Autism Is… Loud Hands

A book is a safe space

Where I don’t think about 

The inappropriate expression on my face,

The million ways I’m always out of place…

This is a line in a poem I’m trying to write. It’s true.

I wanted to see what I look like when I’m safe, so I filmed myself listening to the (wonderful) Books, Actually audio collection, and then watched the video over and over, like it was the Rosetta stone to my own language. 

I rocked almost constantly throughout the piece. Whenever I paused, my hands shifted position, curling against my cheeks or propping each other up like two cards in a card house. When I laughed in surprise, the fingers on one hands tapped the other hand, fast as rain. When I got to a particularly exciting/stressful part, my fingers flicked in front of my face. At one point, in boredom, I shook my hands up and down as I rolled my eyes. At the end, I flapped for almost a full minute, the equivalent of a standing ovation. 

This is what it is to be part of something. 

Talking with my uncle, playing with my hair. My uncle pulls my hand from my head and holds it down by my side. His fingers rub mine in a circle. 

His stim is allowed but mine isn’t. 

I stand in the doorway flapping. My mother says, “You know… some people can’t stop themselves doing that.”

She means I should stop doing it, just like I should eat my broccoli because the starving children in Africa never had the choice.

Conversely, some people never have the choice to stim and just be looked at funny and told they look weird, told to stop, only occasionally restrained. Some people have the stim beat out of them. Some people never have a choice to stim, so maybe I have a duty to.

Alone in the bathroom. Jumping up and down and flapping in the mirror. My hair folds and unfolds like a fist. My eyes trace over my face, trace over me. 

Stimming is so private, so intimate, like scrap of paper shoved under the mattress. But do you know the irresistible compulsion to share a secret? To hand someone that scrap of paper? To whisper the words it says into the pages of a book?

I am sitting and rocking in the middle of a crowd, the middle of free time at school. This is, this time, a conscious choice. I am, this time, brave. My back is against my backpack. 

I realize a boy is sitting with a leg against my backpack. I realize he is also rocking- absentmindedly, or not. I time my rocks to his, like I used to time the swings of my swings with those of my best friend.

Back, forth. Back, forth.


4 thoughts on “Autism Is… Loud Hands

  1. Many hugs to you for sharing this. My son doesn’t stim in an obvious way, unless he’s REALLY happy, and then he gets flappy for a few seconds. I don’t know why, but it makes me a strange combination of happy and nervous – I think because the world is so hard on differences. I’m NT, but I never really fit in, so I want to spare my son the discomfort, BUT I want him to be his best self. So I push past the discomfort and enjoy his stimming when it happens, and I remind him that he is a great kid for the special kid that he is.

    The hair twirling thing – that made me growl in my head a little. I have a nephew that twirls. I don’t see him often because I live far away. People always try to stop it, and I don’t get that AT ALL. My MIL was sitting next to me in the car once when I was twirling mine and she reached out to stop me – I’m 45 years old, NT. And I just looked at her and said “why did you do that?” “It’s ok if I twirl my hair, it’s my hair (said jokingly to take the sting out of the message)”.

    I didn’t really know what stimming was until this year, but now I do. And if I have the chance to educate fellow NT’s who are still clueless, I will tell them to leave the stim alone. If it’s not hurting anybody or holding up traffic, it’s a non-issue. Stim away 😉

  2. I love that idea of making a video of yourself while listening to something. I’m sure I’d see some unknown stims in myself as well!

    That thing about your uncle rubbing your hand… so familiar.

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