The Story Behind My Fidgeting

I fidget! It’s one thing I don’t have to work at to be good at. It comes naturally!

I found out why I fidget when I learned I was living on the autism spectrum. Repeated movements is a common autism trait. It can be fidgeting, foot tapping, leg bouncing, finger drumming, hand flapping, nail/finger biting, lip biting, rocking/swaying, etc. This is also sometimes called stimming, or self-stimulating. Fidgeting is something that folks who aren’t on the spectrum do as well. It’s just different with me living on the spectrum.

Why do I fidget? While researching autism, I learned the reason is because I have so many thoughts and feelings crowding my brain that I need to have something I can touch in my hands, or put in my mouth, or occupy a part of my brain so I can more easily concentrate. If I can keep that part of my brain that is being overwhelmed with all these sensory messages busy and calm, then I can use the remaining part of my brain to think and work.

For instance, I always have gum with me in my purse or in my pocket on the job. When I’m bored or stressed, I reach for a gum stick. I admit, though, my gum chewing is routine and not necessarily when I just feel like chewing. My gum chewing habit was one of many revelations as to how autism impacts my everyday life.

Since learning I was living on the spectrum, I have sought additional ways of coping. One is carrying items to fidget with. Just recently I found on the ground a toy key on a key ring. It is now mine. I keep it in my pocket in the jacket I usually wear to school. While monitoring the kids, such as on the playground, I’ll take out the key and fidget with it. I also found a broken set of ear plugs that I will fidget with by unsnarling the wires while watching the kids playing at recess.

I can use everyday items to fidget with. A rubber band will do the trick by repeatedly stretching it. When subbing in a P.E. class, I’ll sometimes dribble a basketball or bounce a tennis ball. At home, I do a lot of jogging in place. I get exercise and stimulation at the same time. For me, even jogging is “soothing” repetitive movement.

Fidgeting is helpful when I’m bored too. I’m in a far better state of mind when I am occupied doing something, even if it is not exciting such as sorting laundry. Sitting quietly, for instance, while listening to a lecture is torture! I can’t keep my body still and I can’t keep my focus on the speaker. It helps if I have something to fidget with in my pocket. It’s either that or biting my nails, something else I’m really good at.