aspergers, autism, culture, health, living abroad, psychology, travel

Stop the Chattering

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Behold the Stimming

One common trait regarding people on the autism spectrum is stimming. I never knew there was a word for it, but that’s the clinical term. When I first heard that, I thought the word was “stemming” as in removing stems from something. Most people with autism take things literally. Thus, I wondered where people got this grandiose idea I was growing from the ground like a plant wanting to remove parts of me. There were no leaves or branches on my body. Whoever coined that phrase failed didn’t realize I’m from the wrong kingdom I thought. I didn’t grasp that “stimming” is a bastardized form of “self-stimulation.” That’s what someone on the spectrum does either whenever they’re overwhelmed, bored, or unwinding. It’s what we do to keep our brains occupied. There was a time most people thought we were crazy and that we belonged in institutions.

To Be or Not to Be; That is the Question

The best example I can give is Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. The title character would have soliloquies. Hamlet would talk to himself or do what I call thinking out loud. He was a troubled individual whose father was just murdered by his uncle, Claudius, in an attempt steal the throne and become the new King of Denmark. Hamlet knew what has happening because his father’s ghost would appear and tell him the story. Sometimes Hamlet spoke out loud while the specter wasn’t present. The idea was to make the viewer think Hamlet was losing his mind. He didn’t know how to handle this dilemma. His mother Gertrude began having feelings for Claudius which compounded the situation. You could tell Hamlet was overwhelmed. His soliloquies were to comfort himself and to rehearse how he would confront Claudius and Gertrude one day. Speaking out loud happens for me and other Aspies spontaneously. The most common place I recall it occurring is in the shower. Sometimes we reverberate lines we hear from TV shows or movies. Other times it’s rehashing conversations we had in the past we wish we could’ve said differently in hindsight. Sometimes I would prepare speeches about how I would accost someone making my life miserable.

Not a Junkie, Not a Bum

On the one hand, my mother would brush this off when I did this as a kid. The only thing she stated was it sounded like another person was in the same room. On the other hand, my dad and stepmom would harangue me for this when I lived with them in the early 90’s. Their house was in Long Island, New York. My dad worked at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. I suspect it bothered them because they’d by default compare me to homeless people with mental problems or someone hopped up on drugs in the subways. On the surface, one might surmise they didn’t know any better. My dad and stepmom were smarter than that.

Not my Baby, Not at All

My synopsis is they were embarrassed by it. My father would refer to it as “chattering” and told me to knock it off. My stepmom with her helicopter parenting would say “Quiet, Dustin.” Did this get under my skin? You bet it did! My dad was always in denial that I had any medical condition. It crushed his ego to know it was from his side of the family and that he had an imperfect son. Heaven forbid there should be anything wrong with his precious gene pool. He even tried to place the onus on my mother stating there was a family history of depression and blamed her for giving me too much sugar. The reason why the Asian attitudes about mental health bother me so much is because it’s tantamount to how people saw it when I was a kid and my own father’s disposition. Western society has made tremendous strides, but there’s still work to be done. Eventually, my dad accepted it after our relationship had become estranged.

The Different Variations

There are other forms of stimming lower-functioning auties do such as flapping their fingers, waving their arms, and whatnot. This happens when they’re having meltdowns or when they’re bored. Sometimes I’d thump my feet whenever I’m sitting down for a long period. Other times I would twitch my leg when I’m walking like I want to kick a soccer ball. My good friend back in Austin likes to twirl strings in his hand. Other times he gallops in short stints. There are different variations of stimming. It all depends on the individual. I may make funny noises like I’m blowing raspberries on my cats and dogs. This would annoy my old roommates. I surmise it’s one reason I’ve been fired from certain jobs and evicted from my first apartment in Saigon. Neither my former managers nor my landlord would ever give specific reasons. They’d beat around the bush and prevaricate as best they could. I could never get a straight answer no matter how hard I pressed, so I have no way of knowing if that’s the reason. All I got was vague responses like, “We just don’t think this will be a good fit, “ or “There’ve been some complaints and other people feel uncomfortable.” That’s why I prefer working online and living alone.

Some People Never Grow Up

Often people would mock me for this. I remember when I was in middle school other kids would make fun of me. They loved to gossip to their friends and encourage the bullies. The same would happen while I was in the U.S. Coast Guard. You would think adults would outgrow that phase, but I learned the hard way some never grow up. The military is a haven for overgrown adolescents. I would even have fake friends eavesdrop on me so they could reverberate to my other provocateurs what I was saying. The best I can do now is whisper it under my breath so nobody can hear. That’s what I advised my buddy back home to do. Or I check the vicinity to ensure there’s no one around to avoid humiliation. I wouldn’t expect anyone who doesn’t have or know someone with autism to understand. It’s part of our nature. What’s comforting is knowing there are NT’s who do this, and studies have shown this isn’t as unhealthy as society thinks after all.


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