I am an out loud and proud autistic person and I love my autistic identity but I have not always felt this way. In fact I spent many years being ashamed to be my beautiful autistic self. I saw my autistic attributes as being something to be embarrassed by and hid my autism beneath layers of masking and social camouflage. Stimming was one thing that I tried to squash down and rid myself of. I might still be thinking this way had I now met the amazing Polly Samuel, who sadly is no longer with us in this world but who was a major influence on me and my journey as an advocate.
I met Polly at a course for autistic people which would qualify us to deliver presentations in schools. I now wonder why Polly was there given her accomplishments and experience in public speaking but I am very grateful she was there because she changed my life. When I met Polly I asked what she spent her time doing, not being aware that she was a nine times published author and world famous. Polly and I soon became friends and she also became my autism world mentor. Well my everything mentor I guess!
Polly’s approach to advocacy was quite similar to mine now – and I suspect this is not by accident! Polly would have me and other autistic people over to her home and we would be our true and authentic autistic selves. Polly told me about stimming. I hadn’t heard the expression but I knew what it was Polly had a big jar of shiny, smooth, colourful rocks which we played with. We revelled in shiny things and sensory joy. Polly had colourful, stimmy jewellery and loads of sensory stimmy things in her home. Polly taught me that flapping and clapping was a great thing to do. I learned to embrace my stims and finally understood that autistic people have the right to flap when we want to flap!
Stimming can be such a helpful thing for autistic people. It can help relieve stress and anxiety, it can help us focus and it can be a great way of expressing happiness and excitement, Stims can be a huge range of things, from playing with a fidget to flapping hands. I have different stims for different circumstances. If I am happy I do a little clap in front of my face. If I am anxious I flap my hands and if I am trying to focus on a meeting or conference I play with a fidget toy – of which I have a large number. I have my favourites in a big bowl of fidget toys that is in my home office. Stimming comes naturally to me and I do it without self consciousness although when I was younger and wanted to fit in with neurotypical folks I used to forcefully hide my stimming. I wish no autistic person ever felt that they need to hide their stims.
What makes me sad is that the kind of acceptance and belonging I had with Polly is for many people unattainable. Autistic people are told their stims are ‘weird’ and forced into suppressing their stims. There is a term ‘quiet hands’ which is used in educational settings and basically means autistic kids should stop their stims. This is not OK. Stimming is not hurting anyone. Instead of trying to force autistic kids to look less autistic because it is ‘weird’, maybe educators should be encourage autistic kids to express themselves in the ways they want and to normalise stimming. They could use the opportunity to promote respect and acceptance of difference rather than compounding disadvantage and ableism. I hate seeing autistic people being forced to be less of themselves because some people are so narrow-minded and judgmental about people being and appearing to be somehow ‘different’. I think we need to educate people about autistic realities and experiences rather than punishing and censuring people for doing something which makes them feel happy and relieves stress.
I attend a transgender meetup in Canberra. Many of the other attendees are neurodivergent too. The facilitator – who is not neurodivergent – always says at the start of the meeting that stimming is welcomed at the meetings. I love this and I would like to see a similar disclaimer at all settings where there are autistic and neurodivergent people.
Neurotypical people often have their own version of stimming. They might play with their jewellery or play with their hair. I think these stims serve a similar purpose to autistic stims but they are more socially acceptable for some reason. I wish there was greater understanding about stimming. For autistic people it serves a lot of useful functions. And ‘therapies’ which try to stop autistic people stimming are not OK in my mind. If something benefits someone and is not hurting anyone then why would anyone want to stop people doing it? I think this is one of those areas where autistic people are viewed as being somehow in need of fixing. To this I say, I’m not broken, I don’t need a cure and I will stim when I want to! And I say Yay for stimming too because it is a good thing and everyone has the right to stim if they so desire 🙂
2 thoughts on “I will stim if I want to – or why I don’t like ‘quiet hands’”
*Happy flaps* We shall stim our hearts out! I wish every autistic person could feel proud and not have to hide their stims.
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My son spins and twirls when he feels joy. Its the most beautiful way to express himself and I hope he is always able to feel as light and free as he does now 💕
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