Joyous Sensory Stimming
There’s always a lot of talk about the sensory challenges and struggles of autistic people that lead to sensory overwhelm and sometimes meltdowns. But it’s not all bad! There are lots of happy, joyful, pleasing, exciting sensory things as well. Our enhanced autistic senses make the annoying stuff really bad, that’s true. But they also make the good stuff truly wonderful! Happy stimming and GoodFeel sensory experiences make for autistic joy!
Stimming Can Be Joyous
Stimming is a way for autistic people to self-regulate, certainly. It can be a useful tool to maintain our calm and tolerate other stimuli that might otherwise be overwhelming. But here’s a news flash: stimming just feels good! We often stim for fun and pleasure as much as anything else.
Remember being on a swing set as a kid? It was fun, right? It’s fun for autistic people, too! Swinging is one of my favorite stimmy activities. The rhythmic, back-and-forth motion gives a ton of physical stimulation for the very small effort of bending and straightening your legs.
Did you enjoy jumping on a trampoline when you were young? Jumping is another fun stimmy activity for us. Some of us jump wherever we are, and others prefer to use trampolines. Either way, we get a big, full-body GoodFeel and an endorphin rush from it!
Dancing can be a stim, too! It’s another form of rhythmic movement, plus it adds in auditory stimulation from music, and even physical stimulation if you turn up the bass enough to feel it in your chest.
Any kind of stimming – rocking, twisting, twirling, leg bouncing, chewing, pen clicking, anything – can be done for pure enjoyment as well as for self-regulation.
GoodFeel Sensory Input
Despite what you might think, all sensory input isn’t horrific to autistic people. We all have things that we hate, but we also have things that we absolutely love! Some of my favorite tactile experiences include very soft, cozy fabrics and yarns and fuzzy things like velvet or fleece. Touching those textures gives me a feeling of calm, peace, and joy – if I’m completely honest, it’s almost a mild euphoria because it feels SO good.
I also love compression – corsets, skinny jeans, thick athleisure wear, and boots that lace up tightly to support my ankles. When my clothes give a little compression, I feel supported and secure, which translates to a feeling of safety and calm. In fact, putting on a corset can sometimes help me calm down enough to stave off a meltdown.
Other autistic people might like very smooth textures like marble countertops or polished wood, or maybe slightly textured surfaces like some laptop keyboards, waffle knit shirts, grosgrain ribbon, or even fine-grain sandpaper. Cold metal jewelry might be very pleasant for some people, especially if it’s nice and heavy or if it moves – stimmy and satisfying!
The right music can also create joyful auditory experiences – when the harmonics work just right or the perfect pitch and tone meet so it hits just right in a certain part of the body. Maybe a certain singer’s voice is just right (I have a great love of Rufus Wainwright for that exact reason). Or autistic joy might be found in food, with the perfect texture and flavor and temperature create a beautiful sensation. (And now I’m suddenly craving my favorite blended coffee because every sip is just divine!)
For every form of sensory disturbance an autistic person has, there’s bound to be a corresponding joyful experience. We don’t hate all forms of sound, or light, or food, etc. – only the ones that truly feel bad to us. Find what we love, and we love it with all our being and may stick to it forever because it feels just as good as the other stuff feels bad.
Why Do We Love It?
Happy, joyful, pleasant, GoodFeel sensory input and happy stimming help to counteract all the stressful, BadFeel, overwhelming input that we get day in and day out. Every time we give our sensory system something pleasant, it helps our nervous system to cope with the unpleasant parts that we can’t control. So, for example, if we have to work in an environment where the lights are too bright and the people are too loud, etc., we’ll be able to handle it better if we can do it while wearing clothes that feel very good to us and give us some good stimulation.
After having dealt with stressful situations – whether that’s school, work, a friend’s party, a shopping trip, or even something we really wanted to do that was hard – good sensory input and stimming are restorative for autistic people. We need our recuperation time, and the best things to help us recuperate are things that feel good. So grab that weighted blanket, or get your hands on your favorite texture, or get in the hot bath with just the right music or aromatherapy going on!
Good sensory input and stimming just plain make us happy. It’s that simple. NTs get a similar endorphin rush from doing things that they enjoy – this is really no different. Much like supertasters can enjoy food on more levels and in more nuance than other people, our amplified autistic senses give us more enjoyment out of smaller experiences than NTs might get. It may look a little strange at first glance, but don’t knock it till you try it – you might find you love it, too!
So you see, getting GoodFeel sensory input and stimming is integral to an autistic person’s mental, emotional, and psychological health. It helps us deal with stress in the moment, but it also helps us build up reserves to cope with stress in the future. It assists us with coming down from being very excited or agitated into a lower-energy state. And it makes us happy. We enjoy it. Every therapist in the world will tell you it’s important for people to spend time doing things that they enjoy because that makes for a healthy mind and psyche. Autistic people are no different. Happy stimming and good sensory input are a form of our self-care and maintenance, just as much as a glass of wine in a bubble bath or a pint of ice cream and a favorite movie might be for other people.
Where do you find your autistic joy? What’s your favorite kind of stimming or sensory experience? When I have a back yard, I’m totally putting in a swing set, but until then, I just need a rocking chair. What’s your dream sensory setup and how are you getting that sensory experience for now?