The struggles of women who mask their autism
Some women say that, in particular, they put in a great deal of effort into disguising their stimming.
“For many people, stimming may be a way to self-soothe, self-regulate, and relieve anxiety, among other things,” Lai says. And yet these motions—which can include flapping hands, spinning, scratching, and head banging—can also readily “out” these people as having autism.
Igelström and her colleagues interviewed 342 people, mostly women and a few trans people, about camouflaging their stimming. Many of the participants had self-diagnosed, but 155 women have an official autism diagnosis. Nearly 80 percent of the participants had tried to implement strategies to make stimming less detectable, Igelström says.
The most common method is redirecting their energy into less visible muscle movements, such as sucking and clenching their teeth or tensing and relaxing their thigh muscles. The majority also try to channel their need to stim into more socially acceptable movements, such as tapping a pen, doodling, or playing with objects under the table.