My project at work went well yesterday. Really well. So well that I got excited — this happens when I’m pleased with what I’ve produced. Now, the thing about getting excited is that, as with most emotions, I feel it mostly as a set of physical effects.
Excitement starts with a tense feeling building deep inside. Not the heavy, paralyzing tension of anxiety but a light, bubbly, tension of anticipation that spreads out. Up my neck to my head, molding my features into a broad smile. Down my legs making them jiggle and my feet tap. And along my arms until it reaches my fingertips and gives me the urge to flap. By this point I guess I must be awash with endorphins and fireworks are going off in my brain!
I’m still working on quashing my learned inhibitions against the more attention-drawing stims that resulted from teasing at school. So I bounced lightly away from my desk with my hands twitching slightly as I contemplated the forthcoming pleasure of flapping them. I might even have skipped a little — I can’t remember. As I passed through the door into the stairwell I gave myself to the sensations and my hands started flapping involuntarily.
Oh, the euphoria of the release I felt! After so many years of suppression it felt incredibly good to ride the wave of emotion and allow my body to express itself naturally, even though it was in private. This was something I decided recently: I would work on overcoming my inhibitions so that I can be more myself. Because being true to myself makes me happy.
A happy, flappy Aspie — I wouldn’t want to be any other way. You see, for autistic people stimming is a way of modulating sensory input — which includes the effects of emotion — and helps greatly in coping with many situations, both good and bad. It helps with concentration because it frees the mind to focus on something else rather than the sensory stimulus. Suppression — the building of barriers and inhibitions as a result of pressure through disapproval, teasing or bullying — can be harmful. Without stimming it is that much harder to cope with emotional or stressful situations. Without stimming we are denied a means of expression as much as if our mouths were taped shut or our hands bound.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. Don’t deny that to autistic people just because the way we express ourselves is not your way.
I’d like to thank the online Aspie/Autistic communities for providing me with a sense of belonging, of support, so that I have begun to feel confident about expressing myself naturally and honestly. On the subject of stimming there’s a short article about it from the BBC here, and a great blog post over at autisticook that has an illuminating survey of different stims.