I originally published this on 12/2/2019 on my old blog, felt right to transfer it.

I’ve been stimming a lot lately, and thought I’d try to get the bottom of what’s causing the agitation. So, I wrote a list, and then tried to categorise how my stims show up. In doing so, I realise that having a sociable cat is a great stim toy! Watching them go about their day, chasing flies, demanding scratches and stroking. My cat when I was a kid would come and sit on my lap when I was watching tv; it was a fine relationship. She enjoyed the stroking and fuss, I enjoyed the weight of her on my lap and to play with her fur.

But wait a minute, I’m getting ahead of myself. What’s stimming? Stimming is short for ‘Self stimulating behaviour’ – giving oneself sensory input. It’s a thing that, from what I understand, neurodiverse people do more of, and do differently, to neurotypical folk.

I will for example move lots if I experience sensory overload and need to help my brain find its way back to being calm. I am more prone to being tactile if I am visually understimulated. Positive visual overload comes out as excited squeaks; negative visual overload is more likely to trigger agitation and an attempt to leave or create order. Interestingly, I struggle to pull myself away from too much good visual stimulus, and on the flip side, too little can be handled by closing my eyes and shutting off that sense entirely. Which seems kinda backward, but there you go. Can have the downside of making me fall asleep though. Ho hum. Auditory stimulus can be controlled by earplugs (I am often surprised at how many pairs I have in my handbag ‘just in case’) and hoods. Oh how I love hooded clothing!

Lately I’ve been craving oral textures and tastes more; looking back I think I must have got hugely overstimulated on that front in a way that my body liked, and it’s trying to recapture it! Oh hurrah, maybe I can tell it to chill out a bit now ;)

So, understanding why these stims occur and take over makes them far easier to manage. If I know that my eyes are bored but my ears are happy, and moving around will irritate the people around me (which leads to more stimming picking up on their agitation!), I can try and find ways to improve the visual stimulus instead. This could be as simple as turning the lights on, or having a flickering thing in my field of view, or having a complicated piece of artwork to look at. If I know that stroking my skin is a calming stim but scratching my skin is an irritated one, I can take a look at how my body is expressing itself to allow me to find the emotions going on, when I maybe can’t identify it on the surface.

Professionals who talk about categorising aspects of sensory processing look at whether people are Hypersensitive (find things overstimulating) or Hyposensitive (underregulate, crave more to regain balance) in different areas, and I find this a really useful way to make sense of the different triggers. The categories include: auditory; tactile; oral; olfactory (smell!); proprioception; verbal. So, I am generally hypersensitive to hearing, touch and smells, and hyposensitive to movement and the taste and feel of what goes in my mouth. I have a need to move, and can’t stand bland textures or tastes!

Here’s a list of some of the things that I do to try and keep me balanced:

Visual – staring at things in motion – twinkling lights, fish in a tank, glitter in a snowglobe, watching cats. zoning out – staring at art or patterned wallpaper or textured ceiling

Verbal – Vocal sighing when contented, humming earworms, squeaking with excitement, laughing inappropriately, refusing to talk (going non-verbal)

Oral – chewing nails, sour tastes, curry, other strong tastes, food textures, eating too much because of, fizzy drinks, food that melts in the mouth, lip chewing

Tactile – playing with hair, touching bare skin (arms and face mostly, body if appropriate), pulling eyelashes, scratching skin, swaying as if to music, hand flapping (usually when I can’t find words in my head), jumping and bouncing, touching fabrics and other surface textures, picking at spots and scabs, leg bouncing when sitting down, foot shaking, stretching, picking dirt out of nails (even if there isn’t any), jiggling breasts and belly fat, scratching scalp (when it doesn’t itch)

Auditory – white noise in the background

There’s bound to be more!

I thought I was done with writing this, but realise I’d like to expand a little more on the non-verbal aspect. The best way I’ve found of describing how the thought processes side of my brain works is that I think visually and in feelings quite a lot. If I think in words it’s often a form of echolalia, regurgitation of other people’s words or phrases. Hearing words and then translating them into my more visual/feeling language can take time for my brain to catch up, and finding the words to express what’s going on in my head can sometimes be super challenging. If I get too overloaded then I can sometimes be trying to find the words but everything is too much and I find that I just can’t speak. In these situations then writing things down often helps. If I can’t write, then showing me pictures may allow me to find the words.

I hope in writing this down trying to find the words for myself, perhaps it may help others to find their words too :)

Taking stimulants stops or severely reduces the need for self stimulation. So, consuming caffeine, sugar, alcohol, ADHD medication and other drugs can temporarily make me appear more normal, and ‘fit in’ better, where self stimming methods may not be appropriate or available. Some are more effective than others, and some have more interesting side effects. Sugar is perhaps my most curious, I can turn into a complete mess if I accidentally have one too many haribo, suddenly unable to speak coherently and bouncing off the walls. The only way to soothe it is to close my eyes, think calm thoughts and wait for it to pass :D

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