Friday, November 1, 2019

Autistic Out Loud: an essay on Stimming and Autism Acceptance

Devin S. Turk posts Autistic Out Loud: an essay on Stimming and Autism Acceptance

"I can only describe the feeling “fizzy,” like fountain soda under my skin. The sensation starts in my shoulders, and by the time it travels down to my elbows, I’m already in motion. My hands become a blur; they move back-and-forth, up-and-down, in joyous, swooping arcs. After a moment, my arms are still again. The fizz has subsided. I exhale. This is what it’s like for me to flap my hands. I am autistic. And in this busy world of loud noises, bright lights, and complex social interactions, my body and my brain are frequently more overwhelmed and exhausted than that of a neurotypical person. The ways I absorb sensory information from my surroundings, how I interact with other people, and my patterns of self-stimulatory “stimming” movements are all parts of my Autism. Rocking back and forth, spinning objects, vocalizing, attentively listening to certain sounds, etc. are examples of stimming. Stimming is a part of my daily life. For autistic people like me, it can be a reflexive reaction to stimuli (or lack thereof) in our environment, a way of expressing emotion, communicative output, or any combination of those things. Stimming is a natural way for us to be present within the world, and it is essential to the wellbeing of many, if not most, autistic people.  But our Neurotypical society doesn’t see it that way. Obviously autistic or otherwise non-normative body movements are often understood by non-autistics to be demonstrations of everything our society discourages: Other-ness, pathology, and even sub-humanity. As autistics, we tend to get the message to differing degrees relatively soon after birth. Some of us are traumatized in early life by “therapies” that are designed to make us indistinguishable from our peers; to stifle us, to quiet us, and to shrink us down into something more digestible to the neurotypical gaze. Many of us are bullied at school and sometimes even at home. Even if we aren’t ourselves victims of physical or emotional violence for being different, we are often witnesses to such abuse directed at others like us. One way or another, we watch as our world discourages difference at all costs. The world (and all of its loud noises, sudden movements, and complex social interactions) is often too loud, too much, and too exhausting. And on top of it all, suppressing my need to stim feels like more than just resisting an urge to cough or laugh or smile; it feels like a betrayal. I am sending a message to my body and my mind: Your natural ways of being are unacceptable. If I determine that it’s safe for me to stim, (and certain environments and situations are not safe to be recognized as neurodivergent) then I need to stim. As an autistic person, one of the most radical acts of self-proclamation I can engage in during my day-to-day life is as simple as flapping my hands. It doesn’t matter if I’m alone in my apartment or if I'm in a crowded, public space. Visibly autistic movement is one of the most powerful ways that I as an autistic person can claim self-worth in this world. I wish I had grown up knowing that stimming when I need to stim is a way of telling myself that who I am is okay.

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