Quiet Hands Is A Quiet Hell

It’s loud. It’s bright. I’m already squinting. Why with the flourescent lights? There’s so many people talking. I can hear all the conversations at once, but I’m only supposed to focus on one. The teacher. I see his mouth moving, but I can’t make out the words. There’s too much going on. I start shaking my hand, low, so hopefully no one else sees. It helps to shake my hand, I can focus on the feeling of my thumb moving around, and it gives this weird pressure that I can’t explain. I focus harder on the teachers mouth. The words start coming through.

* shake shake shake shake *

Suddenly the teacher stops, and looks at me.

“Quit fidgeting and pay attention.”

I’m forced to stop shaking my hand. Immediately all the sounds and brightness rush to overwhelm again. I have no idea what the teacher is saying. Crying seems like a really good option right now, it’s all too much. So, my hand starts shaking again, harder this time, and I didn’t start it, iit just started itself.

I can feel myself getting more jittery on the inside.

I smack my hand on the desk, it hurts, but I keep shaking it. The teacher looks at me again.

“Quiet hands please. I need you to pay attention and not distract others in the class.”

My hand, which was already at my side, stops, as I force myself to be still.

Finally, class is finished, but what did we learn? It doesn’t really matter. I bolt out of the classroom, to the restroom, and hide.

The crying starts.

I’m going to be late, but I don’t care right now. It’s all too much to take in, and I’m not even allowed to take care of myself.

My existence is a distraction to others, no matter how quiet I make it.

Overwhelmed, with stinging eyes, and ringing ears, I walk, defeated, to the next class I can’t pay attention in.

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Should I Tell My Child They Are Autistic?

Here’s the thing about autism. Your kid is going to be made fun of for being weird no matter what. That’s the harsh reality. They can either be told they are autistic and know why, and be empowered through knowledge of themselves, or feel further stigmatized and beat down because they don’t have a clue what makes them different. You can’t protect your child from the outside world, and as an adult diagnosed autistic , I can tell you that it was absolutely horrible knowing I was different but thinking it was because I was broken because all I knew was that I was weird enough to get made fun of and I couldn’t always do what others did simply. Not knowing made things so much worse.

I can understand being protective and not everyone else needs to know, but your child definitely, definitely needs to know. Besides, keeping it a secret makes it seem like something shameful. Like…. Your diagnosis is so bad we didn’t even went you to know. And how do you think a child would feel about themselves like that?

Help! My Autistic Child Stims Constantly, Are They Okay?

I see variations of this statement all the time, and it comes with the fear that they are extremely stressed. I’m not surprised. Stimming is, more often than not, talked about in the context of stress relief, so it’s completely reasonable that parents would come to the conclusion that all stimming is stress relief, but that’s far from the truth. So, let’s learn more, shall we?

WHAT IS STIMMING?

In short and unhelpful terms, stimming is self stimulatory input. The DSM-5 refers to it in this manner: “Stereotyped or repetitive speech, motor movements, or use of objects; (such as simple motor stereotypies, echolalia, repetitive use of objects, or idiosyncratic phrases).” (1)

What a boring, surface level definition!

It gives the basic idea from an external perspective, but it really lacks any explanation. The DSM gives a clunky, overarching definition of the what, then provides a variety of examples, but it says nothing about the why. The why is very important.

OKAY, SO WHY IS STIMMING USED?

Well, if you’re reading this, chances are you already know that it’s used as stress relief. So I won’t focus too heavily on that.

Stimming is also used as a form of communication. You know how, when you are happy, you smile to communicate that happiness, and maybe you’ll make a “sound of contentment”, or even just say you’re really happy right now? Well, I do to, but I also flap my hands. If I get super excited, sometimes my whole body shakes like a chihuahua with a 5 hour energy drink, and if it’s just too much excitement to contain, I’ll jump around and/or make a sound that can really only be typed out as “EEEEEEEeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!”

I also have stims that communicate that I’m stressed, bored, sad, content, angry… You can even tell when I’m in the middle of a shut down, specifically because I’m not stimming or moving at all.

Yes, I’m one of those people who stims all the time, but because people perceive it often as a negative thing in it’s entirety, or only as a response to negative stimuli, they think that they fact that I’m not stimming is a good thing, and I don’t tend to get the support I need, because nobody notices there’s a problem

HOW DO I KNOW IT ISN’T STRESS RELATED?

This is where communication and observation comes in. You’ve gotta work on learning how to speak autistic. What do I mean by that? Well, at it’s most basics, autistic people tend to communicate differently, in a verbal sense, so that’s important, but outside the scope of this post. So what I mean here, is that you have to ask why a stim happens, and see what the response is, or if the person in question is non-verbal and doesn’t use something like PECS, an image board, or sign language (all outstanding forms of communication when you can’t use your mouth words, and by the way these are called Augmentative and Alternative Communication, or AAC), you have to really watch what’s going on and connect the dots, as it were.

There are the obvious things, like self harming stims, but can you tell the difference between happy flapping and stress flapping? What about content rocking and upset rocking? They may be similar, but understand thing differences is important.

For example, with myself, when I happy flap, I usually have my hands higher up, like by my chest or head, and I flap very freely. When I’m stress flapping, my hands are usually down toward my side, and it’s a much tighter flap. When I am rocking when I’m content, it’s very free, typically side to side, and there might be an up and down motion involved in it too, like I’m bobbing to music. If I’m excited, I generally really push into my rocking, and tend to rock more forward and backward. If I’m stressed and rocking, it tends to be more tight, back and forth, and may be accompanied by foot shaking.

I don’t really have a simple answer for you, as every autistic person is different, so you’ll have to sort out the fine details on your own.

IS STIMMING AN AUTISTIC ONLY THING?

No! It’s not. You see stimming described with other neurotypes and disabilities as well, but non-autistic people (NT or allistic) also stim. It’s just that these stims don’t tend to be as noticeable (tapping your toe when your bored or rushed, checking the fridge for the 20th time, rocking chairs anyone?), or they are considered appropriate (the constant cheering for sports events – a.k.a. yelling to express joy in response to an external stimuli). Non-autistic folks also tend to be able to stop their stims without much of a problem to themselves, whereas it can be a serious problem for autistic people.

THAT’S ALL FOLKS

If you have more questions, or would like to add your own thoughts and experiences with stimming, please comment below!

(1). https://depts.washington.edu/dbpeds/Screening%20Tools/DSM-5%28ASD.Guidelines%29Feb2013.pdf (pg. 3)