Reading as a Stim!

When I did my autism assessment last year, the neuropsychologist asked about stimming, or ‘self-regulatory behaviour’. In my memory, I have never done hand flapping or rocking, though I love being on a swing. So many of the things that people usually associate with stimming, I don’t seem to do. Whether this has simply been taught out of me or it’s something I’ve never really done, I don’t know, but they’re not things I really do.

Then we started talking about how I coped with things like school, then it hit me. For me, reading is a stim! It’s something I do to regulate my emotions, calm down, block out the world, whatever you want to call it.

When I was at school, I would always have a book with me. I often talk about how I read Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell in year 7, in class! I would finish my work, then quietly pull out my book to read. This helped me block out the overwhelming noises of the classroom and anything else that was overstimulating. I would do the same on public transport to and from school, uni, and work. The bus or train was packed and noisy, but I could block it all out when I was reading. I have also done the same at family gatherings and in cafes.

When I worked in a busy office, I would take myself out during my lunch break and find a quiet place to read so I could face the afternoon.

This may not fit exactly into what most understand as a stim as I’m not playing with an object or moving or making a noise. However there are some similarities.

I find that I need the texture of a print book instead of an eBook. The feel of the weight of the book in my hands, the rough or smooth of the paper, the way it feels to turn a page, the bookmark that I often fiddle with as I read. This is important to me. I used to blame my eyesight for not being able to focus on reading an eBook, but I’m realising it’s more than that. There is something tactile about a book that is important.

Another thing is that the story can help me block out the sensory overload in many situation, especially external sources. I can get completely lost in a book and this helps my system calm down so I can face the world. That escapism is important, putting myself in a story where the world seems to make sense and I know everything will work out in the end, there’s something about that that helps me.

I don’t necessarily need to be curled up on the couch or somewhere equally comfortable, I can lose myself in a book just about anywhere! I attribute this to the hours I would sit in class or on the bus reading as a teenager.

Whenever I see lists of common stims among the autistic community, I see things like hand flapping or twirling or banging heads or making noises with your mouth. I haven’t seen anyone talking about reading… one reason I thought I didn’t stim! I have also realised that I do things like fiddle with my jewellery, but that’s not on many lists either!

Reading is a socially acceptable activity, especially as a child. This could be one reason I didn’t recognise it as self-stimulating behaviour.

There are times where I need to remind myself how important it is to read when I get overwhelmed. To just shut out the world, to be in the moment, to just lose myself in a world created by someone else. It has a unique magic to keep me grounded and able to keep moving on with life.

For more about stimming, I found this article useful.

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About Melissa

Melissa Gijsbers started writing when she was in High School during the 1990s, even winning some awards for a short story and a script. For many years, life got in the way of creative writing, however she did start blogging around 2006.

She currently lives in Melbourne, Australia with her two sons and a pet blue tongue lizard.

Melissa Gijsbers, Author, Speaker & Booklover
Melissa Gijsbers - Author, Speaker & Booklover
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