Autistic blogger on the joy of stimming

Stimming refers to repetitive movements or sounds, a behaviour common to people with autism. Blogger Amythest Schaber describes how she came to embrace and love stimming after years of being made to feel ashamed.

"I feel the urge to move my hands and when I do, when I move my hands rapidly back and forth, I'm expressing this joy. I'm generating it, it creates it, it uplifts it even."

What kind of joyous celebration is Amythest Schaber talking about?

The 26-year-old autistic woman from Langley, British Columbia, is talking about stimming.

Stimming, short for "self-stimulating behaviour," refers to repetitive movements or sounds, something Schaber says is common among autistic people. She says it is often an expression of pleasure.  

"Stimmy joy is something that I don't think non-autistic people experience and it's one of the most beautiful parts of being autistic."

Amythest Schaber at Vancouver's 2016 protest against the Autism Speaks walk. (Marvin Schaber)

But Schaber wasn't always so positive about her stimming.

She wasn't diagnosed with autism until she was 22.

Prior to that, in her youth, she says she was often just dismissed as a "weirdo" and a "freak."

Her autism meant she was different than other kids.

Some of her autistic characteristics -- like learning to speak and read far earlier than most children  -- were seen as gifts.

But other traits were seen as negative. She had difficulties with social interactions. She was particularly clumsy -- a condition she now knows is called motor dyspraxia. And she would stim by rapidly moving her arms.

The other kids at school never wanted to play with her so she spent most of her free time alone.

The few kids that didn't actively bully her, she says, were ridiculed by their peers if they were caught hanging around with her.

And it wasn't just the kids.

Schaber says one teacher told her when she stimmed she looked like a "retarded seal."

The net effect was that Schaber developed self-hatred and worked to suppress her autism.

In her early twenties she enrolled in a college graphic design program.

It didn't last long.

She hit what she calls "autistic burnout," the result of being autistic and trying to squeeze herself into a society that wasn't made to accommodate her.

Amythest Schaber's Youtube channel, 'Ask an Autistic', sheds light on what it's like to have autism. (Amythest Schaber/Youtube)

Schaber stopped speaking, she felt anxious and depressed, and she left school.

She was assessed by several mental health professionals, one of whom suggested she may have autism.

She eventually scheduled an assessment at a private clinic.

The results were conclusive.

"They said, 'yup, you sure are autistic.'"

Schaber says it was a relief -- being able to put a name to what she always knew about herself.

More relief came in the form of a video by autistic blogger and YouTuber, Mel Baggs.

The video shows Baggs stimming, explaining why they do it, framing it as a natural and positive experience.

Schaber says the video -- along with online material from other proud autistics -- was a game changer, leading her to embrace what she had so long suppressed.

Slowly but surely, Schaber confronted her own self-doubt, her own urge to suppress her autism.

"I wanted to reconnect with how I was in childhood before the ableism and prejudice of the world kind of stamped it out of me."

Schaber herself is now one of those people educating others about autism.

She runs the blog Neurowonderful and has a YouTube video series called Ask An Autistic.

Schaber talks about the challenges that autistic people face, such as the high-profile effort to learn how to use genetics to prevent autistic children from ever being born.

Amythest Schaber's blog Neurowonderful is designed to be a positive and empowering place for autism. (Amythest Schaber/Facebook)

Schaber regards these efforts as eugenics and says humanity would lose out if it eradicated autism.

"You have damaged the diversity, the beautiful, complex, colourful diversity of humanity. [...] There have been so many people throughout history that I would say were on the autism spectrum who did amazing things.  And of course there were many many more autistic people who weren't master composers or scientists or inventors but who were valuable and whose lives had worth."

Schaber also uses her blog and videos to celebrate autism and to educate non-autistics.

As she says in her first Ask an Autistic YouTube video, "What is Stimming?":

"Bring all the questions. I'm just so happy to answer them. I do dream of and work towards a world where autism is widely accepted and autistic people can be themselves and be happy doing so."   

Click LISTEN to hear more about how Amythest Schaber's autism diagnosis changed her life for the better.

WEB EXTRA: Watch some of Amythest Schaber's "Ask an Autistic" videos below.