Stimming, a form of fidgeting frequently found in autistic people, is a wonderful tool for focusing and self-control. However, there are certain times when you may want to avoid distracting people or receiving negative attention. This article will help you fulfill your needs without drawing attention to them.
Considering the Situation
Ask yourself why you don’t want to attract attention. Are you concerned about legitimately bothering people (e.g. disrupting people’s concentration during an exam) or just afraid of looking weird? Be honest with yourself.
Consider the consequences of stimming conspicuously. Ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen. For example…
At an exam, you could disrupt other students’ concentration and make iteven more stressful for them.
At a supermarket, someone could stare at you.
At a family gathering, your crotchety old grandpa could scowldisapprovingly and imply that your father failed to parent you correctly.
Ask yourself if you would be okay with these consequences. For example, you might decide to take one for the team at the family reunion, but that you don’t care if random strangers publicly display their bad manners in the supermarket.
Some autistic people script their responses to rude people inadvance. For example, it may help to decide that “What’s wrong with you?” merits a “What’s wrong with your manners?”, and that if someone stares at you flapping, you shall flap even more vigorously and stare right back.
Many autistic people find that they feel better not censoring themselves.
It is okay to stim discreetly in public too. You may feel too tired to handle judgmental looks from strangers, or need all your energy to handle the sensory stimuli of crowds. Do what feels best for you.
Remember that by stimming, you are not in the wrong. Stimming is a natural and healthy behavior that allows you to function. Nobody deserves to be shamed for putting forth their best effort to interact with the world.
Prepare for an Event
Consider taking breaks. See if you could temporarily withdraw from the situation to stim and rebalance yourself. For example, at a party, you could take a long bathroom break to stim and relax, or offer to drive and pick up the pizza halfway through so you can be alone in the car.
If everyone present knows you have special needs, you may be able to retreat to a calming down corner or quiet space without anyone thinking this unusual.
Communicate your special needs to others beforehand. Explain to your professor that you are disabled, or tell your relatives that you’ll need some time in your calming down corner. This makes your behavior seem less alarming when they see it happen.
Example script: “Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I have special needs, and this party is going to be a little challenging for me. I may need to take breaks from socializing, and possibly leave early. If you see me acting a little strange or avoiding people, please know that everything’s okay and I’ll re-engage as soon as I feel well enough.”
People like to feel helpful. Often they’re accommodating once they know what’s going on.
See if you can modify the situation to your benefit. You may be able to remove the source of your worries from the picture.
Go shopping early in the morning or late at night to avoid crowds. You’ll have less stimuli and lower chances of meeting a judgmental stranger.
Spend most of your family reunion time entertaining the children, far away from your grumpy grandpa.
Disabled students can ask to take exams in a separate, quiet room. Then you can flap your arms to your heart’s content without fear of disturbing people.
Consider if it would be easier to avoid the situation altogether. Avoiding conspicuous stims can take a lot of energy sometimes, especially if you’re the type who needs to stim often. If so, it may be easier to fix the situation instead.
Decide not to attend the family reunion. (You can develop a “fever” forthis purpose.) This will allow you to be yourself without giving fuel to your grandpa’s rants or experiencing the stress of wondering when he’ll complain. If you are under 18, ask your parents’ permission first.
Get plenty of activity to meet your sensory needs. If you’re a fidgeter, getting enough physical activity will reduce the need to stim when you’re in social situations. It will also help you feel calm and energized. Run around the block
Jump (possibly on a trampoline)
Dance to your favorite music
Climb trees and other objects
Get some deep pressure beforehand. Browse the internet with a weighted blanket on your legs, or offer to exchange back rubs with your sister. In a pinch, pile heavy things upon yourself, or pull your clothing tightly over your body. Deep pressure will help you feel more relaxed before the big event.
Avoid planning stressful things before or after the event. If you’refeeling distressed, you’ll need to stim more to calm down. It’s best to do something fun, like indulging in a special interest or reading a good book, for an hour before the big event. Afterwards, you’ll probably feel tired, so don’t overestimate your capacity to handle things then either.
Choose your alternative stims beforehand. Read lists of stims, find what sounds useful, and practice using the stim to see if it works. That way, you won’t suddenly discover that the replacement stim you chose is ineffective, and then be left wondering what to do.
The autistic community offers plenty of advice on stimming.
It helps to think of several alternative stims, in case you don’t feel like one of them would help you after all. That way, you’ll have several backups ready to go.
Choose Alternative Stims
Use tools to keep your hands busy. Handheld fidget toys could involve… Tangles
“Sea urchin” toys to rub against fingers
Bracelets (large, round beads with smaller beads as spacers work best)
Putty (such as Theraputty).
Apply deep pressure. This provides proprioceptive input, increasing bodily awareness and helping with calmness.
Wrap your arms tightly around your body and squeeze.
Apply lotion or hand sanitizer and rub it in well.
Squeeze your hands together.
Wear a heavy leather jacket or weighted vest.
Use your mouth. The mouth muscles are used for self-calming, and tasting things can also be considered a stim.
Suck on a lollipop or hard candy.
Buy a chewy bracelet or toy designed for special needs. These do exist at reasonable prices.
Find natural ways to move. Sit on an exercise ball or rocking chair. Consider staying standing and moving around to get things for people, or slowly wandering around the room as people talk. Pacing is considered acceptable in some environments.
Find quiet auditory stims. Depending on the noise level, you should be able to make quiet stims that satisfy your need for sound without disturbing others.
Click your teeth together. Even in a silent room, people shouldn’t be able to hear this.
Listen to music with headphones.
In louder rooms, tap your feet, click your tongue, drum your fingers, hum, use echolalia, tap your pencil, etc.
Only click your pen if the room is quite loud; this can be a pet peeve.
Ask your autistic friends (online or in person) what stims they like to use in different situations. They may have great ideas!
Remember that you never need to apologize for being autistic in public. You are wonderful and lovable the way you are.
Don’t start using stims that could cause harm. Examples include biting nails, scratching or picking skin, and pulling hair. These can become very difficult to quit.
Be careful when researching alternative stims online. Many articles speakof extinguishing stimming as the goal, and present a view of autism that can be very depressing for autistic people. Try to search mainly in the autistic community.
How to Be a Good Student With Autism or Other Special Needs Disorders
How to Make a Calming Down Corner
How to Cope With Sensory Integration Disorder
How to Calm Down by Using Your Senses
How to Deal With Sensory Processing Disorder As a Teen
How to Reduce Sensory Overload
Sources and Citations
http://autisticadvocacy.org/ – research source
http://autismwomensnetwork.org/ – research source
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