If you told me two years ago — before my autism spectrum disorder diagnosis — that all I needed to do was to chew in order to have a better social life, I probably would have thought you were telling me to chew tobacco. Then I would have thought that was silly. But in the last few months or so, I have been chewing (also known as stimming) as much as I please, and without shame.
Stimming means “self-stimulatory behavior,” and I believe almost everyone does it in some way. Even a neurotypical person might somehow fidget or stim. It’s very common and natural. However, it is different for autistic people. The most recognizable autistic stims may be hand flapping or spinning, but there are many more. I even consider listening to the same song 20 times (or more) in a row to be a common stim for me. It calms me; it makes me feel like myself.
I have come to realize that chewing on my chewable necklace from Stimtastic — a store that makes stim toys just for this purpose — calms me greatly during times of sensory overload. When am I overloaded? Often! This happens a lot in supermarkets and other crowded places. The most dangerous place it occurs is in the car. I have extra trouble at stop lights, when cars are buzzing by, horns are beeping, etc. I can’t just run away from the overload while I’m in a giant piece of machinery!
But now I chew on my necklace and have been able to drive farther from my safe bubble than I have in a long time! I’ve been as far as 80 miles away to visit family. In fact, I can’t get enough of this new ability I have, thanks to being able to stim. Sure, I get looks. I can see out of the corner of my eye. People may think it’s odd to see a grown woman chewing hard on her jewelry, but I don’t care. Stimming has improved my quality of life — my social life, in particular. Driving to see family is something I won’t ever take for granted. I can’t wait for the holidays this year, which is not something I could have said a few years ago.
Do you stim? Don’t be ashamed, even if it’s not seen as “normal” by some people. The more of us who are willing to shamelessly stim, the less stigma will be attached to it!