There are three things I dreaded hearing as I grew up.
Do Not Fidget
You are being Antisocial
I’d like to break that down a bit. Yes, I’m a fidgeter. my fingers are never still, my feet move to rhythms, and sometimes polyrhythms that only exist in my head. I have long periods of silence and not doing anything, and in a place with several conversations going on I can get anxious, so I tend to retreat to where there is less stimulation.
But I’m not antisocial, I like people but can only deal with them a few at a time. I can’t turn conversations off, so if there are five different conversations going on around me my brain is trying to process all five at once, to the detriment of the one I’m supposed to be in.
Taking away my daydreaming and fidgeting and what is left? I know fidgeting irritates some people, but sitting quietly, even dropping off to sleep, who does that hurt? Yesterday after nearly 90 minutes in a Teams meeting, I sat down and did nothing for half an hour. No books, no internet-connected devices, no music. Nothing. I was actively doing nothing.
The thing is I am autistic. My brain is wonderfully wired differently from most people which gives me different insights into things as well as having a special set of skills, as well as challenges. I get accused of eavesdropping, but eavesdropping is a deliberate action, I cannot concentrate on something else, I get everything everywhere all at once, which is tiring. After all this sensory information I need to zone out. Hence my shutdown yesterday. I needed time to do nothing, especially not think.
My shutdown, called daydreaming by schoolteachers, is not daydreaming at all, it is everything closing down. It is my needed way of recovering from sensory overload. Fidgeting? When not in shutdown there is always some movement, fingers drumming or toes tapping to the music in my head, this is how I deal with stress, I am calming down, relieving the pressure of being autistic in a world which is often too bright and too much going on at once for autistics. My fidgeting is a stim, a self-stimulating behaviour which helps us to deal with stress. It is very common in autism, but non-autistics stim too, such as tapping their foot when nervous.
Take away my shutdowns, stop me from fidgeting and you take away my ways of calming down. I have meltdowns, often as a consequence of being over-stimulated, my light sensitivity is just one of mine. I do not like meltdowns, they leave me distressed more than others who observe them and they are not is not pretty. I do my best to avoid them, but they can come unannounced and are similar in this regard to seizures.
Take away my stims, make me stay alert or put me in brightly lit rooms and meltdowns become more likely.
Outside this, I enjoy my life, my autistic brain is wonderfully different to the norm. Watch my eyes light up when you ask me something I don’t know about, you have given my permission to find out everything I can on that subject. I am smiling at the prospect of my next deep dive into that subject.