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.
I was one of the people who kickstarted it. While I do not need it, it may help focus while solving programming issues. You wrote about a knock-off version, I do wonder, how is the quality of that?
Very interesting article. As someone who is, as far as I’m aware, not on the autistsic spectrum I reconize a lot of mild stimming behaviours that I used to do especially as a child and teenager.
I used to do a lot of mild visual stimming for example, letting my eyes go out of focus, until I had double vision and snap back into focus or squnting through my eyelashes until the world around me was only a whirl of colors and back. I also used to kneebob deliberately and took pleasure in the sesory stimulation.
I might be wrong, but I think these are normal coping mechanisms, to help us cope with anything from boredom to focusing our thoughts. They seem to be much amplifyed in people on the spectrum though.
As for social acceptance of stimming behaviours, more visible but non self-harming stimming like rocking, might get to the point where it’s accepted or only causes mild concern someday. Similar to mild stimming it’s something a lot of people reconize as comforting and resort to themselves when in highly stressful/emotional situations, like when crying.
It’s the more self-harming forms of stimming, like the hitting the side of the head you mention in the article, that people are going to have a hard time to accept. It’s a natural impulse to want to keep people from self-harm, or percieved self-harm and it’s one of the stimming behaviours that is among the hardest to relate to.
Hey, thanks for the article! I got the link from a friend who knows I am on the spectrum. I have a knock off fidget cube, too. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the difference between the real and fake one? I know the rolling ball can click on the real one, but if that’s the only difference, I’m not too bothered.
I agree with the double edged sword. It’s almost like fidgeting is “the hot new trend” and it almost makes me feel invalidated at times… And no, it cannot replace rocking or other body movement stims that people so hate (for some bizarre reason). If someone rocking is such a big issue maybe these people should buy a fidget cube to calm themselves down… 😉
I was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder when I was about six, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve had an issue with stemming, though it’s weirdly specific for me. As a child, I used to have bouts where I needed to do things an even number of times, to this day I still find myself trying to avoid stepping on cracks in tile floors while not making too much of a scene, and I have a tendency to touch and fidget with objects in order to keep my hands busy. This can be seen in me holding onto the straps of my backpack, fiddling with the hem of my shirt, touching my desk, or with something plastic that I have mentally designated as my fidget item while in my room. This item used to be certain toys when I was younger, but I replaced it with a broken DS XL stylus a few years ago. If I cannot confirm its location, it causes me a an unusual amount of distress, as I don’t have my safe fidget item with me.
That all being said, I actually really don’t like the idea behind the fidget cube, because I think I would find it to be overly stimulating and overly complex for me. While I would love to regularly feel the texture of some of these things separately, the idea of putting them all together makes me legitimately uncomfortable and want to never touch this thing. I’m not entirely sure why though…
Also, Asperger’s Syndrome is not an accepted modern diagnosis. It would be more proper to say you have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. I was originally diagnosed with Asperger’s as well, but I do claim that I have it, as that is the wrong term to use.
On the topic of Aspergers getting folded into the DSM umbrella of an Autistic Spectrum Dissorder is an interesting one for me. I stick to saying AS as it’s the thing I was diagnosed with, and tells people at a glance that my symptoms probably fall under what the DSM criteria for AS were. Spectrum diagnosis is broader, so gives the other person less insight into my needs.
Basically, I tell people I have the thing I was diagnosed with and fit the diagnostic criteria for, rather than making the assumption if I were assessed now my symptoms would be diagnosed under a different name. I am not in diagnostics, I can only say I was diagnosed with the thing I was diagnosed with.
Given that I have Asperger but had to get re-diagnosed in order to get help for my university it is likely if you were to be diagnosed under DSM-V it is likely it would be called ASD-1. do you find the fidget cube good to try to avoid bouncing one leg up and down, not sure if it fits under the stimming behaviour but I understnad that it can be distracting. Additionally how does it compare to stress balls or stress eggs, things that are rubbery that can be squeezed. If you read this thank you for your time, I might end up purchasing one on my birthday.
I’m really happy to have read this. You’ve described a realm I would never have otherwise been well informed of. Thanks!
I am really happy the cube works in all but the worst scenarios. I wish the medical profession had been better for you, with the diagnosis coming so late, after all the signs were there that should have been picked up from a very young age. Well done on finding ways to cope. Hugs xx
I read this and then went looking to buy one. I came across this site https://radgizmo.com/products/fidget-cube which looked legit so I bought a couple for my niece and nephew who both suffer from autism. I’ve seen them with these types of toys in the past and they work wonders. It comes in a really nice box and the product feels really cool in your hands.
I’ve never read a more repetitive article. Every paragraph identical to the next.
“The fidget cube normalizes repetitive coping behavior but doesn’t do high stress. Non-autistic people then think high stress coping behavior could be solved with a fidget cube. These 2 points are why I like and dislike the cube, respectively.”
The fucking end. You’d think the writer is autistic from the length of this post.