Night of the Living Stim

Night of the Living Stim

No, I haven’t been bitten by a zombie, but rather this my state after suppressing stims!

“Stims,” autistic slang for “self-stimulating behavior,” is a misnomer.  I am not “stimulating” myself. Before I rock or spin or sing I am overstimulated to begin with!

“Self-stimulating behavior” is the sort of label scientists give behaviors they don’t fully understand. You could file it away next to “Refrigerator Mothers” or embrace its irony and make a night of it.

So here I am, two weeks late, celebrating the “Night of the Living Stim,” a delightful event where stims are celebrated by their owners. I hope sharing my experience opens your eyes and makes you smile. Perhaps you might try stimming yourself!

Stim-planeWhen I stim, I am an airplane.

I inhale deeply and stretch as if to embrace the world. Thus positioned, I am ready for flaps or perhaps a foray of wild spins.  Exaltations of “woo” complete my whirling celebration of toads, cookies, or wilderness walks. I stim most often when I am happy.

Stims represent many things to me.

My stims are a dance. I don’t need a beat or bass line to keep internal time. Emotion is the pulse that swells the tide inside my mind.  I am over-excitable and celebratory in a lively, visual way.

My stims are transcendent. I go where shamans go; to a self-generated euphoria of thought so intense it becomes movement. The divine is sublimated into circular motion and sinuous courses.

My stims are a weapon. At times, intense anxiety pushes my body to flee or fight, with no enemy in sight. I duck and dodge, rock and swing to placate primitive instinct. I battle ferociously when I sway like a boat.

What is stimming like?

Picture yourself at the edge of a cliff, breathing in the fear of a plummeting descent.  Whoosh! You have been pushed over and find yourself zinging toward the earth. Without thought, you flail your limbs and to your surprise, you are uplifted by wings you never knew you had. The rhythm of beating wings is your stim, your tool to save yourself from rocky chasms or to hoist yourself heavenwards.

Remember this when you see us soar.


Please visit the event follow-up for a summary of Night of the Living Stim articles by autistics and allies.

Night of the Living Stim developed by:

Monkey Pliers   @monkeypliers  
Renee Salas  @srsalas13
Ben Forshaw  @bjforshaw
Forgotten  @TwinsMa
Bridget Allen  @ItsBridgetsWord
lynnesoraya  @LynneSoraya

Bloggers supporting the event:

 Asperger’s / Autism Toolbox
S.R. Salas (blog) aka Renee Salas (on Facebook)
Shaping Clay
Married, With Aspergers
One Quarter Mama

The Occupational Therapy Fairy

ot fairy

My son’s autism diagnosis shocked me less than his proposed therapy schedule. The clinicians proclaimed that he needed 25-35 hours of therapy. Without it, they said, he may not have the tools to be mainstreamed in school.

I struggled with this mightily.

Specialists came to our home and saw him at an early intervention center.  He is not the child you see, I explained. Liev was sweet, playful, and bright.  He only ran around maniacally because everything was so new.  Sympathetic smiles and pity faces were stock responses.

Let me emphasize–I don’t begrudge the efforts of the regional autism center.  Several staff members, however,  left me feeling patronized and disbelieved.

For two years I absorbed book after book about autism therapy—A.B.A., Floortime, DIR, and RDI.  All of these treatments had one thing in common–they sort of work, sometimes.

Ultimately, when Liev was in a teachable place—he learned.  When Liev was disorganized, these  interventions failed.

Visits from Liev’s early intervention Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) unnerved us. She tried to engage my son with new toys and over-the-top enthusiasm. He scurried away from her at every opportunity. Another specialist launched a power struggle with him over throwing toys.  As if you could discipline an overwhelmed toddler!

Our final therapist turned treatment around.  Her son had Asperger’s.  Introducing us to a strength-based approach, she empowered our entire family.  Our services evolved into supportive and constructive plans. Confidence in our parenting returned.

The trend of playing to Liev’s strengths quadrupled in preschool, under Ms. Jerri’s watchful eye.   Her team’s high-quality attention, structure and visual supports brought us order and coping skills. Liev thrived. I thrived too!  I had a team of professionals dispensing sound advice.

Ms. Jerri introduced us to Occupational Therapy (OT).

WebMD’s definition of OT goals explains it best:

The overall goal of occupational therapy is to help the person with autism improve his or her quality of life. This includes life at home and at school. The therapist helps introduce, maintain, and improve skills. That way, people with autism can be as independent as possible.

OT is one of my top three parenting tools (the other two being written plans and hugs). Without fail, these three have helped us through many difficult days.  OT strategies are our first line of action.


Because Liev’s biggest obstacle to learning is his anxiety level. Too much stress or excitement whips him into an obsessive, impatient frenzy. He is too overwhelmed to function, let alone learn.

Our school OT, Ms. Wetherbee, keeps Liev grounded and focused in class. He can’t process vital social stories or work toward goals until his anxiety is tamed. Her interventions build awareness and give him control.

Ms. Wetherbee compares her work to soothing an infant:

“You have calming strategies for when an infant is crying and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.  You can try a strategy that didn’t work earlier–sometimes it will work later.  Sometimes something stops working and then you try it again months later, and it works.  Just keep trying!”

This simplifies her work greatly, but the core of her intervention is anxiety management. This is exactly what our whole family needs! The best thing I have learned about OT is how diverse and fun the approach is.

I have plenty of tricks to share with you (coming soon!).  Her strategies are concrete (yay!) and dissipate anxiety.

Until then, please enjoy the collage Liev and I put together of Ms. Wetherbee and her magic OT tools!

My Favorite Self-Soothing Behavior (AKA “Stimming”)

blue dude

I’ve been researching autistic “self-stimulatory” behaviors, aka stimming. I began my foray to understand my most salient stim, noisemaking.  I “sing” nonsense songs. I don’t mean your garden variety singing-to yourself sort of singing. I mean hour long sessions of repeating “Blue-dude-blue-dude-blue dude” in a cartoony-resonating voice.

I know my blue-duding is strange. It’s an odd reverberating sound that could never be mistaken for real singing or even speaking.  I don’t blue-dude in public, around friends or houseguests. I keep it private.

During a session, I “blue-dude” one of three songs interminably: Phantom of the Opera, The Imperial March, or the theme song from whatever cartoon my son is obsessing over. The songs may change, but the blue-dudes never do. I have been blue-duding for over 35 years.

To understand myself better, I kept a blue-dude journal.  I blue-dude when I wake up, feel happy or return from a stimulating outing.  Blue-duding is a natural expression of joy and relief. The mouthfeel and resonance is like an everlasting lollipop for my brain. And I never blue-dude when I am sad.

My songs are a consequence of a positive, excitable mood.  This emotion creates acute tension—like a breath held too long. The exhalation of noise is vital to my physical state. Only blue-duding can dissipate internal pressure and return me to equilibrium.

Some psychologists believe “stimming” is a replacement for socializing and other “normal” behavior. For example, while a typical person might receive stimulation from interacting with others, my brain prefers the self- stimulation of blue-duding.

I don’t think so. I am a boiling kettle blowing off steam. Other people do not boil as quickly as me.  Nor do they boil with such vigor. My space on the autism spectrum is a variation of intensity. If everyone bubbled so effusively, we would jiggle the planet with our song.

Self-stimulatory behaviors are self-soothing behaviors. These behaviors are important tools for the intense and overloaded to regulate themselves. As an autistic adult who can control her public bliss, I hope others learn to tolerate and accept self-soothing in others. If another person rocks, spins, or flaps– embrace that novelty as an unexpressed  variation of yourself.

The Mystery of the Thinning Hair

Countessa with Squid by Omar Rayyan
Countessa with Squid by Omar Rayyan.

Ah, to possess tentacle hair!

With my luck, one side would still be limp and scraggly. Could I comb my tentacles over to one side to cover up? No. This is my latest strategy, however.

I part my hair to the side. I’ve worn it that way for years. When my bangs misadjust themselves, a toss of my head rearranges them. What people who don’t live with me miss, is that I toss my head interminably throughout the day.

The frequency and intensity of head tossing are directly related to two things—anxiety of course, and the length of my bangs.  To keep my head tossing muscles from becoming too prominent and glossy, I schedule bimestrial hair appointments.

Our family stylist, Kira, is a blessing. She has a brother with Asperger’s, so she is very sensitive to Liev and me.  She entertains and soothes Liev with the flair of a favorite aunt.  On a particularly twitchy morning, she hauled out the big book of hair colors for me to peruse. She knew I would savor the nylon expanse of color.

I feel so comfortable with Kira, I shared my worry over the problematic right side of my head.

My hair has a fine, European texture.  One woman told me I had “Disney Princess” hair. This is the most laughable thing I ever heard.  My hair is soft and silky—but it is distributed in a bizarre manner.

The back of my head is a tropical tangle and the left side is modestly dense. The right side, however, is thinning badly. It isn’t quite Yoda-ish, but at the rate my hair is thinning, I am concerned.

Kira suggested I might be doing something specific to thin my hair. Do I sleep always on the same side? No.  Do I twist or tug at my hair? No.

Trichotillomaniacs pepper our family, so I took note. I might pursue a pimple with lusty gusto, but I don’t pull out my hair. We decide to style my hair parted to the left to normalize my appearance.

As she finishes my ‘do, she encouraged me. “It will occur to you, Lori. One moment you will be doing something…” She paused and tipped her head to the side. Dramatically she swooped her fingers through her hair. “And you will realize what is thinning your hair.”

In an instant, I realized– that is what I do!  I am a compulsive hair-raker.  I must rake my hands through the right side of my hair three dozen times a day. I never connected my quirk with hair loss. I don’t fuss with the left side because I am right-handed. I would not reach across my field of vision.

Kira solved a grand mystery. I’ve had periodic thinning for years. Under stress, I rake manically. Raking is a tic of sorts, a nervous re-adjustment.

Why would anybody rake their hair into such a state? Well, you would pull up a pair of sinking baggy pants. You notice the sensation and hike up your trousers. If the sensation is too annoying, you get new pants or a belt. I am stuck with my scalp, so I might consider a headband.

Ha.  I reckon I’d wind up with a little bald ring circumnavigating my head, so perhaps not.

Heaven help me, I might need to use some self-control!

The portrait is “Countessa with Squid” by the incredible Omar Rayyan.

Long Weekend


This is my sanity saving project for today and yesterday. Good grief, I despise long weekends with a sick kiddo.

On the bright side, T really knows his Hiragana and is picking up some Kanji!