our stress cycle.
Regardless of your neurology, if you cannot recall a time when your body engaged in stimming, next time you feel stressed and anxious, I invite you to tune into your body’s movements.
You may discover that your body also makes numerous subtle and unconscious movements that we would refer to as stimming.
All bodies do.
You may notice how these movements feel and how they serve you.
I regard stimming as a deeply insightful expression of the body’s wisdom.
For me, stimming is a connection between the present moment and our nervous system’s evolutionary wisdom.
This wisdom is something that feels otherwise largely inhibited in modern, western society.
Stimming movements can be seen at the heart of other cultures, for example in:
- A range of aboriginal dances.
- Vocal stimming can be heard in sing along mantras.
- Therapeutic chanting and ululations date back to the 16th century.
- We can also find elements of this wisdom in examples such as EFT tapping, Qigong, Yoga and TRE (Tension & Trauma Release Exercises).
All these activities incorporate a degree of repetitive and regulatory movement, and serve to bring calm and greater regulation to the nervous system.
Meanwhile, all of our bodies can achieve this, without direction or instruction, if and when we feel free enough to express ourselves fully.
Stimming can be incredibly joyful and an activity that simply feels good.
How sad, misguided and reprehensible it is then, that so much attention has been focussed on the repression and punishment of stimming in the Autistic population.
For late self identifying Neurodivergent adults, like myself, rediscovering stimming is powerful.
Rediscovering the beauty and value of stimming is incredibly freeing.
Affording ourselves free self expression is powerful.
Stimming not only needs to be radically accepted, it also needs to be radically embraced and celebrated.