Saturday, 25 June 2011

Stimming - Does it really work?

So... I have been reflecting on stimming, as I am trying to figure out what to do about my own troublesome stims.

I clench my teeth in time with my pulse. There. I said it. I've never told anybody that before. I may have mentioned the clenching thing to my dentist, who was not surprised, given the fact that I was seeing him with TMJ - a jaw problem, caused by nighttime grinding and daytime clenching.

It increases along with my anxiety, and I'm not sure what to do about it. I have seen people posting about how trying to prevent children from stimming only makes it worse, or drives it underground. I know that I had various stims as a child, some of which drove my mum crazy, and she banned me from doing them. Although looking back, some of them might have looked more like OCD than stimming, and that makes me wonder what the actual difference between the two. If we're all agreed that both OCD and stimming have anxiety as their cause, then maybe they are both different manifestations of the same thing?

I do see Lucas displaying particular behaviours when he's anxious, he walks along, and every other step he kicks his bottom with his right foot. He can do that for hours in the playground. He also sometimes tips his head over to the side and just leaves it there, and also makes a throaty noise when watching favourite TV programmes, or eating favourite food. Again, not sure whether we are in the realm of tics, stims or OCD here. Or whether it really matters what we call it!!

I went underground with my stims, which are all invisible now. There's the jaw-clenching/tooth-tapping one, then there's the one with my fingers, where I tap them against something in time with my pulse, but out of sight. The teeth one has definitely become unconscious, I have difficulty in stopping it now, although it causes me agonising jaw pain if I get too anxious. I have tried to decrease it by switching to my finger stim when I notice it, but I can't maintain that for long before I return to the unconscious teeth one.

When I consciously try to stop the teeth-tapping, I notice immediate sensations of rising anxiety, so I know that it is working to keep the anxiety suppressed. I guess the problem is that as the anxiety levels rise, so does the damage to my jaw as my body carries out its long-learned suppression technique.

Does it work? I think that the stimming channels my anxiety, and gives me an outlet, allowing a physical release of my anxious feelings. But I think that once it becomes systematic, and unconscious, it only serves to mask and disguise my anxiety levels, until they become intolerable. I suppose it's a type of coping mechanism, but I wouldn't characterise it as helpful.

Maybe it's like self-harming, a learned coping mechanism that can get out of control. As part of my Aspergian self-inventory, I need to decide if I really want to break the habit of a lifetime.


  1. Well I don't have a diagnosis of aspergers - my son does - but I definitely do the jaw-clenching thing, until I'm in pain if I'm anxious and I also chew my whittles till they bleed and my son does that as well!

  2. Good to know I'm not the only one! I just realised I also do a tongue pressing thing on my teeth, which can't be helping the jaw any.

  3. Oh my! I learnt something new! Had to look up the word stimming. So that's why I chew my inner cheek or rub my tongue front to back over the ridges on roof of my mouth without thinking when I'm stressed. My son chews his collars on his shirt. Thanks for helping me make the connection.