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The GW Hatchet

AN INDEPENDENT STUDENT NEWSPAPER SERVING THE GW COMMUNITY SINCE 1904

The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Perspective: Stimming in class is not disrespectful

Sit still. Be quiet. Don’t disrupt your peers. Eyes on the board. Teachers tell their students to remain static in classrooms starting in preschool. I thought I would one day outgrow the tortuous feeling of having to force my body into silence. But it’s now my last year of college, and I find myself stimming in class more than ever.

Stimming, short for self-stimulation, looks different for every person. It’s not just a habit or a quirk — it’s a lifeline that helps me manage anxiety and physical discomfort. Without stimming, the challenges of learning, focusing and simply existing become even more difficult. For neurodivergent people, stimming is not a choice. It is a vital coping mechanism that enables us to navigate the world around us.

Conscious or not, professors often have rigid expectations regarding student behavior based on neurotypical norms. Making eye contact and engaging in group activities may seem like normal behaviors for neurotypical people, but neurodivergent people like myself often find it uncomfortable and overwhelming. While it’s understandable that professors need to maintain a productive learning environment, enforcing neurotypical behavior dysregulates my nervous system.

My need to stim becomes glaringly apparent to me and others when I enter a classroom. I pull out my laptop, drowning in stickers, including one that is a big squishy character. Having a fidget toy on my laptop helps me concentrate as I sit through a lecture without calling attention to myself. Ideally, I wouldn’t be afraid to pull out my stretchy dinosaurs or Kuromi-themed fidgets, but the emphasis on conformity in educational settings often stops me from doing so.

Sitting in a classroom immediately overwhelms me. I have trouble regulating my body temperature. No matter how hard I try to curate the right sensory experience, all of my clothes claw at my skin when the textures aren’t exactly perfect. Without the outlet that stimming provides, I get overheated and physically can’t contain how overstimulating my clothes, environment or interactions feel. Sometimes I have to leave class to regulate in the bathroom or even go home if I’m too overwhelmed.

Stimming is essential to me even before I enter classrooms. As I walk to class, I wear noise-canceling headphones and play my music at full volume. While this is not good for my ears, it does wonders for my brain. Wearing noise-canceling headphones and immersing myself in my music helps regulate my body and calm my mind as I walk to class. While this might mean I accidentally ignore my friends on the way, it’s a necessary prelude to the upcoming sensory challenges and allows me to approach the classroom with a more regulated state of mind.

I’ve occasionally ventured into crocheting in class as a way to stim without getting glares from peers or professors. But even just crocheting in class earns me stares and often heightens my anxiety rather than regulating it. The ability to stim openly, without judgment or scrutiny, is not only a matter of comfort. It’s an essential component of self-regulation that directly impacts my ability to learn.

Being neurodivergent means the sensory demands of my environment are constantly overstimulating. It also means I am constantly hyper-aware of how I am perceived. The piercing glares and unspoken judgments that accompany activities like crocheting in class contribute to a heightened sense of self-consciousness. This hyperawareness, coupled with the struggle to find socially acceptable ways to stim, creates an additional layer of stress that impedes the very self-regulation that stimming is meant to facilitate.

When neurodivergent individuals are forced to suppress or conceal their stimming behaviors, it hinders our capacity to focus, engage with the material and participate actively in the learning process. Faculty should recognize the diverse needs of their students and work toward fostering a neurodivergent-inclusive environment. This involves acknowledging the importance of stimming as a legitimate coping mechanism and challenging societal norms that perpetuate the idea that stillness and silence are the only markers of attentiveness.

Although I’ve found coping mechanisms that allow me to stim somewhat unnoticed, like those sensory stickers on my laptop, having the freedom to stim as openly as I desire would immensely enhance my ability to learn. When studying, I seek out environments where I can stim unrestricted. I book rooms in Gelman Library with whiteboards so that I can draw, dance, listen to my music at full volume and play with fidget toys all while absorbing the information I need for a test.

Obviously, I can’t recreate my Gelman Library stimming parties in a classroom, but stimming should still be viewed as a valuable and beneficial aspect of neurodiversity in classrooms. Professors play a key role in creating a safe and accepting environment. They can recognize stimming as a legitimate and constructive way for neurodivergent individuals to navigate the challenges of learning.

Peers can also facilitate diverse ways to learn in the classroom by actively supporting each other’s individual needs. I didn’t understand how helpful stimming was until a friend shared their own fidget toys with me. Now, I have too many fidget toys to count. Encouraging alternative methods of learning enhances friendships, classrooms and society as a whole. Classrooms need to invest in creating adaptable, empathetic and open-minded students that uplift each other despite their differences.

As I get ready to graduate, I can’t help but wonder what my college experience would have been like if I had learned about stimming or been encouraged to stim in class earlier. Being neurodivergent is not a bad thing. Classrooms should stop treating it as such.

Riley Goodfellow, a senior majoring in political science, is the contributing opinions editor.

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