4: Spinning & Rocking


While I was teaching in Japan, I often went to visit one of my favorite students in his private one-on-one classroom. He was in the first grade, Autistic, and the sweetest and funniest kid in the entire school. I’d often stop by to play and we really meshed well together. I understood his style of play and genuinely enjoyed myself. He knew I was a safe teacher who would always respect his boundaries and needs. We were buddies. But there was one thing that we didn’t have in common. He really loved to stand in the middle of the classroom and spin. One day while I grew nauseous watching him spin, a thought struck me.

“I never spun.” I shrugged and put it from my mind, remembering that all Autistic people are different–just as varied and unique as neurotypical people are.

It wasn’t until an hour or so later that it hit me. Wait… yes, I did. I spun obsessively. But not in a way that would seem out-of-place for your average American child in the 90s.

For a period of years, I would rollerblade for hours and hours every day on my own. And my absolute favorite thing to do while rollerblading? Spin. I would spend literally hours doing spins, skating in circles in the driveway, and spinning around support beams in our cement-floored basement.

Why did I do it? I remember it being extremely comforting. It was a time when my thoughts flowed naturally or not at all. I had mental clarity during that time, but was also able to just stop thinking when I wanted to. 

The feeling of spinning or skating in circles made my mind and body relax. There’s something very natural about a circle. Something beautiful. There’s no real beginning or end. It’s solid, predictable, and reliable.

Why did I like spinning so much? Perhaps it has to do with the sure, mindless, and unchanging certainty of a circle. Maybe it was something to do with the pressure on the body I could feel as I spun.

Maybe both. Or neither.


Why do I rock when sitting and sway or rock on the balls of my feet while standing?

It feels so right. My anxiety drops away, I take deeper breaths, and my scattered thoughts slow. Rocking or swaying fill me with such a peace, calm, and genuine sense of wellbeing. Somewhere deep inside my chest something stills, unwinds, and then fills with a deep sense of assured peace.

Maybe it’s hard to understand, but it feels like getting home after a long day, being enfolded in a loved one’s arms, and sinking into a perfectly-temperatured bath all at once. It’s safe and blissful.

I’ve noticed that my rocking can give me a lot of insight into my mental, emotional, and sensorial states. The above-mentioned side-to-side rocking tends to be a soothing motion that might mean that I’m calm or content, especially if it’s slow. On the other hand, rocking front-to-back almost always means that I am in distress, panicked, or overstressed. The faster the rock, the greater the inner turmoil. 

Sometimes my body begins to rock involuntarily. This usually only happens when I am very tired. It’s a rapid, abrupt movement forwards and backward as opposed to my usual, slow and gently side-to-side sway. This is a clear warning sign that shouts MELTDOWN IMMINENT! (Take cover!!)

I realized that I often have a natural urge to rock to comfort or regulate myself, but that I don’t allow the motion. It’s just another thing that I’ve involuntarily suppressed in an attempt to pass as “normal.”

I’ve gotten better in the last year at allowing myself the freedom to rock when I need to. I almost always allow myself when in private and I’ve even gotten better at rocking gently in public when it will help me cope with a situation. Undoing years of masking and mimicry will take time, but it’s an essential part of unapologetically seeking my authentic self.

A massive, pink, rose-like flower is central to the photo. Dark green leaves peek out at the bottom of the picture.



5 thoughts on “4: Spinning & Rocking”

  1. Thank you for writing this. My twins, who are 4 now, have rocked since they could sit up. They used to do it constantly, day and night. And now, they mainly do it at night, and when they find a nice comfy chair. Sometimes, I feel like hey get pleasure from this back and forth motion.

    But there are times it worries me… like when they wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. That’s when the rocking turns much more violent, and my motherly instincts make me want to take them in my bed with me. But I’ve learned, over time, that is not helpful to them. They would just rather rock. So I leave them to it.

    If it lasts long enough, I bring them in my room and let them rock it out in a comfy recliner. That way, they know they’re not rocking alone. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading it!

      Firstly, thank you so much for accepting your twins and allowing them to use a calming and soothing technique that works for them!

      I have had to re-learn my soothing rocking behaviors and I’m working on letting myself rock in public. It’s a work in progress but I’m slowly allowing myself and noticing just how calming it really is. No one ever told me to stop (that I can remember), but I have always made myself stop in public because I thought people would think it was strange.

      For me, the violent rocking behavior is a sign of distress. I can’t speak for your twins’ behaviors/experiences, but I wonder if they might be having nightmares? I definitely agree that stopping them isn’t the best (it can almost physically hurt when I hold myself back from it), but I wonder if another form of stimming could help as well, like using a weighted blanket or stroking a favorite fluffy stuffed animal, etc.

      I love what you said about not rocking alone 🙂

      Thank you for your lovely comment.


  2. I too used to think I didn’t spin. But then remembered how I used to spin obsessively “practising” being a Whirling Dervish until my dad (who is Turkish and so knows about these things) told me there were no female Whirling Dervishes and I was so sad about that I stopped spinning. Now that I’m older and my health not as good, unfortunately spinning just makes me dizzy and nauseous but not in a good way.


    1. Oh, no! The Whirling Dervish looks so cool; I’m sorry you were discouraged from practicing it. 😦
      I am very similar! I used to spin and spin with no problem but now health problems mean I need to avoid that type of movement.


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