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How do you overcome shame about vocal stimming?

This post was inspired by a question from on of my readers.

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Do you have a burning question, or is there a topic you would like me to cover in a future post or video? If so, please feel free to drop your questions in the comments section. I may answer it in a future post or video. 

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In my work over the years, creating free educational resources, community, and questions (yours and mine) have been vital. 

Essential to who I am, “Why?” is the question that’s driven and guided me throughout my life. “WHY?” the phrase I’ve uttered out loud and to myself more than any other. 

As a child, needing to know (and asking) “why?” got me in trouble (because adults and authority figures felt I was questioning THEM whenever I expressed my need for additional information). 

Eventually, after enough scolding and punishment, I stopped asking other people my questions and took them inward. One fateful day, the floodgates were reopened when I created a hashtag (#AskingAutistics) and started pouring my inquiries into the world once again. 

This blog and my social media communities were built first on my questions for my readers (through #AskingAutistics) and eventually would also be influenced by my readers’ questions for me. Together we’ve bonded in our curiosity over the years. 

Because I know what it’s like to have a burning unanswered question, I base my work around your questions and the things YOU (my readers) want to know. Whenever I write, I try to answer the most common questions I receive, the questions I think will help the most people and those that inspire me the most. 

Recently on one of my Facebook posts, one of my readers had a great question about NeuroDivergent camouflaging and verbal stimming in a workplace setting. Here’s today’s question:

A Reader Asks: “How did you handle and overcome shame about vocal stimming? My sister doesn’t mask and feels awful for not being able to do so, and she mostly focuses on her vocal stimming while at work. I feel that only another autistic person has the right to advise her.”

This question is fantastic, as it touches on several issues Autistic and other NeuroDivergent People face daily. 

First (because new people are always reading), what is VOCAL STIMMING? 

Vocal stimming is when a person soothes themselves by makes sounds with their mouth or throat. Vocal stimming is different from verbal stimming, which is stimming with words because it includes whistles, clicks, humming, throat sounds, screams, and many things that are not words (though many people use these two phrases interchangeably).

I am a vocal stimmer and an echoer. I get stuck in loops, repeating myself (without realizing I’m doing it). I’m rarely (naturally) quiet unless I’m focused, tired, or shut down because I feel unsafe. 

I talk and make noises to myself for many reasons. I’m often thinking and processing my thoughts out loud. 

When I’m overwhelmed, excited, or have extra energy flowing through me, I find the predictable rhythm of my voice and familiar sounds to be grounding and relaxing – but rejection and abuse from people around me turned something that should have been helpful to me into a shame point for most of my life. 

I’ve spent my thirties learning to be okay with this part of me, teaching myself to love, accept, and embrace the thing that was beaten out of me by my elementary school teacher who had no patience for the “disruptive kid” who couldn’t be “still and silent” in class.

When I am alone (think I am alone) or am with people in environments that make me feel safe, I have a constant flow of sounds (making noises, speaking, humming, singing to myself, and repeating words). When other people are near, I still echo and make noises, though not as many (especially if I don’t feel safe).

Though I know this part of me is nothing to be ashamed of (now), even I will hide when I feel unsafe (because all this noise can quickly rub the wrong people the wrong way, causing them to react cruelly and unkindly). 

Invisibility is safety, safety from abuse, safety from shame. 

I can play possum with my eyes open, retreating into myself, spiraling inside, in pan anguish and agony, and outsiders will be none the wiser, but what about NeuroDivergent People who can’t retreat in on themselves, internalizing their struggles and differences in this way? 

The first element of this question revolves around shame. 

NeuroDivergent People, like members of other marginalized groups, often face pressure from the dominant group (NeuroTypicals in this case) to be more like the members of that group – even if doing so is harmful to them. When marginalized group members fail to follow the dominant group’s norms, they are often scolded, harassed, and ostracized for falling outside the “socially acceptable” norms.

Because many Autistic and NeuroDivergent adults struggle to do things most NeuroTypical kids learn in childhood and find easy (like staying still and quiet or holding in big emotions), we are sometimes viewed negatively by outsiders, perceived as “childish,” “impulsive,” and therefore “incompetent” (even if these differences don’t impact our quality of work or we have skills in other areas).

We have what I’ve seen called “spiky” skills profiles, meaning I’m either an expert at something (often a particular specialized niche thing) or terrible at it (with very little in between). 

Because I am an all-or-nothing type of person (in all areas of my life), I’m average at very little. I’m a paradox of a person (and it confuses people who expect me to be “well rounded”).

People who see me doing complex tasks (like writing and reviewing legal contracts, teaching myself creative software programs, and building my own business and social media presence) are confused when I struggle with things they feel are basic (like following verbal instructions, turn-taking in conversation, not making “funny sounds,” and having “proper body language” – whatever that means).

Because of society’s poor understanding of Autistic and other NeuroDivergent People, we are often looked down upon and scolded for things we can’t help (such as how we move, think, and communicate, or our verbal stimming, echolalia, palilalia, or other vocal tics). 

We may develop shame around who we are. When that happened to me, I began to dislike who I was, yearning to be someone impossibly different from myself. 

When I wanted to be like someone else, who I was could never be enough. 

“Why can’t I be more like ____?” – a person who is NOTHING like me, has different natural skills and abilities than I do and is an unfair expectation of who I “should” be. 

When trying to be someone I wasn’t didn’t work out, I felt like a waste of air and space, as if the world and everyone I knew would be better off without me (which wasn’t true). Healing is a process. This shame monster still creeps in occasionally, telling me horrible untrue things about myself. 

This shame can lead people to dark places, especially if combined with feelings of loss, grief, or hopelessness. Additionally, shame can isolate people (because shame makes us hide). 

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2 thoughts on “How do you overcome shame about vocal stimming?

  1. Great read! I, too, do the whole echolalia thing and tend to get into loops. I will also make some random sounds at times, particularly when stressed.

    One thing that’s not necessarily a stim but I do a lot is throat clearing – because I have terrible allergies. Ugh. I know that’s one that can be a stim for some, but for me it’s a necessity to do.

  2. That’s so hard. Definitely need changes to the system. In Canada this kind of thing isn’t as much of an issue. If you’re sick in some way they want you gone to get better. No one’s gonna have a kid throwing up in front of everyone for social and obvious mental health reasons and sanitary reasons extending to the student who’s ill, their peers, and no teacher wants to deal with that. My high school encouraged us to skip if we were going to spend time in the hallways rather than in class. No one cared.

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