Understanding My Self-Stimulatory Behavior

Okay.  Deep breath.  I hope I can explain this well. 

Observing my son, I have cataloged his quirks and oddities.  In videos, photographs, and pages of text, I captured his essence.  Suddenly, an astounding revelation occurred.  I too, have pages of quirks and oddities to catalog and disclose.   

It began with a link of characteristics of female Asperger’s traits.  This list has been the single most awakening moment of my life.  I was very anxious over my fit with the male traits, many of which I do have, but some differences threw me.  It did not fit.  That’s why I sought out help.  My brand-new therapist told me that women present differently, but I had never thought to have checked.

So, I googled.  And here it is.  This chart is me.  Perhaps, for accuracy’s sake, I might not fit a sentence of two, but here I am.  Bless you, bless you, Rudy Simone.

I started reading the chart, saying, “Uh-huh uh huh uh huh,” again and again.  And then, I reached the third column.  Midway down it stated:

 “stims to sooth self when sad or agitated: rocking face rubbing, humming, finger flicking, leg bouncing, finger or foot bouncing”

And then

“Similarly, physical when happy.  Hand flapping, clapping, singing, jumping, running dancing, bouncing around.”

OMG.  Nothing I was so accurate.

People who know me socially might not see or notice.  I pace, rock, and flick, snap, flap, and clap.  Many have commented on my leg bouncing.  “Spazz” was a school nickname and an accurate descriptor.  I could never understand why people were not as jazzed about the things that made me happy.  If I got an A+ on an exam, I’d whoop and rattle my paper and look for someone to celebrate with me. A classmate and former best friend who also did well would look away and tell me to “Calm down.”

Nowadays, I still burst into song and make odd sounds when I am happy.  As I think about it, I don’t see others or even imagine others behaving this way.  As a child, I continuously made odd sounds.  I asked myself “why” for the first time today.  I savor the feel of the pressure and vibration in my mouth.  It is profoundly pleasing and soothing.

My husband has grown accustomed to my happy dances and hand-clapping frenzies, even when an outburst of joyous expression lasts for ten or twenty minutes–that’s twenty minutes of “Blue-DUDE-blue-DUDE-DUDE-blue-DUDE DUDE!!!”  with a few raspberries and vigorous thigh-slapping.  I am the only one I know who does this.  And I do it all the time.

I can’t imagine any of our neighbors doing this, nor can I imagine them doing the finger dances I do when trying to organize my thoughts.  At home and school, my leg wiggling, which can reach a startling amplitude, makes people flinch and stare.

 At Southwest Counseling Center, my job was to help mental health consumers manage severe psychiatric illness.  I did well, but I fit in better with the consumers than the regular staff.  They valued me for my accurate notetaking and ability to detect patterns in people’s behavior.  

 Once I attended a treatment plan of a favorite client, Diana. Her therapist had a disagreeable aura about him. Imagine a stony-faced, musty 1970’s Sears catalog model with an attitude from a 1949 men’s magazine.  His oblique criticism of Diana flustered her. He spewed the passive-aggressive observations too ill-tempered to be therapeutic.  I became distressed.  I did not want to be there. 

My agitation escalated.  Overwhelmed, I started rocking slightly, and then I flopped over on the conference table, smooshing and rubbing my cheek against the cool melamine. As if my splayed-out torso was not enough, my bouncing legs audibly rattled the table.  At some point, I resumed protocol, and I sat bolt upright.  My stillness was brief. I bounced vigorously in my chair for the rest of the meeting.

 Both therapist and client ignored what must have been a bizarre display.  Diana, however, softened her tirade as if she understood my distress.  She agreed to whatever he said, and the meeting was over quickly.  She never said a word about my “moment.” The therapist acted oblivious and aloof.  I took a disliking to him that has never dissipated.  I retired from SWCC six months later.

What happened at that meeting?  I had no idea.  I’ve scratched my head over this for years.  Today, I know what happened.  The overpowering emotions got to me.  I liked the patient; I identified with her.  I knew she was off-kilter but this therapist was not acknowledging her strengths, and I’d had quite enough of that in my life, thank you. Torn between outrage and duty, my emotions rebelled with movement.  The social brakes that keep me from singing loudly at JC Penney failed, and I had a little meltdown. 

I have experienced variations of this episode for years.  Now I know it is neurological. What sweet, sweet relief! I can finally answer the question that buzzes my embarrassed brain: “Why am I like this?” I am like this because I am made this way. Others are like me too, and we are all worthy.

One thought on “Understanding My Self-Stimulatory Behavior

  1. i too break out into random song when i am happy! i usually make up songs about my cats or close friends, if they are present. i also work i the mental health field, and i can so relate to what you are saying.

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