As I journey through my own process of exploring my Neurodivergent identity, I remain deeply conscious of the many value laden judgements, myths and stereotypes around Autism. Rejecting the medicalisation of Autism has been the least difficult part of my process. However, being aware of just how many misinformed social narratives there are, feels 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.
The range of strengths and skills within the Autistic population is vast and varied. This is a huge topic and there is much to say here. In this piece I want to focus on just one; 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 in their own unique way. 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, distress, excitement, or any other emotion that may feel overwhelming.
It 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 help to release sympathetic activation, which can help prevent us from becoming stuck in one state.
Regardless of your neurology, if you cannot recall a time when your body engaged in stimming, next time you feel stressed and anxious, I would invite you to tune into your body’s movements. You may discover that your body makes numerous subtle and unconscious repetitive movements too. You may notice how these feel and how they serve you.
I regard stimming as a deeply insightful aspect of the Autistic body and nervous system. It signals a connection between the the Autistic person’s neurobiology and their 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:
- Aboriginal or tribal dances (watch a video and you may see what I mean).
- Vocal stimming can be heard in sing along mantras, therapeutic chanting and even ululations that date back to the 16th century.
- Elements of this wisdom can also be found in various neuroscientifically informed therapies such as EFT tapping, Qigong, Yoga and TRE (Tension & Trauma Release Exercises).
These are all activities that incorporate a degree of repetitive and regulatory movements and serve to bring calm and greater regulation to the nervous system.
Meanwhile, Autistic bodies are able to achieve this, without direction or instruction, if and when they are free to express their own stim movements. There is so much to be learned from the beautiful and healing act of stimming. It is also something that is incredibly joyful and an activity that simply feels good.
Isn’t it deeply sad 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. If some of our earlier natural movements or expressions were labelled as inappropriate, shameful or embarrassing, if moving our bodies in certain ways led to ridicule or rejection, it is entirely understandable that our connection with stimming was severed.
Rediscovering the beauty and value of stimming is incredibly freeing. Affording ourselves free self expression is powerful. Knowing and understanding how valuable stimming is to our health and wellbeing, increases the need for more widespread acceptance and for stimming to become something that is embraced and celebrated.