Let’s talk about a subset of behaviours which are considered weird and sometimes due to their oddity are called ‘socially unacceptable’ but which aren’t inherently harmful or dangerous to anyone else; specifically I’m talking about stimming.
For those who aren’t familiar, stimming is the word for repetitive sensory stimulating behaviours, such as: bouncing your leg, twirling a lock of your hair, rolling one hand over another, spinning in circles, humming, chewing gum, flapping your hands, fluttering your fingers, watching or listening to one thing on repeat, rocking, and etc.
The list does go on, and includes a very wide variety of things.
It is important to note here that the stimulation part of stims can come in the form of any sense. (ex: sight, touch, vestibular, etc)
Whether something is recognized for being a stim seems to depend on opinion.
Actions are usually referred to as a stim when these behaviours are done as a repeated, frequent, or continuous motions; twiddling your thumbs is a stim, but your thumb twiddling is not likely to be called a stim unless you engage in it for an hour or two straight.
It also depends heavily on age if something appears to be the stim it is, for instance many stims aren’t considered weird for extremely young children. A kid could jump up and down over and over, or spin in circles for 5 minutes and no one would be truly surprised, any onlookers would be unlikely to jump to label it stimming or weird; but what if an adult did those things? We expect adults to be reserved, to maintain a certain amount of physical stillness or it’s noticeably weird.
Adults do stim though, mostly in small ways and unconsciously, but when a stim is within the bounds of what is considered acceptable it is usually referred to as ‘fidgeting’.
I think I can safely argue that most humans fidget, unless they actively try to stamp out the behaviour, however, for many there seem to be certain fidgets which they’d have to actively choose to do rather than actively choose not to do. As far as I can tell that choice is the line by which people seem to decide what is “Normal” and what is “Weird”.
Partly because of that some stims are considered more weird than others. If you felt the need to bounce your leg while thinking in public, even if you did it for an hour or more people might be annoyed, but it likely wouldn’t get you a lot of odd looks. If, however, you instead felt the need to sit down on a bench and rock in public, you’d get a lot of them and would be considered without a doubt, weird.
Likely that is a result of the majority of individual adult humans not considering rocking to be an appealing body movement to engage in for themselves, except perhaps in moments of very extreme distress. It’s not entirely a mystery why that line gets drawn there.
This kind of movement policing can extend into things like someone not making enough eye contact, or even not looking relaxed enough. Socially anxious people have been at the sharp end of the latter unofficial social requirement for decades, but the body movements and behaviours most judged are those common in autistic people.
The afore mentioned emphasis on adults maintaining higher standards of body stillness means this type of judgment comes down especially hard on autistic adults.
Assigning someone the label of Weird is a sort of value judgment, when people say it they often seem to mean it interchangeably with ‘undesirable’. Casting a persons value into speculation because of a fidget, a stim, isn’t based upon actual evaluation of a person, it’s merely that this action, the only thing you have to go by, doesn’t fit norms. It’s an undeserved criticism of their worth, based on the stimmy person not fitting a preconceived notion about people who look like them.
A clearly cut case of prejudice in the dictionary sense of the word. Not out of malice, but out of social convention.
A little over a year ago I decided to give myself permission to stim again, which means I gave myself permission to move my body more often as I feel inclined to, essentially permission to move more like my authentic self.
I do limit myself, nothing noisy, it must not stop what I’m otherwise doing from progressing, and I avoid anything I consider disruptive which includes all large or sweeping movements. Even still that leaves me with a list that includes a metaphorically colourful array of behaviours.
As a direct result, I have returned to looking “Weird” in public. Not that I ever really stopped since my body language isn’t average and I could never seem to make it, but I’ve returned to evidently and unabashedly weird. It’s freeing.
It’s also slightly frightening. I have gone back to getting glances of disapproval from other adults in public if I flutter my fingers one too many times. If I brought a stim toy and am rolling it over in my hand people notice. Sway from foot to foot while waiting in line they might comment, and so on.
The thing is, I’m not that different from the s, none of us stimmy folks are. The illusion of normalcy is maintained by drawing lines between some actions and not others.
It is arbitrary where the line between fidgeting and stimming is drawn, one side socially acceptable, the other socially weird behaviour.
There are norms to human behaviour, and some of us are not the norm, but we are still human, and our actions aren’t hurting you.
Lets stop the social stigma about stimming, the empty assertions about our value based on our weird behaviour. We’re fidgeters like you, you’re stimmers like us.