If I don’t care what anyone thinks of me, then why do I mask my autistic stimming (repetitive behaviors) in public?

There’s a very logical reason.

I’m the first person to affirm that I don’t give a flying fudge what people think of me.

I dance to my own tune; I drum to my own beat. I’m my own person.

If something’s out of style, I’ll still wear it if I think it looks cool on me.

I don’t care if people think I’m too opinionated, that I don’t dress my age, that I don’t smile enough, not feminine enough, too gruff, too direct, too analytical, socially awkward, blah blah blah.

It’s okay if people think these things of me, because these are still traits that fall within an acceptable norm.

For example, if someone thinks my fanny pack is totally outdated, and thinks I’m odd because I don’t use a purse, that individual will still end up speaking to me like I’m a highly functioning adult, perhaps seeking my advice or providing me with their best business.

So if I don’t care what people think of me, why do I avoid (mask) doing my more dramatic stimming behaviors in public?

I have a clinical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

There are certain stimming behaviors that I’ll do only at home, in private.

This seems to contradict everything that I just explained.

But if I were to be seen doing these particular stims, people would think entirely different of me than if they just merely wondered why I wore a fanny pack, why I didn’t laugh at their joke, why I didn’t ask how their day was going, why I wear earplugs at the grocery store, etc.

If I were to be seen performing my more dramatic autistic stimming, people would surely draw one of several possible conclusions about me:

  • I’m severely or low-functioning autistic.
  • They might whisper to another, “Is that woman retarded?”
  • They might wonder if I’m schizophrenic.
  • Best case scenario: They may think I’m a Nervous Nellie.

I don’t want to be perceived as ANY of these things.

I want to present as self-sufficient, very smart, confident, self-assured, highly capable and Alpha.

Though I embrace my Autistry, this doesn’t mean that I should be just dandy being thought of as “low-functioning” or “mentally handicapped.”

The above possible perceptions are significantly negative in our society, in a whole different league than just:

  • “She’s probably on the Spectrum.”
  • “She’s a bit odd.”
  • “Her eye contact is so intense.”
  • “I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t have any close friends.”
  • “God she’s rude.”

I’m okay with being thought of as rude. I like to be straightforward and direct. I have nearly zero tolerance for lame behavior.

For example, at Whole Foods, at the “hot bar,” I wanted to gather some chicken tenders.

There was this lady putting some tenders into her cardboard box. Fine – I patiently waited.

She knew I was waiting because she had briefly glanced my way as I stood nearby.

So she’s done and starts closing the box, still remaining smack in front of the trough.

I’m thinking, MOVE! Step out of the way so I can get to the trough!

Instead, she continued standing there, trying to get the box to close, even stealing a brief glance at me.

Why didn’t she immediately step aside to work with the box? Nobody else was at the other troughs; the area was clear, with plenty of counter space for her to step away and fumble with the box.

Instead she stayed put, while I watched. WTF.

She was literally less than 10 seconds away from me saying, “Please step aside and do that so I can get in there.”

However, within several seconds of my decision to speak up, she got the box closed and left.

But had she remained, YES, I would’ve given her my planned statement. And I would not have cared what she thought of me.

When I finish serving myself, and people are waiting, I immediately vacate the area so the next person could get in.

I do this when paying for things at the convenience store, too. I immediately step aside to put the change in my wallet, instead of keeping my body smack where the next person in line needs to go to pay for their product.

That so many people don’t think to do this boils my blood. But if we’re talking only moments in time, why should this matter?

If that woman at Whole Foods held me up by 20 seconds, how could this negatively impact me?

Well, the very brief time is not the issue.

It’s the fact that she was too clueless – she and all the other dawdlers out there who don’t immediately step to the side to let the next person in – to realize that they should immediately step aside to finish their fumbling around! This isn’t rocket science.

So if ultimately, people think I’m weird and too impatient in life, I’m okay with that.

But I will not have people thinking whatever they’d think of me if they saw me rocking in my seat between sets at the gym, aggressively sniffing the wad of hair I have pressed against my face, grunting as I do so.

I’m okay if some women in the locker room think I’m unfriendly because I don’t present as warm and personable, or because I don’t give them eye contact when I pass them.

(If they speak to me, or I speak to them, I’ll give eye contact. But to just give it for no reason? I don’t do that; it’s a connection that I don’t want with strangers just because I walk past them.)

You can think I’m not personable. I’m good with that. But gee, I wouldn’t want other gym members – people whom I see on a regular basis there – being creeped out by me because they had witnessed me rocking delightfully while sniffing my hair and making strange vocal sounds.

This could easily lead to them thinking I had a low IQ or serious mental illness.

That is definitely something I’d never want someone to assume about me. That really crosses the line.

What if I need a spot on my bench press, and nobody wants to spot me because they realize I’m “that weird AF woman who was acting like Rain Man last week?”

It’s a whole new ballgame when the stimming is dramatic and stereotypical, vs. more socially acceptable such as bouncing a knee or tapping some fingers.

I once read about an autistic man who decided to unapologetically stim in public; the heck what anyone thought.

However, he decided to get in some stimming in a location outdoors where he thought nobody would notice him.

Soon after, an ambulance pulled up; the responders went straight towards him. Someone had called 9-1-1 and reported that the man was having a seizure.

I hope it’s now more clear to you why I will mask my more stereotypical autistic stimming in public, while at the same time, will freely speak my mind without concern over what people might think about my directness and brazenness, or how I dress, wear my hair, etc.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.


Top image: ©Lorra Garrick