Socially acceptable stims (other than doodling) -- are there any?
February 28, 2014 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Having discovered that a nontrivial fraction of people find my preferred stim distracting and rude, I'm on the lookout for other tactile stims/stim toys that are more socially acceptable. Doodling doesn't do it for me, for whatever reason. In situations where stimming is most helpful to me, I usually don't have a table to hide my hand motions under, so subtlety would be nice, as would silence. I'm especially interested in hearing from people who are affronted by knitting in social and work situations. Suggestions?

Bonus question: if there are no socially acceptable stims, how do I navigate situations where I need to stim to cope, but others find my stimming annoying/distracting/rude? My learned response is to sham neurotypical as long as possible, but sometimes this leads to sensory meltdowns later. Is there a guideline I can use for when I "get to" be assertive and when I have to suck it up?
posted by dorque to Human Relations (71 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Someone a few weeks ago in a different thread mentioned sewing a ribbon into the pocket of his/her students, so they had something to fiddle with.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:08 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

In my experience, with some people there is NO preferred stim that doesn't piss them off. You literally just have to SIT STILL AND STARE AND PAY ATTENTION and there is nothing else you can try.

(Guess who is in trouble for this constantly?)
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:13 AM on February 28, 2014 [22 favorites]

I twirl my pen like a baton with my fingers.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:13 AM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

kneaded eraser or small piece of clay?
posted by changeling at 11:16 AM on February 28, 2014

Rings in general and special rings that have built in spinners
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:17 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

You need something small that you can manipulate in one hand at a time (or one for each hand) and that easily slips in to a pocket. What about a coin? You can roll it between your fingers across your knuckles maybe. Or paperclips that you can bend out of shape and fiddle with.

Whatever you do, don't get a click pen and click the end of it over and over.... god I hate the pen clickers.

I'm especially interested in hearing from people who are affronted by knitting in social and work situations.

I think knitting in social situations is fine, within reason. Don't start knitting during a wedding or formal event or party. Knitting when you're visiting a friend having tea? Sure. Go to 'er. But I think just asking prior to start knitting is fair game.

Knitting at work is always bad form in my books unless knitting is part of your job. I can't even fathom this, and I knit! Knitting during a meeting would about do me in. If you were knitting then I think you were acting very unprofessionally, and it would seem like you are disinterested and not paying attention. I will wonder why you are knitting when you could/should be doing your job. They aren't paying you to knit, they are paying you to do your job. It isn't at all appropriate for an office environment. It is also very distracting, both the movement and the click-click-click of the needles. It is too big, too distracting, too visually obtrusive. I find it hard enough to pay attention during some meetings. I would be utterly hopeless if I could see your needles and whatever you were knitting moving about in the corner of my eye. Your desire to knit shouldn't trump my (and others') ability to pay attention to the meeting presenter and the information. If you started to knit during a meeting I would request that you stop.

Is my reaction to knitting at work normal or reasonable? No idea. But that would piss me the hell off. LOL

If you need to fiddle with something to be able to pay attention have the grace to make it quiet, small, and not distracting for other people.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:17 AM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: It's possible that something like this would work for you.

That said, I think that you're allowed to knit when you want to knit. Some people will find it rude and distracting, but so what? Everyone is bothered by something, and none of us have the right, in public, to our ideal space. As was made clear in that thread, people have really varied thresholds for this sort of thing. Some people feel that even glancing at a phone is appallingly rude. I can't stand people who chew gum while I'm talking to them. But, you know, gum and phones and knitting are all things that people are allowed to do, and if that makes me furious or distracted or whatever, that's on me, not them.

Unless your knitting needles are jabbing someone in the arm, you're not obligated to change what you're doing to suit someone else's quirks. You get to be assertive about your right to knit in any scenario that doesn't directly involve a boss/supervisor/authority figure asking you to stop.
posted by MeghanC at 11:18 AM on February 28, 2014 [16 favorites]

I suppose if it's the audible nature of knitting that's the problem for these judgey people, you could try learning to crochet. One hook = no clicking.
posted by asperity at 11:19 AM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm all for gently explaining that "I focus better when I have something to do with my hands. If I don't knit, I'll just fiddle and get distracted." This makes sense to many people when they think about it and realize your intent. (I also have a double interest in this approach, being an inveterate finger-fiddler and owning a yarn shop.)

But sometimes it just isn't socially appropriate (a funeral, say), or you don't have a chance to explain, or you're self conscious, or you run into a teacher or friend who just doesn't get it. In cases like this squeezing a simple undecorated stress ball would be appropriate. If that's not stimulating enough, I used to get a lot of mileage out of taking pens apart and putting them back together again. You know, the kind that unscrew at the top and bottom, have a ring and a clip and whatnot. If you don't really look at it, but just fiddle absentmindedly, this may work for everyone. A pen is a prop that everyone can have, and having one in your hands, as long as you don't draw attention to it, is pretty much never inappropriate.
posted by rikschell at 11:21 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: (Not to threadsit, but just to clarify a little, my supervisors have explicitly given their blessing for me to knit in meetings at my current workplace, but I'm changing jobs soon and trying to navigate that.)
posted by dorque at 11:21 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

How much tactile stimulation do you need for this to work? That's very individual. If very small things work, something like ribbon or a little bit of knit fabric in a pocket might be something. If you really need more... I would lean on the side of just asking in most situations if anybody minds if you knit, because you know that works. With friends, when asking, or if someone seems to mind, they're your friends, it will probably go best if you explain that you need certain sensory stimuli in order to function properly. "I focus better when my hands are busy" covers a multitude of things.

Otherwise, you are definitely in a position where the problem with the knitting is not that it's knitting, it's parsed as doing something other than patiently paying attention. But anything that's parsed as fidgeting is also thereby parsed as doing something other than patiently paying attention.

I think if you get to something like funerals where there is really no way to do it, sometimes you might choose to just do something less visible but accept that there are likely to be consequences later and plan for that part instead. And try to stay out of jobs where stimming is never going to be okay--no big corporate gigs, probably, look for smaller, more casual places.
posted by Sequence at 11:23 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

What about taking notes? I do this at work all the time, because it helps me stay focused.

Sometimes, I don't take copious notes, I'll just write down bits of sentences or words from the person I am listening to. You appear to be more engaged than if you were doodling or knitting.

In a social situation, I would find it to be more weird to take notes than to knit (and I do knit in social situations from time to time), but taking notes at work helps.
posted by inertia at 11:23 AM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

I was one of the "rude vote" posters on your knitting thread. You didn't mention Autism or stimming in that thread. I don't think I would find knitting nearly as rude in a casual social situation if I knew it was helping an autistic friend cope. The devil's in the details :-)
posted by cecic at 11:25 AM on February 28, 2014 [18 favorites]

I suppose if it's the audible nature of knitting that's the problem for these judgey people, you could try learning to crochet.

For me it would more be the movement and motion. I'm like a T-Rex. Any movement and THAT is where my attention is going to go, and it is an uncommon enough and flippy flingy enough movement that I don't think I would be able to tune out that visual noise.

And I know where people are coming from with the "Fuck it, do what you want, people will have to cope" BUT remember this is a work environment where people are being paid to work. It isn't voluntary. They can't choose to leave if the knitting is bothering them, they probably HAVE to be at that meeting. If what you are doing is distracting people from their work then it shouldn't be a "do what you want" thing.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:26 AM on February 28, 2014 [15 favorites]

For me it would more be the movement and motion. I'm like a T-Rex. Any movement and THAT is where my attention is going to go, and it is an uncommon enough and flippy flingy enough movement that I don't think I would be able to tune out that visual noise.

For me, too. It's about motion and the fact that you're probably looking at whatever it is you're knitting. So I follow your eyes and follow your motion and it's just distracting. And it feels rude in any type of formal setting (meeting, formal dinner, etc). If your hanging out with friends, I wouldn't care. I've done all sorts of things hanging out with friends (reorganize the room, help do laundry, clean up baking messes, etc.)

Can you not just bring a laptop and type notes (or pretend to type notes) at meetings?
posted by ethidda at 11:30 AM on February 28, 2014

Best answer: What are the actual lived consequences of knitting in meetings and conversations? Does it put you at risk professionally? If it doesn't, I would suggest much more that you go ahead and knit, telling yourself firmly that you really need to do this and doing your best to put worry about other people's responses out of your mind. I assume that if you're around friends, you're able to say something about why you need to keep your hands busy - "I've been anxious lately and knitting really helps me stay relaxed", for instance, if you don't want to get into the whole "stimming" business. At work, surely if you're doing good work and participating as effectively as possible in meetings, that will trump any knitting issues.

Do you know what the set-up will be for meetings at your new job? Can you sit somewhere so that not everyone's eyes will be drawn to your knitting? How does it work in your current job? What kinds of meetings do you expect to be in? (Most folks I know in the sciences are very rarely in formal meetings - and I think if you're in a meeting with, say, the research dean, the reason not to knit isn't so much "people might think it's rude" as "you have to be as attentively professional as possible in all ways because it's a big deal career-wise" and you're probably going to find any type of serious fidgeting to be a bad idea.) I guess I would focus on building strong relationships at work so that you can get away with more quirky behavior - I don't mean "be all buddy-buddy with everyone and never eat lunch alone" but around here, a couple of "could I set up a time to talk to you about my research goals and get your feedback since you are established in your field" requests go a long way toward building good feeling.

I actually don't like it when people knit during meetings or complex conversations. IME, it generally does not add - to say the slightest - to the meeting or conversation. But if you absolutely cannot help but knit or be miserable, I think most people would much rather you knit. If a friend of mine doesn't like peanuts and insists that I not have peanut butter in our shared kitchen, that's annoying; if a friend is allergic and insists that we not have peanut butter because if we don't clean it up perfectly after using it she's going to the ER, that's reasonable.
posted by Frowner at 11:31 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I tend to twirl my pen or tap my thumb against my other fingertips in various patterns. Or sometimes I can quiet my hands by letting my feet do things (tap, jiggle, make little circles). (Also a knitter but only on breaks or when my computer is being fiddled with by IT).
posted by brilliantine at 11:31 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would say that, among friends, you should be able to be assertive at all times -- they should understand that you need it. (Equally, they should be able to ask you sometimes, when it's important to them, that you not knit.)
posted by jeather at 11:36 AM on February 28, 2014

Best answer: a. I agree that knitting during a meeting or conversations can be viewed by reasonable people as being rude. Sure, lots of exceptions, sure, lots of things are worse, blah blah blah...

b. I have a nice pen with a screw-off cap. It's very satisfying to screw the cap on and off, with a nice, solid feel, and noiseless. Plus, it's perfectly at home in my hand at a meeting.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:36 AM on February 28, 2014

Best answer: I keep a collection of nice big paper clips and bend those into various configurations for my silent and discreet amusement/distraction.
posted by lovableiago at 11:39 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

At work meetings I just always have a small notebook and pencil and "take notes". Sometimes I do actually take notes, but other times my "notes" may just be the alphabet or a list of numbers like 12345678,9,10 etc. repeated. I will often do letters in upper case and lower case cursive and try to make it look as nice and neat as possible. The tactile nature of pencil and paper works better than a laptop or IPad for me.

I also have a mechanical pencil that I love that twists to advance the lead instead of clicking (the Papermate Sharpwriter mechanical pencil). Twisting the tip of the pencil to advance and retract the lead is soundless, and I have been known to do that as well.
posted by gudrun at 11:42 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm ADHD. I take obsessively detailed notes in meetings when I can, and when I can't, I have a worry stone. Mine is a palm-sized smooth piece of labradorite.

If I knew a friend was stimming with knitting while we hung out it would be different, honestly. But at work I have to say that knitting would be inappropriate no matter what. I'm in financial services as a data analyst, though, so we're more buttoned down than a lot of places.
posted by winna at 11:45 AM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I twirl pens, chew on pens (only one bad ink stain in 15+ years), bend paperclips, and tear little strips off of pieces of paper and napkins. I think that's all worse than knitting, particularly the tearing paper, but none of it seems to have caused problems at work. I am trying to phase out my paper tearing habit.

However, my biggest action during work meetings is to take very detailed notes. Much more detailed than is ever necessary. The act of constantly writing helps me.
posted by Area Man at 11:48 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I feel like, the more I think about this, I view this for some people like a service dog situation: If your problem is that you are going to have serious trouble functioning because you don't have this, and other people's problem is that they're going to be slightly distracted? You are entitled to have your accommodation. You are not in the same boat as somebody who just happens to like knitting. The EEOC says that you are entitled to even ask for accommodations in the interview, and then up front everybody knows what the expectations are. Whether you want to take advantage of that is up to you, obviously, but this is just a thing that really transcends manners. Having a badly-behaved service dog is rude... having a service dog is not, even if some people around you really don't like dogs.
posted by Sequence at 11:55 AM on February 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you want a disability accommodation for knitting at work, be prepared to provide documentation to establish that you have a disability and that you cannot simply write notes during meetings to address your disability, that only knitting will address it.
posted by grouse at 12:13 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: What about one of these gyro things?
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:22 PM on February 28, 2014

Best answer: I've never seen anyone else use this and I'm not sure how office-appropriate it would be (maybe use a small chunk instead of the whole can?), but I think this thinking putty is awesome.
posted by jorlyfish at 12:30 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to drag this back so it doesn't become a rehash of the thread I linked: I now get that work knitting bugs people. The reason I'm interested in knitting-offended people's opinions is that I'm curious if there is any way I could stim that you wouldn't find equivalently annoying or distracting, given that some movement is pretty much an essential part of a useful stim for me.
posted by dorque at 12:30 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pen twirling has already been mooted. Does that work? It's very common in a work environment, particularly among engineers (in my experience). I'm a pen-twirler and 99% of people don't mind; 1% do mind but not much.
posted by chocotaco at 12:32 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a bunch of them, but I'm self-conscious about them, because I think they all look a little weird. One of my main ones is to repeatedly rub something something sharp (a paperclip, pen or pencil tip, or my thumbnail) against the fingertip of my right ring finger. I often rub my bottom lip between my thumb and index finger. Sometimes I take off my shoe and run my foot over the opening. I don't know if they register to other people in the room, but I feel strange about doing that stuff in public. They're not as bad as the stims I've trained myself not to do in public, though, which are mostly rocking, tongue-chewing and hand-wringing. (And I've mostly stopped hand-wringing entirely, because my hands were getting all raw.) Mostly, though, I've decided that I'd rather be seen as rude than as weird, so I think I'm inclined to keep knitting as long as my boss doesn't have a problem with it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:36 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't have a stimming need, specifically, but I do have Chronic Busy Hands, which if left to their own devices wind up fiddling with my face, my hair, my earrings, my clothing, anything. My solution to that was a spinner ring on my left thumb, which I can then spin with the tip of my left index finger. I'm right-hand dominant so I clasp my right hand over the whole works and it looks like I'm sitting nicely with my hands together.

Would something like that be useful for you?
posted by cmyk at 12:39 PM on February 28, 2014

Fidgeting--that is using a stress ball or the ribbon sewn in the pocket or doing anything nonproductive and non-noisy with your hands--in a meeting might annoy me (I'm easily annoyed) but it would not cause me to think you were zoned out, uninterested, bored or disrespectful like knitting would.

In social situations, it's highly context-driven for me, but I think the same holds true. Something non-noisy and non-productive and self-contained (like worry beads or a worry stone or the above-described very satisfying twisting on and off of a pen cap or even bending cocktail straws into triangles) is less likely to signal to me that you have checked out of the interaction, like knitting would.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:40 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does tensing and relaxing muscles provide enough movement? You could try doing small movements of hidden body parts - move your toes inside your shoes, do kegel-type pelvic floor exercises, etc. Or folding your hands together and tapping the inside of one palm? It's a small movement and relatively hidden so the movement wouldn't be annoying to others.
posted by aka burlap at 12:41 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: From MeghanC's link, there's also a fidgets and fiddlers category. The Fidget Twister and some of the pencil sleeves would give you something to play with and not look too odd. Yes, people might notice, but it's no weirder than doodling to me.

Thanks to the ideas here, I just bought some interesting fidgeters to try. My thing is hair-twirling, which is soothing, always there, but makes me look like a 12 year old dimwit. (Of course, if that doesn't bother you and your hair is long enough, I can't recommend hair twirling enough). ;)
posted by parkerjackson at 12:41 PM on February 28, 2014

Yes, a more subdued fidget like paper-clip-bending, pen cap twisting or a worry stone would be fine. Or doodling/note taking on a notebook (less professional if people around you can see the doodles). To me, the difference between doodling and knitting is that knitting requires you to BRING SOMETHING IN specifically as an activity, and that gives me the rude/unprofessional vibe... it would be like instead of doodling on your notepad with your pen while taking notes, you actually pulled a sketchbook and box of colored pencils out of your purse and started working on an art project. The intent/obvious pre-meditation is what sends off the "I decided before I even came in here that it was going to be boring and I wasn't going to pay attention" signals. Something that blends with the environment (office supplies, assuming this is an office) and is more low-key/less "project-ish" is going to be a million times better.
posted by celtalitha at 12:44 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Honestly, some people will find knitting in public situations rude. Some people don't.

I suggest if knitting helps and your need for it is made clear and understood, you should just keep on knitting as you have been. It's good to have a back up, but really --- you just can't please some people. And whose to say that the next thing you pick up won't be considered rude or obnoxious? I know plenty of people who are annoyed by people playing with their rings matter what you do, some people just plain old won't like it -- whatever it is.

And don't bother with those people any more than you have to.

(I knit at work. I do not knit in meetings. My boss is more than happy to let me because I have a peaks and valleys job. I have months of tons of work and months of little work, but because part of my job is reception, I have to be around all the time --- what else am I supposed to do at my desk all day? After I have done my unsupervised responsibilities, the rest of my job is waiting for other people to give me things to do. When people do not give me things to do, then I have nothing to do. And there's only so much internet surfing to be done before that gets boring.)
posted by zizzle at 12:45 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have a nice notebook and a mug on my desk that is filled with a large variety of pens and pencils that I enjoy collecting and writing with. During meetings, I will jot down random phrases people say. Not because I want or need to remember them, but because I want to practice my penmanship (and it's still terrible and will probably always be) and if I have to sit still and pay attention, I'll start daydreaming about spaceships and superheroes instead of listening.

To other people, it looks as if I'm attentive and taking what they say seriously - and I am, but not by note-taking.

If I'm at my desk, I have a little length of paracord I practice knot-tying with that I fiddle with then someone comes by to chat.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:59 PM on February 28, 2014

Someone I knew had one of those rings that can be taken apart into three enjoined pieces for this reason. She said that it kept her from taking up smoking again.
posted by chaiminda at 1:05 PM on February 28, 2014

Best answer: I'm not on the spectrum but my need for physical input comes just shy of stimming. I have a puzzle ring that I rarely completely take apart and put together, but I can take it half off my finger and worry all of the wiggly bits. I have pens that are satisfying (and silent) to take apart and put together. I doodle detailed repetitive swirly scribbles. I save the twist-ties that come with the cafeteria's cookies and use them as a cheap (and again silent) fidget. I bend the little part of ballpoint pen caps that sticks out. I fiddle with rubber bands (not in a way that would fly across the room!)

I have no idea if the folks who have a problem with movement would have a problem with any of these, but I do them at meetings and one-on-one apppointments all the time to help me think, and no one's *said* anything.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:07 PM on February 28, 2014

I'm one of the people in that thread who finds knitting distracting and rude, but it's a different story if it's something you need to do. As a relentless fidgeter, may I suggest bouncing your leg up and down (only works when there's a table and you're not sitting close enough to anyone else to hit them), keeping a hair elastic around your wrist to fiddle with, and/or wearing a ring that you can twist around and take on & off. Do not, under any circumstances, use a clicky pen to fidget with. I almost got punched in college for doing this during an entire movie (did I know I was doing it? Of course not).
posted by jabes at 1:10 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm very easily distracted, especially by random sounds and movements. If I can see or hear your stim, then my attention is divided, and I can't just "tune it out", so I don't think I'm being "judgey", I'm trying to pay attention to whatever it is. Knitting at a concert or public event would drive me to tears. So, if you need to do something with your hands, please don't make it into a big production with lots of clicks or hums.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:13 PM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Fingerknitting then unravelling? Something you can do entirely by touch, without directing other people's vision to your actions, and very little noise, and you don't need a long length of wool just enough to do some rows, frog it, start again.

I can deal with someone knitting if they're far enough from me that the noise doesn't provoke my own inability to process information. In a meeting, I would be (and have been) utterly useless because of pen-clicking or tapping, or things like that. It's my own issue (I have difficulty processing audio input basically) but I haven't actually found anyone who does those things and pays attention as much as they claim they do, even doodlers, so that plays into my irritation as their inattention is disrupting my attempt to listen to the same boring thing.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:44 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tangle Relax Therapy? You might try an Amazon (or other site) search for 'fidget.'
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:47 PM on February 28, 2014

Oh I love tangles. I've spent a many therapy sessions working out anxiety with a tangle.

Paper is my greatest weakness. Doodling especially. Though folding paper has been known to happen. Also tiny corner flip book drawings. Honestly I just practice sitting still lots. It is terrible mentally for me, but my job really requires it. I try and take breaks if things look like they'll run over 1 hour. I desperately need my breaks. I'll go fidget in some ok space then resume stillness as much as I can tolerate.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:54 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wear a slightly oversized ring and futz with it.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:00 PM on February 28, 2014

At work, I fiddle around with an elastic band or two. This has the advantage that it is a day-to-day object in most situations so it doesn't draw attention in the way that bringing a special fiddling-about tool along does. One of the reasons that something like knitting is out-of-place is that it has the implications of "I knew so far in advance of the work meeting/social event/whatever that it wasn't going to hold my full attention so I made a special effort to bring something in from home that would be actually interesting"—nonsense, of course, but that's the impression that can oh-so-easily come across. You will occasionally accidentally flick an elastic band at your boss; whether this is a career-limiting disaster or a welcome bit of light relief from the tedium will depend on the po-faceness of your workplace.
posted by Jabberwocky at 2:01 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Twirling a pen or kneading clay is too open-ended for my brain. But a puzzle ring is too clear of a problem needing solving. For my fidgeting needs, I do better with some sense of...sequence without a resolution? Tiny sets of something simple?

I might tap my fingers lightly on my leg under the table during a meeting in a simple little rhythm that feels natural. Something like sets of three taps as long-long-short. (I just spent way too much time trying to consciously think about the little finger motion I was doing while reading the news earlier today.)

I have one of those gripmaster hand-exercisers which works for me sometimes. I usually push the finger-buttons in sequence. It's not about actually exercising, it's about methodically getting to the end of the row again.

The fact that knitting helps you but doodling does not -- that makes total sense to me. So I thought I'd share in case it helps you narrow down what might work for you as a replacement stim.
posted by desuetude at 2:13 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

+1 for putty/play-doh. My high school English teacher once brought play-doh for a couple kids who were of the constant-drumming-on-the-table persuasion. They were actually really grateful because they didn't WANT to disrupt the class, they just were people who needed tactile stimulation in order to be able to focus.

I got in trouble in university once for sitting in the very front and doing the crossword in a class that was primarily student presentations (a post-colonial history class, I think). I was clearly engaged -- I nearly always had a question or two for the presenter after their talk -- but apparently I made them super-nervous... so, uh, crossword is not a good option?
posted by tivalasvegas at 2:35 PM on February 28, 2014

Best answer: Would one of these wire toy/puzzle things work? They *are* a bit obvious - not like a ring, for example - but I've seen them used a lot during conversation. I have one in my bag that I fish out if I'm somewhere I can't knit, but this is not in professional settings.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 2:44 PM on February 28, 2014

Best answer: Oh, and rings. Those spinner rings don't have enough texture for me: back when I was still semi-religious, I had a rosary ring, which is a ring with ten little bumps and a cross that you can feel with your fingertips. The idea is you use it to keep track of prayers, but the little bumps are very satisfying to touch and turn the ring with.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 2:47 PM on February 28, 2014

At work, for something to do, I drink. Either water or coffee, depending on whether I want the caffeine or not. Occasionally diet coke. At any meeting, seminar, or class I will pretty much have my water bottle or coffee mug out, and will take sips as things progress. It gives me something to do with my hands, focuses my attention, and keeps me alert (especially if it's coffee). And it's perfectly professional.

I'm also a serious beard-stroker and knuckle-cracker, though the former may not be an option for you and the latter is something I would definitely not recommend as a lot of people find knuckle cracking distracting and gross. I try not to do it, I just don't always realize that I'm doing it.
posted by Scientist at 2:53 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

What about folding paper? Either as origami/ to make things or just to fold. In a meeting situation, you could do it under the table even.

The thing about knitting (or working with modelling clay, etc.) in work situations, especially meetings, is that it is very obviously Not Work Materials and that is itself distracting and says at some level "I am not focusing on work" which people often pick up on consciously or not.

I have no opinions about alternatives for knitting in casual/social situations as that does not bother me.
posted by furiousthought at 2:56 PM on February 28, 2014

Would wiggling your toes work?

I do this a lot because I can get light headed if I stand still for a really long time to the point I've passed out a few times. Wiggling my toes/fidgeting solved this for me. Since you will presumably have shoes on no one would know.
posted by whoaali at 3:09 PM on February 28, 2014

"I was one of the "rude vote" posters on your knitting thread. You didn't mention Autism or stimming in that thread."

That's because the thread was from a different OP.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 3:17 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Meetings? Try pouring yourself water, refilling the pitcher or others' glasses if you're the host, taking notes on the white board for the group, pen twirling, taking really really good notes, organizing papers in your folder, standing up and moving to the back of the room to stand there (with a mild apology about your leg), straightening a paper clip...
posted by salvia at 3:53 PM on February 28, 2014

Best answer: I keep a hair elastic on my wrist and play with it from time to time, or sometimes I use a Noah fidget. (The Super fidget or the Little Fella would probably be quieter, though.) They're small and can slip into my pocket, and I can fidget with them under the table in meetings so as not to attract attention.
posted by escapepod at 4:02 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I've felt nervous in work meetings for a long time. Now I always bring the same things: a notebook, a pen, and a bottle of water. And sometimes, if I feel really nervous, I bring cough drops, which help me feel like I can breathe and lessen panic (and also give me little waxy pieces of paper to ball up, twist, press my fingernails into...).

I take notes in the notebook—legitimate notes re: assignments and things to remember, notes on bizarre things people say, notes making fun of the proceedings, notes re: my personal objections to things people say, notes re: the song in my head or my mood or a strange coincidence re: the date... I write a lot, and sometimes doodle.

The pen, I write with, twirl, chew on (I realized a while back that I've gently chewed the end of every pen I have at work, and I have a lot of pens), and click open and closed if I'm feeling particularly impatient.

And I take a sip of water whenever I feel particularly nervous—so I usually finish most of a bottle during any given meeting.
posted by limeonaire at 4:04 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wiggle your toes in patterns. You might need shoes with more toe room. Make sure the shoes don't make noise. If no one can see your feet and legs, you can do a few of those exercises for helping your circulation on planes.

A caution against the sewing a ribbon in your pocket idea -- sticking your hands in your pockets and fidgeting them around makes you not look very engaged at best -- and at worst, as though you are fondling yourself.
posted by yohko at 4:30 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you're serious about this question in that you REALLY want to appease neurotypicals it's pretty often switching stims is not really a thing you just do with the same results and you're going to be very uncomfortable. I think if you really need to adjust this behavior an occupational therapists might be able to offer better suggestions than metafilter.

And if you're just asking this because you feel attacked by the rudeness of people who don't understand your disability, I would suggest you focus only on doing a good job at your work and dealing with any ACTUAL complaints your co-workers bring to you about your knitting at work, or trust them to bring it up with the boss and take care of their own interests if it's truly preventing them from working.

Other alternate solutions than trying to stim in an appeasing way if the solutions offered here don't work for you (though maybe some will!) are to participate with the meeting from a video chat in a different room where no one can see your knitting.

People would probably prefer you not have any accommodations in the work place that create any difficulties for them-- but yes YOU BE ASSERTIVE IF YOU NEED TO BE. Please. If you're not SURE you need an accommodation, talk with a professional and get sure about what other options there are and whether you've exhausted "socially acceptable" options that solve your needs-- if you know none of those work than stand behind yourself and your needs. And get support from the non-neurotypical community and allies who will have your back and understand your needs.
posted by xarnop at 5:14 PM on February 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Another option if needed is to see if your workplace would approve an education session to your co-workers about disability needs and why knitting and not other stims fill your particular needs and how your disability works. Sometimes workplaces will do an education session about something like this that coworkers are likely to notice, and I've been present to one presented by a friend who was changing gender to explain their request of name change and gender change and some information about issues related to that and how to behave appropriately around it. Many people, even in that liberal community, were offended by that information session, but I think that says more about them than the accommodation requested. In other words, it was a needed education session.
posted by xarnop at 5:30 PM on February 28, 2014

don't just doodle - write numbers down on paper and see if any interesting patterns emerge. in 1963, a mathematician named stanislaw ulam did this during a boring presentation and discovered the ulam prime number spiral.
posted by bruce at 6:35 PM on February 28, 2014

If you don't have a table, could you conceal your hand motions behind your back? I knew a guy (not autistic, just extremely fidgety) who used to solve Rubik's Cubes behind his back. I've also practiced card tricks behind my back---I just put one hand behind my back and do a bunch of pivot cuts, for example.
posted by d. z. wang at 6:52 PM on February 28, 2014

On second thought...

Do you need to knit? Yes. You do.

So knit. Your need to fend off the horrible demons that descend upon you far and by a country mile outpaces their need to not be mildly distracted. They'll either get used to it, or get used to being identified as the lackwit who wanted the knitter to twitch and suffer.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:41 PM on February 28, 2014

Best answer: This is probably going to get buried, but: Mugen Puchipuchi! It's noisy but I find its kind of satisfying to press the buttons even without the batteries, too. You can put it in your pocket and press it from there, one handed.

I have some other weird Japanese keychains I bought as souveniers that might also work as stims; like the: Peri Peri Paper Tear and the Edamame Keychain -- this one in particular is silent and you can do it one handed in your pocket. Each pod can be 'popped'. There's also the Mugen Beer can popper, but I never saw this one for sale over there so I haven't tried it myself.
posted by Dimes at 8:04 PM on February 28, 2014

Had to comment on the "knitting at work" thought...

I worked in a call center that did not assign or expect busywork between calls. There were busy periods and slow periods.

Things that I saw that people used to keep themselves entertained included: knitting, crocheting, jigsaw puzzles, logic problems, solitaire (with cards and on the computer), fish, plants, soft foam balls and darts (as long as it didn't "cross rows"), a tv with captions, coloring books, and all sorts of things that I'm forgetting because it's been a while.

I crochet, and usually have a least a couple "don't have to count or pay attention" projects going that I dig out anytime I have to sit still somewhere... otherwise I'm much more likely to be bored and NOT paying attention. I rarely encounter people that are irritated by it, and generally those that are *aren't* the greatest company in the first place, so I mentally shrug and ignore THEIR rudeness.
posted by stormyteal at 8:11 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have a few particular necklaces -- one is a chunk of seashell, the other's a smallish solitaire, and the third is golden lumpy thing that I got from Claire's years ago. Anyways, I rub them during meetings and they help me think. I also take crazy notes, write haiku about the meeting itself (...which is a surprisingly helpful mnenomic/mindfulness activity, as long as you're more serious than "we started late/ i'm sorry for the things i said/ when i was hungry" or whatever), and sometimes I wear a decade bracelet and use the rosary to center myself in my head.

Also: I've got ADHD myself, and would find it really, really distracting if you were knitting in my line of sight during a meeting. I'm hesitant to be like, nuts to neurotypical people not getting your need to stim!! because you don't necessarily KNOW that the people complaining are neurotypical themselves. HOWEVER, if we were in a meeting together and I found your knitting distracting, I'd also move, or use my own focusing mechanisms to make it work for myself, because, at least in my case, it's not about you knitting, it's about me having a bad set of synapses that find everything in my immediate vicinity really really REALLY fascinating. Anyways, all this is to say, is that sense you're talking about work I think you might actually have more options then in the kind of social situations where you need to worry/choose to care about people "liking" you. I might be annoyed you're knitting, but at the end of the day, you don't need to care about my annoyance because we're not friends, we're colleagues and your knitting is not impacting my effectiveness or yours. Basically, if your boss is fine with it, knit away.

Finally: don't borrow trouble. You don't yet know the knitting will be a problem at your new job. I wouldn't worry about it until it's an actual thing you need to worry about.
posted by spunweb at 9:07 PM on February 28, 2014

Oh!! One of my nieces practices her cursive as her socially acceptable stim.

She's got beautiful calligraphy writing now.
posted by spunweb at 9:09 PM on February 28, 2014

Doodling in the margins of a notepad with a pen is the original quiet work-approved fidget.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:54 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a high school teacher and fidgeter. I have to have something in my hands while I walk around or while I give lectures. One of my favorite things to do is to spin my pen cap on the end of my pen. I click it just off and then can satisfyingly spin it with one hand. It's pretty silent and a satisfying thing to do with my hands. When I'm sitting at my desk, I sometimes play with a set of buckyballs, but I don't think that would be a socially acceptable thing to do in a meeting. I also spin my wedding ring around my finger, so those ring spinners seem like they would be very satisfying for me. I may also have to investigate that Noah fidget.

I think the main problem people have with knitting is the misconception that it requires concentration. I think it's more important to nonverbally communicate your attentiveness via eye contact and engagement. That way, any silent fidget that you can do (be it pen twirling, doodling, or even using a fidget toy) will be read as a subconscious fidget or stim rather than as a way to communicate your boredom and disengagement. Some of my best students are doodlers or leg shakers or pen tappers, I'm not offended. But you'd better believe I'm offended when they pull out other homework or worse yet, their cellphone.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 6:36 AM on March 1, 2014

Response by poster: Seems like the thread is winding down, so thanks everybody, particularly those who had non-doodling concrete suggestions. I ordered several of them to try out!

In case it helps NTs in this thread to interact with other sensory-processing-deficient Autistics elsewhere in life, please know that for many of us it's not about boredom, attentiveness, or engagement. For me and others I've discussed this with, it's often about regulating one sensory input (tactile) to prevent all sensory inputs from arriving in an incomprehensible jumble. I know zoning out for a minute is more relatable than suddenly having words turn into a mess of unrelated noises; I hope by making people aware of the distinction here I can make my and other SPD Autistics' lives a little easier. [/soapbox]
posted by dorque at 10:14 AM on March 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah I actually think people with adhd or add might actually be the ones who need a little education about why autism and SPD are very different conditions in terms of NEED to have a physical outlet for sensory input and internal processing or just maintaining internal comfort. There might be a mis-perception that adhd people understand "the need to fidget" and it making them think they know how autistics/SPD's should just choose a fidget option that is convenient for others when that isn't as easy for an autistic or person with SPD. I just say this in terms of explaining it to your new workplace/co-workers who might not understand why this is a need. It could help to get a professional help you write something up for your new work and maybe explain how your needs are a little different than simply nervous fidgeting that can be fulfilled with any little hand fidget.

To me people's responses point to a lack of education about SPD and autism which could be present for some co-workers more than a need for you to appease uneducated people's thoughts on what solutions SHOULD work for you based on what works for them when they, as non-autistics, feel fidgety; or based on what's convenient for them.
posted by xarnop at 8:56 AM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

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