While I wasn’t diagnosed with an Autistic Spectrum condition called Aspergers Syndrome until I was almost 18 years old, looking back over a journal my mother kept during my childhood many of the diagnostic criteria were there from a young age.
From as early as age four my mother made records of various obsessive repetitive behaviours I would engage in, and the considerable distress that not being able to fulfil them would cause.
From hand squeezing patterns to jumps every set number of steps, bleeping noises to rocking on the floor, I seemingly needed to engage in sensory patterns to calm myself.
This is often referred to within Autistic Spectrum diagnosis as stimming. It can cover behaviours from small tapping motions up to full body twists, turns and rocking.
It’s often a response to sensory overload. As a person with Aspergers I often struggle to filter out unimportant sensory information. In a room full of people talking I might struggle to focus on one nearby and loud voice because of quiet distant noises, a light buzzing, someone breathing, an oven fan spinning and more.
When all sensory information is always present, having something routine to focus on, control and predict when it comes to sensory information can be incredibly helpful.
Over the years I learned ways to manage many of these behaviours in ways that were deemed socially acceptable. Having a trio of cylindrical magnets I could switch between a line and a cluster formation was much easier to explain than rotating my hands in large circular motions.
In recent months, I’ve replaced many of my smaller stimming patterns with a Fidget Cube (first a knock off, now an official version).
The Fidget Cube has become somewhat of a popularised talking point well outside of the diagnosed mental health community in recent months. It’s a small plastic cube whose various sides provide sensory tools to interact with.One side features a switch that clicks between two positions. One side features five small clickable buttons. One side contains a rotating metal ball and some gears to rotate. It offers a variety of controllable sensory actions for a variety of needs in one small and unobtrusive design.
While it felt to me almost purpose designed exclusively as a tool for people like me to manage their stimming in a way that was unobtrusive and stylishly presented, they have taken off far more widely outside the diagnosed mental health community as a valid relaxation and anti-anxiety tool.
For someone fighting a life long battle with stimming, I have an uneasy relationship with the Fidget Cube. It is helping normalise stimming behaviour to many, while also giving a false sense of understanding that can at times lead to dismissal of the necessity of more intense stimming in high pressure situations.
So, let’s look at the positives. While most people picking up Fidget Cubes right now don’t seem to be people who have had long term issues with needing to stim to manage sensory issues, their increased presence, media attention and ubiquity has helped to normalise the idea that sometimes engaging in repetitive sensory behaviour can be a way to reduce anxiety and stress. It has shown people that a specific item someone carries with them might be an important item for stress reduction, even if it looks on the surface like a colourful toy for children.
On a surface level, it normalises stimming. In reality, it only normalises a very small bracket of stimming behaviours, those already manageable in societally acceptable ways.
While I can replace my trio of cylindrical magnets with a fidget cube and have my small scale repetitive hand motion sensory needs met with a device people recognise, a Fidget Cube will never replace my more intensive stimming needs. A fidget cube may help keep a bout of rocking on the floor or hitting violently at the sides of my own head at bay, if I end up needing to do either of those, a Fidget Cube will never do the job. The Fidget Cube for me is preventative of larger meltdowns, not curative once they occur.
I recently had an issue on a bus where I ended up having to rock back and forth. A nearby passenger asked me what was wrong and I explained my condition and my need for certain repetitive moments to work through an Aspergers Meltdown.
She asked if I had heard of the Fidget Cube, and explained to me that it would be a much less obtrusive way for me to manage that obsessive need.
The Fidget Cube is the hot new cure for all repetitive motion needs, and as such it’s now the poster child for non autistic people to recommend how we could better manage our conditions.
How we can keep our condition less visible.
How we can treat our conditions in a more normalised way.
It’s a double edged sword. I’m thankful for the increased awareness of stimming behaviour in general but I fear long term how it may leave those not effected with Autistic spectrum disorders with a false idea of their place within our lives.
Still, I’m incredibly glad it exists. Being able to normalise my preventative actions is incredibly positive.