Taming my stim and hyper-focus

I have described autism as an ever constant need for stimulation. When people work with and support the autistic, the biggest question of all is: can we control our stim? The answer truly depends upon the person.

When people consider me high functioning, I have to point out that I did not have control over my stim. I just turned 37 years old a couple days ago, and it has barely been two years since I attained mastery over my stim. The reason why I say that is because I have all this musical talent, but, for some reason, I could not understand why I could not point myself into the direction of playing my musical instruments. While not working a job and going to a doctor’s appointment with my mother in the car, my mother told me she wished I was playing music, but I did not have an answer for her why I could not play music at the time. Looking back, I recognize that I had absolutely no control over what I stimmed to. Ever since I graduated from college in 2011, I have had an album’s worth of original music on the piano, but I never recorded that album ever since I joined the workforce. What happened?

There is two definitions for the autistic term, stim:

Self stimulation – an autistic person will stim to create stimulation in the absence of stimulation. If you take away our stimming device or gadget, we will still do something to self stimulate.

Coping mechanism – in the event an autistic person needs to cope, we will resort to a particular stim because this stimming activity calms, soothes, and quiets the mind.

I have always known video games as my coping mechanism. When I have attempted to practice the drums or piano yet my brain just will not shut up, I turn to video games knowing I will finally get peace and quiet. Why are my thoughts somewhere else while I am physically trying to do something else? That’s because my hyper-focus manifests into obsession.

In my autism advocacy with businesses, I explain that my attention to detail enables me to find all the problems and flaws that exist in a workplace. Even though I report them to the leadership team, I am now obsessing and stimming about that problem to fix it. In combination with my inability to compartmentalize, I take this obsession home with me, meaning I am not getting any work-life balance. When family and friends normalize obsession, it is not normal to obsess. Furthermore, obsession is capable of interfering with my ability to concentrate [1], which is mentioned in the Americans With Disabilities Act as why anyone might explain why they can’t work a job.

When the autistic are capable of performing up to 140% productivity compared to their neurotypical peers [2], that is because our hyper-focus has the autistic glued to the task right in front of them. When I worked at Walgreens at their distribution center, I went beyond 140% because I kept on finding more ways to be more efficient with every solitary physical action I made. The quota for stocking cases a day is 1000 cases; my personal record for cases stocked in a day is 1819. My Inboud/Outbound manager, Darren DeVault, personally commended me for that accomplishment, and told me I was stocking at least 200 cases an hour. This one day I got farmed out to Full-case pick to get them down to an 8-hour work day, and the leadership team got me there 2 hours after the start of the shift. Along with other team members coming to help, I found out at the end of the day that I met an 8 hour quota within 6 hours. There is an aisle where there is enough work for one person, but not enough for two for an 8-hour work day. When I am the only person presented with that, I am going to figure out how I can do that myself. I modified the standard operating procedure to meet my needs. Once I mastered my own version of the SOP, I started meeting 200% on that aisle.

200% may sound like a lot, but the lines per hour for that aisle is 157. I am only doing 314 lines per hour, and I have been working on aisles where the lines per hour are 330, 345, and 360. I would achieve 130-140% on those respective aisles, so I have been regularly doing over 314 lines per hour for a lot longer. My productivity caught up with me this one holiday season when the company did 10-12 hour shifts for 4 consecutive months in a row, a workload even corporate did not see coming. I was taking on multiple job roles from stocking, picking, and lifting too, and yet I still got a repetitive motion injury, lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) [3]. What each job had in common is repeatedly gripping and grabbing.

When I talked about my injury with my family’s chiropractor, Peter Cichonski, he confirmed that I got the absolute worst injury I could sustain when you take into account that tennis elbow affects the muscles that I use to play the drums, bass guitar, and piano. I can’t even work a desk job and do music in my off-time without overworking and re-aggravating my repetitive motion injury all over again, which means I have to pick between living out my musical life and career my entire family and friends knows I am capable of having, or relegating myself to life and career that is not that.

Moreover, I am treating it as controlling what I stim to. When my stim and hyper-focus creates a work productivity never seen before in an employee, I need to control what I stim to. To give this more perspective, my friends and family have always known that I excelled at video games, and I know that due to my hyper-focus. Before the Internet and LAN gaming, I played Goldeneye007 with my cousin Marc and his friends this one day, and we all stopped in disbelief and awe that I made 81 kills within 10 minutes time with only three other players to play against. My sister, her husband, and my niece and nephew dealt with my hyper-focus and how fast I learn when I played Mario Kart 8 with them during 2022’s Christmas weekend. When you put that combination of stim and hyper-focus into the work environment, I overwork myself. I have to control what I stim to.

After I described autism as an ever constant need for stimulation and pairing that with my NeurOptimal [4], I worked on trying to take the wheel and point myself into the direction of music knowing my stim is why I was not playing music. I know I need this outlet because music is an outlet where I can be amazing without overworking myself. It worked because I have been playing more music than I ever have since training myself to do music. Furthermore, I am finally working on recording my original music. This is a result of acknowledging what my stim does.

Within the Americans With Disabilities Act, a person with a disability must communicate how working a job negatively impacts their ability to take care of oneself, perform manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working to body functions of immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, endocrine, and reproductive functions [1] to convince Social Security that a person is entitled to their disability benefits. There is a genuine need for me to be able to take care of myself otherwise my outsized productivity will cause me to re-aggravate my repetitive motion injury. Plus, my obsession means working causes me to have difficulty concentrating when I am away from work.

When you take in consideration that I am working on monetizing my craft beer blog’s popularity and getting into making money as a songwriter, session musician, performing artist, and other musical opportunities I can get from the Musician’s Union, I am doing these so that way I do have not have to deal with my obsession. The only way these can’t be successful is if stigma gets in the way.

In the Americans With Disabilities Act, it says “the continuing existence of unfair and unnecessary discrimination and prejudice denies people with disabilities the opportunity to compete on an equal basis and to pursue those opportunities for which our free society is justifiably famous, and costs the United States billions of dollars in unnecessary expenses resulting from dependency and nonproductivity.” [1] What is not fair is when people stigmatize when people with disabilities do not work jobs. When stigma is known as a barrier [5], stigma interferes, which is unlawful under the ADA. To help understand what stigma is, stigma is the opposite of support; stigma gets in the way.

My friend who works for Social Security, Angela Barnes, agreed with me that it is not a good idea to apply for my SSI when I am explaining the reason why I am not making money is because stigma got in the way.

Sources Cited: [1] https://www.ada.gov/law-and-regs/ada/ [2] https://hbr.org/2021/12/autism-doesnt-hold-people-back-at-work-discrimination-does [3] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/lateral-epicondylitis-tennis-elbow [4] https://neuroptimal.com/ [5] https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/stigma-and-discrimination/

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