My Mental/Visual/Touch Stimming: Could it be Asperger’s?
To me, NVLD and/or Asperger’s is a fascinating look into the differences in how our brains work. I find the differences awesome, and hope that one day they will be accepted, not labeled “disorders” which must be “fixed.”
They also explain many things about myself that never made sense before, make me “normal” among people who have these same “abnormalities.” It makes me okay the way I am. They’re also not related to introversion, so can’t be explained away that way.
NVLD/Asperger’s quickly became, back in 2000, one of my many long-term, obsessive interests, because finally I had a reason for why I do the things I do, why my brain works the way it does, why others don’t do these things that seem perfectly normal and logical to me, or which I’ve always done but not known why.
For example, I have various little things I do which I’ve done since childhood, but they’re so subtle that I doubt anybody notices but myself. They seem to increase when I’m going through anxious periods.
For example, sometimes I’ll feel my heel strike a crack in the sidewalk, and I don’t feel right until the opposite heel strikes a crack in the sidewalk as well. I’ll stare at tiles and find patterns. I alphabetize my music and movies. I’ll stare into space, or my eyes will cross, as a form of relaxation when visuals are getting a bit overwhelming.
If I’m folding laundry and a sock or towel hits my leg, oftentimes I won’t feel right until I hit one against the other leg as well. I do the same thing with my fingers. I keep nibbling on the inside of my mouth without realizing it.
It doesn’t always happen, but as I noted, seems to increase in times of anxiety. For the past 2 years, while dealing with a very emotionally traumatic situation, I’ve been doing these things more often, and added a couple of new ones. Now my eyes vaguely cross a lot, intentionally. Not sure why. I try to stop it because it gives me a headache, but do it anyway.
I recall, as a kid, one day just looking at the ceiling and deciding I would start doing one of my stims, which I have never stopped doing: counting, looking for even numbers in things, such as tiles on the ceiling.
I count letters in words in titles or signs, hoping for even numbers of letters or words as my eyes sweep back and forth over the word in various patterns, doing this until it “feels finished.” I look for symmetry.
I prefer round letters and numbers because they make easier patterns; I’ll even make a pattern with an individual letter or number. As a child, my favorite number was 8 and numbers related to 8, such as 16–because 8 is a round number.
I’ll do the same thing with letters or numbers or pictures or other objects, my eyes sweeping over an object back and forth an even number of times to form an even pattern.
I do it to titles on books, to words on a page I’m reading, to tiles on the floor, to the iconostasis (wall with all the icons) at church, to the golden objects (crosses, etc.) on the altar, to the incense holders hanging.
I count them, see there’s this number on one side, this number on the other, back and forth, until finally the service begins.
I see a line or a word and think of the capital letters opposite other capital letters, the lowercase letters in contrast, try to form a pattern with the capitals on the outside.
An embedded web video stuck on an endless loop (such as in forum avatars or on page 3 of the below-linked forum discussion) can drive me crazy, as I start wanting to see it go through the loop a certain number of times before I turn it off. I don’t even know how many times; just until it “feels finished.”
I’ll often look at a word or phrase again and again after having just read it, until I’m “done.”
And my brain has done these things for as long as I can remember. It’s usually not at all related to anxiety, though anxiety can increase the frequency of some of them.
Riding in a car also sometimes drives me crazy as I start forming patterns with every sign and wire I see.
Sometimes I will sit and stare, a kind of “rest,” or just let my eyes go unfocused (crossing them, apparently) because it’s restful.
As a child in Kindergarten, and even now, I see numbers as male or female. Male: 0, 1, 4, 5, 7. Female: 2, 3, 6, 8, 9. Yet 16 is female, and so is 20, even though they are mixed.
It’s something about the way they look. I’m not sure what, exactly, because 0 and 5 are round, same as 3, 8 and 9, and 2 has a straight line just as most of the “male” numbers do.
Thoughts will circle in my head until they’re said in just the right way or I feel them in my throat the right number of times (something about, I haven’t really “thought” it unless I can feel the word in my throat).
Certain phrases will go through my head again and again and again until they interfere with other thoughts and activities and seem about to drive me crazy. (These are not “voices in my head,” but my own thought-voice.)
It’s words I hear or read, or a few near-constant stock phrases which have been with me for years/decades (such as “Lord have mercy” since I became Orthodox, and “please forgive me” before that).
(In fact, Orthodoxy encourages stimming on “Lord have mercy” as a spiritual exercise.) Sometimes I’ll start humming to get an unpleasant thought out of my head.
Up until now, no one has known about these mental/visual/tactile stims which I have done all my life. Because they’re mostly in my head, nobody knows they’re going on. Only recently have I told my husband these things go on in my head constantly.
I’m not sure if NLD has traits like these, but Asperger’s does; a quick Google search on “mental stimming” brings up a forum discussion on this very thing.
Some of these things will go endlessly through my head so much that I barely notice it, or they die down for a while, but start up again in periods of depression or anxiety or deep thought.
A blogger with Asperger’s describes stimming here, and one of his commenters described my thing with sidewalk cracks here:
However, I do the crack thing, I have to step on the cracks, or i have to step on a crack with my left foot, then step over the next crack with my left foot so that my right foot touches the next crack. I must say, you’re right about looking insane when walking. I have jumped to get to the next crack, and every time I walk it’s different. Sometimes it is not stepping on the cracks, sometimes it’s stepping near the cracks. It’s very calming.
Apparently people with normal brains stim too, so I don’t know what the difference is between “normal” and “Asperger’s” stimming. Needs more research….If what I do is normal, then NLD is more likely, as it’s more mild than Asperger’s.
Everybody stims, Aspies and NTs alike and usually they’re unaware of it.
Aspies tend to stim more often than NTs and it tends to be more for stress/anxiety relief.
Most aspies won’t be aware that it’s a relief mechanism, they’ll probably just tell you that it feels good.
Virtually any kind of repetitive behaviour without a specific point other than “feel-good” can be a stim. The difficulty involved in stopping the stim and the frequency at which it occurs is what distinguishes an aspie stim from a neurotypical stim. –Gavin Bollard’s comment, Life With Aspergers: What is Stimming
Here a blogger, who after her children were diagnosed realized she herself had grown up undiagnosed with Asperger’s, writes that she can never stand still. She shifts her weight back and forth from one foot to another. She was sure lots of people do this, until she started watching, and saw almost nobody doing it.
I do this in church. Since I go to a liturgical church, I can say with certainty that I’m not moving to upbeat praise and worship music (which tends to make me want to avoid swaying, anyway, in defiance at musical manipulation).
When I’m not in church, but standing at a corner waiting to cross the street, or standing in line, I rock back and forth on my feet. I just can’t stand still without a lot of effort.
My husband does this too, so the question arises: is this common or isn’t it? Some comments I find on blogs are that everybody stims; it’s just a question of how socially acceptable the stimming behavior is: making strange noises vs. tapping your pencil, for example.
Here the same blogger goes into detail about stimming and where she thinks the line is drawn between “normal” and autistic/Asperger’s stimming.
I don’t know, but I do know that I’ve done most of these stims since childhood. I am getting some new ones, however, due to excessive anxiety, which is quite annoying.
Threads on this from the Asperger’s Wrong Planet forum, with which I identify so strongly that I keep saying, “Yes! Yes!”:
Mental Repetition of Phrases/Words?
I started watching Mozart and the Whale and I realized that the guy in the movie, Donald, when he is looking around he notices things and makes combinations and associations in his mind, which is also what I do.
I do it at home and also when I am sitting somewhere in public. While seeing him in the movie, I realize that when I am doing this my eyes must be moving in a way that must come across as very bizarre to other people.
…Anyway, do u have the same thing? do you look around and make combinations all the time and observe lines, numbers,colors etc —How do you move your eyes?
Why, yes, yes, I do. Yes, I trace things with my eyes, as well. From that same thread, I also identify with this:
For instance, looking at a sentence on a billboard, I end up counting the letters and spaces so I can find the figure or space that is the middle of the sentence, the fulcrum of symmetry if you will.
Or if say a sentence has an odd number of words, like 3 or 5, i cut the sentence in half and count how many letters I’d have to add to one side or the other to make them symmetrical.
In case you didn’t notice, I have huge issues with symmetry and constantly striving to achieve it in everything I observe.
You’ll note these threads also comment on perseveration, which is related to the same things going around in your head all the time, or a child with Asperger’s getting so latched onto a subject/interest that you can’t get him off it.
I do that constantly, whenever I’m going through some emotional issue, or I’ve gotten interested in some new thing, such as ancient Egypt when I was 12 (or re-interested in some old thing, such as my curiosity in NVLD/Asperger’s taking a rest for months and then popping up again and I have to do more research on it), or I’m so deeply interested in a writing project that I think about it while doing other things. It keeps going whether I want it to or not.
It’s always been this way. No matter what it is–perseveration, or mental stimming, or visual stimming–my mind is constantly very busy. It makes it hard to fall asleep sometimes.
Perseveration is the reason I would research as much as I could into whatever I was writing about; of course, before the Internet exploded, it was hard to find good materials. Now, I have them at my fingertips. It’s a perseverator’s dream!
When I got curious about Orthodoxy in 2005, I became so obsessed with it that I bought books, printed hundreds of website pages, went on forums, spent months–maybe a year–researching it heavily before visiting the local Orthodox church in November 2006. My research filled a whole box when it became far too thick for its accordion file.
Related to perseveration and thoughts constantly replaying in the head:
Inability to get over it.
I blame the long term aspie memory for this. Many of my present actions are shaped by my past experiences. I find the past very difficult to let go of and it permeates into everything I do.
I’m terrified to let people near my stuff because of something that happened when I was in year 5 at school. I’m difficult and resentful in certain situations at work because of a problem that happened four years ago (that everyone else has forgotten).
It’s even becoming something of a catchphrase of my wife’s; “Get over it!”. Of course, that’s just the point… I can’t. —Life With Asperger’s
One of the most effective coping mechanisms I employ is “conversation recording” where I attempt to remember an event in its entirety for later analysis.
In aspies with particularly well-developed coping mechanisms (typically, older aspies), event recording is virtually “second nature”. It often occurs without any conscious decision on our part.
When an event is “recorded”, a lot of things, particularly tone and body language which are not accessible at the time are retained.
The funny thing about this type of retention is that although a lot of input is captured, it usually isn’t available to me until I review the “recording”. Something I may not do until hours or days later – and often, unless I have a reason to do so, not at all.
I’m in the habit of reviewing “recordings” whenever I get an unexpected response from people or whenever I deem that a conversation is important and could be carrying more information than is immediately obvious. —Life With Asperger’s
Yep, I do that.
A lot of things come back to the aspie memory. Aspies often have very clear memories of events and quotations.
In conversation, they may drop a remark which links back to a particular memory but even if the NT was present at that event, it could have been years ago, or the particular part of the event to which the Aspie is referring may not form a large part of their memory. —Life With Asperger’s
There’s no doubt that vivid memories (trauma) are remembered both by animals and people. There’s also little doubt that these memories, both negative and positive affect our future actions.
Where I think the aspie differs is that key memories don’t necessarily need to be large or traumatic in order to be “vivid”.
“Can’t move on” is a phrase that is often associated with Aspergers. In fact, I’m sure it appears somewhere in the official criteria.
The inability to move on is due to a number of factors including; change resistance, routine, insecurity and memory.
Children with aspergers seem to take things in like sponges and retain them forever. They revisit those memories over and over again and after a time, even the smallest and least traumatic of them can become a major influence on their lives. —Life With Asperger’s
How can a having a good long-term memory be responsible for depression?
The key to understanding this is to approach it from the point of view of an NT [neurotypical, or “normal” brain].
Most of the time, it seems to me that detailed memories just aren’t available for NTs without external assistance. By external assistance, I mean the use of video cameras or photo albums.
In the movie One Hour Photo, Robin William’s character says, while looking at birthday snaps, “Nobody takes a picture of something they want to forget”. I think that this is particularly relevant to the issue because it means that NT’s tend only to remember the good things in any detail.
The Aspie however, with their long term memory often has perfect recall of past events and conversations. They will spend hours analyzing a conversation that occurred years ago and will often take negative feedback on board even if it was provided in the heat of the moment.
The long term memory of the Aspie therefore can be their worst enemy for dredging up guilt and other negative emotions.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m not entirely where the lines are drawn between Asperger’s and Obsessive Compulsion. It is obvious that people can suffer from Obsessive Compulsion without having Asperger’s Syndrome but I’m not convinced that it works the other way around.
To be specific, I think that the Asperger’s condition carries with it certain obsessive compulsive influences which manifest themselves in different ways. —Life With Asperger’s