Do Neurotypical People Stim?

This is another Tumblr autism community controversy that I’m like a month late to.

The question isn’t really “Do neurotpyical people do stim/fidget-like things?” because obviously the answer to that is yes; the question is, should we call those things by the same name when neurotypical (or, non-autistic) (or, non-cognitively/learning disabled) people do them, as when autistic people do? Or should there be separate words?

Setting aside the idea that there should be separate words because these are really separate things (because… I don’t think they are separate things), the main argument I’ve heard against using the word “stim” for what NT people do, is that “stim” is not just a factual description of how autistic people fidget, but also implies the history in which those behaviors are pathologized and punished. The word “stim” has been reclaimed and repurposed from medical language, from “self-stimulatory behavior.” So it doesn’t matter if an NT person’s actions are the same, goes this argument, if it isn’t medicalized, pathologized, punished, it isn’t stimming.

Personally, I like the idea of telling NT people that they stim too. I’d like to think that rather than watering down the negative implications of the word, it invites NT people to see themselves through that medicalized lens. The message I want to send isn’t “Our stimming is just as normal as your nice normal fidgeting, we are Just Like You;” it’s “looked at from the right angle, your nice normal fidgeting is just as abnormal and creepy as our rocking back and forth staring at nothing flapping our hands like a ———”

In some cases people punish autistic people for stimming just because the behavior annoys them, or just because they’ve been told it’s bad and they should discourage it, but a lot of the time, people have a visceral negative reaction to stimming. Stimming makes us look (to put it politely) “visibly cognitively disabled,” or (to put it not politely) “like retards.”

Some of the stigma is calm clinical judgment that stimming is undesirable behavior, but some of it is uncanny valley stuff. And that, I think, gives “your fidgeting is just as weird as our stimming” some emotional power.

When I say that stimming and figeting are basically the same thing, I want NT people to think about how often they fidget, and imagine what it would be like if their fidgeting were pathologized too. Because the difference between totally normal stuff and gross uncanny valley creepiness often really is just a shift in mental perspective. I want them to think about how creepy they would look too, if people were studying them looking for creepiness.

I want them to come face-to-face with the fact that that uncanny valley gross-out feeling can apply to them too, and also that it is subjective and malleable and it can go away. Anybody can be gross, but that’s ok. Grossness doesn’t actually matter. That’s what I want people to learn. And I think “you stim too” can further that goal.

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