An Aspie In Iowa

An Aspie In Iowa #2: Stimming and Eye Contact

For last weeks article, click here.

1.) Stimming

This weeks article will address stimming but not specifically what it is. If you are interested in finding out more you can find information on stimming here.

So as a brief synopsis of what Stimming is, it’s repetitive motions or sounds that folks on the spectrum do that can appear as odd or annoying to the outside world. However to people like myself, they are therapeutic, calming, they can also help us focus on and process the information that we are taking in.

When i was a child I would constantly tap on my desk, stand up and spin, rock back and forth as well as flap my hands. All of these things were considered distractions and incredibly frowned on when I was in school. I can remember several times when a teacher might say something along the lines of, “We will continue with the lesson once Matthew sits down and is quiet.” Not being able to continue the lesson meant that recess might be delayed or eliminated altogether. This led to mob justice in the form of my peers and even more bullying than I already experienced.

So through time I forced myself to stop stimming outside of wiggling my toes in my shoes. I would learn later in life that this wasn’t enough and I was actually causing myself a lot of mental harm by not calming and processing in the way that my mind wanted me to. Nothing was more apparent than my hands.

For as long as I can remember my hands have shaken horribly. I’ve actually been checked for Parkinson’s in the past and it was one of the first things that people would point out and question when they met me. The more stressed I would become the worse my hands would shake. It was horribly annoying to me because as the shaking would worsen my ability to type would become nearly impossible, being an accountant, typing is something I have to be able to do.

When I began researching Autism, I came across an article dealing with stimming. It reminded me of all the things I did as a child to calm myself down. So I decided to  do a simple experiment. The next time I noticed the shaking in my hands begin to worsen, I got up from my desk at work, walked to the bathroom, locked the door and flapped them to my heart’s content. The result was immediate. The second I began flapping the shaking began to subside. After a few moments, my hands were as still as anyone else’s. Stimming fixed an issue that I had just lived with and had accepted as incurable for nearly 25 years. Now, anytime they begin to shake a bit, I stim and the shaking goes away.

Some of the other ways that I stim is through certain words. I really don’t know how this works so if someone in the comments could explain it, I would be greatly appreciative. Saying certain words or making certain sounds has a great calming effect on me. One such word is “panda.” I’m a large, 6 foot 2 inch man, with a beard, but if I get stressed and you get close to me, you might hear me repeating the word panda under my breath. I also sometimes get this feeling that I have to say a word or make a noise, when I explained it to my psychiatrist she thought I might be talking about tourettes but eventually that was not a part of my diagnosis.  One of the main noises that i make is a slight clicking noise in the back of my throat. I do this when I am really interested or focused on something.

Other ways I stim is through sensory information. When I am stressed, I love the feel of metal on my face. I have a metal stapler at work that I will press to my cheek if I am really stressed out. I also constantly crack my knuckles, run my fingers through my hair and tap on stuff. Each one of these things helps me in a certain way.

So to parents, please don’t force your children to not stim. If their stimming is something dangerous, such as self biting or hitting, or is interfering with their ability to focus on school work or anything like that, maybe suggest some alternate forms of stimming. Please don’t force them to stop stimming altogether. If they are like me and high enough functioning to do that, it can lead to even more issues with their mental health and even physical symptoms.

2.) Eye Contact

Eye Contact for me is incredibly difficult. I describe it as if I am having the noise of fingernails on chalkboard going through my brain when I am making eye contact. Over time I’ve learned to look at foreheads and teeth in an effort to avoid eye contact and this works for the most part.

However eye contact still bothers me and it’s more in the way that it is seen as normal for the rest of the world. Why is eye contact even seen as a good thing. Look at our primate cousins, eye contact is a sign of agression and something that you avoid unless you are attempting to challenge someone in the group for a higher position. Watch some chimpanzees or gorillas interact and one will be looking down while the more powerful one is standing over. They don’t like eye contact yet we do.

The second thing that makes this so strange is that we are taught not to stare from the earliest age. Staring is considered rude and invasive, but When in a conversation you are supposed to stare at the person directly in the eyes. How does that make any fucking sense?

Here’s the deal, if you are having a conversation with me and you force me to make eye contact, then I won’t be paying attention to anything that is coming out of your mouth. The only thought that will be running through my mind will be, “When is this going to be over, I’m uncomfortable, I want to look away, I hate this!” If you want me to do something correctly, allow me to look away while you speak. I will hear you far better, process what you are saying far better, and get the task done far better if I am just allowed to be myself.

Anyway, i hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Thank you for reading.

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