Category Archives: ramble

Ramble on Stimming

This post might be a bit unfocused. We’ll see how this goes.

I’ve seen some disagreement in some of the autistic spaces I’m in around the idea of “stimming is communication.” Apparently some of us are really against that idea. It’s rather made me want to weigh in with my take on the matter.

And my take is – stimming is communication, in the same way that other forms of body language are communication. Some of the arguments against stimming being communication is that sometimes (or many times, or often) stimming is done without the intent to communicate. Apparently to some people, that means it’s not communication.

I disagree. Humans communicate all the time without necessarily putting intent behind it. Over on the neurotypical side, people generally agree that body language is communication. And sometimes NTs will put deliberate effort into their body language, so that it communicates something that they choose. However, many times body language just happens, without forethought explicit choices involved. And when that happens, it’s still communication. NTs like to talk about how up to 75% of communication is nonverbal – and they’re meaning that for themselves. Their own communication is dominated by nonverbal cues. Facial expressions, body language, tone, things like that.

I am firmly of the opinion that stimming is (among other things) body language. When an NT laughs, they are probably not thinking “I wish to communicate my amusement, so I am going to make this particular sound to convey it.” Laughing is simply a natural result of amusement. Same with stimming. Whether I’m flapping my hands because I’m excited or rocking because I’m overstimulated, they are natural results of my mental state. They are also expressions of my mental state, and, among the various things they do, they serve to communicate that to others.

When I say that stimming is communication, one of the things I mean is that NTs should learn to pay the same kind of attention to it that they do to other forms of body language. I am saying that all behavior is communication, and stimming counts too. I’m saying that stimming is another form of body language, and that is one of many many reasons why we should stop trying to stamp it out.

When I stim, I am generally not thinking about communication. I’m excited or happy or stressed or overstimulated or maybe just needing to rock. Frequently I’m alone, so communication doesn’t make any sense. However, I still say that stimming is communication, the same way that facial expressions are communication. I say this because intent or not, they can communicate information to others, if there are others around who know how to read it.

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Holiday spirit?

A Christmas Carol: Grim Reaper
The ghost of christmas yet to come is a holiday spirit I can understand

So it’s getting into Major Holiday time here in the US, and I’m seeing more and more talk about things like “holiday spirit” and “joyful holiday season” and I think I want to write about that stuff.

Mostly in terms of how I just don’t seem to get it – by which I mean, I honestly don’t understand; this is not in any way intended to denigrate people who are different from me. I don’t know what a holiday spirit is. I don’t know what it means or what it consists of. What I really don’t get it why there seems to be pressure at this time of year to have those things. To feel the “correct” way, to have the right sort of attitude or “spirit” or whatever it is we are supposed to have.

So this topic came to mind because some friends of mine have been talking about really struggling this year with their “holiday spirit” and such, and are feeling sad because they are not managed to do this thing that, apparently, they feel they are supposed to do. And when I write this, I really hope that I do not come across as belittling of that. I care about my friends, and while I struggle to wrap my mind around the concepts, I do understand that this is clearly something they care about so I feel sad for them in sympathy.

This is probably going to be a thoroughly incoherent post, which I do apologize for. I have so many thoughts on the subject (which may, someday, turn into their own individual posts) and I’m not sure how well I will pull them together.

For instance, the idea of there being a thing we are “supposed” to feel. I have spent my whole life having people tell me what I am supposed to be feeling, and being confused or worse because I felt something else. I was supposed to be excited about driving in my teen years, but I only ever felt stress and anxiety. I was supposed to find group interactions easier than one-on-one interactions, but for me it is the other way around. I was supposed to like short-notice plans to socialize, but they cause me stress and unhappiness. Nevermind the times when I feel happy or easy when other people feel stress or unease. It seems my life is full of not feeling what I am supposed to feel. This means I have both become really sensitive to people telling me what I “should” feel or like or want, while simultaneously being fairly comfortable in just being me, provided people accept that.

The other day I asked Nee if he has “holiday spirit” and what it does, or does not, mean to him. The conversation mostly went in very small circles, because we are equally baffled by the concept. Again, to be clear, not baffled in a “this is bad” way, but more in a “this does not seem to apply to us” way. Nor do either of us feel like we are missing out on anything else.

But as we continued thinking, we started to think that maybe “holiday spirit” is not just some monolith of feeling that only has one way to be. Nee asked me if there’s anything I get excited about this time of year, and there is. Specifically, the yule ritual my grove does (particularly this year, as I ran it), and the exchanging of gifts. I like seeing people happy over gifts I chose or bought or made, and not gonna lie, I like getting gifts too. So maybe in a way, that is my holiday spirit.

However, I don’t really think of it in those terms, nor do I pay much attention to whether or not I’m having “holiday spirit” at any given time. In a way, I think that might be beneficial to me.

Mostly because December has always been an incredibly rough time of year for me. Many things converge to make the end of the year particularly stressful and difficult, and while the meds are making it so much better than it used to be, I still feel stressed and pressured and wake up to the sound of my teeth grinding at night. There is the pressure to give everyone gifts, to find the RIGHT gifts (yes, I listed gift giving as a thing I like, but it is also a thing of stress that I try to get done in November), the lack of sun, the sudden press of scheduling ALL THE THINGS in a short period of time, the sudden increase in socializing (another mixed bag. I see people I like to see, but there is so much of it that it gets overwhelming), etc etc etc. If I spent any time at all worrying about what I “should” be feeling, it would just make everything worse. All the stresses would become affronts to this “holiday spirit” I am supposed to have, which would probably add a layer of resentment to the whole thing, which would just make me even more stressed, and that’s just not a good path for me to go down. I can only hope that for other people, it does not work like that.

Though to add in, does “holiday spirit” absolutely have to be upbeat and happy? For better or worse, the stress and anxiety that hits at the end of the year is very much a part of the holiday season for me, and maybe that’s just another aspect whatever version of a “holiday spirit” I possess. Of course, that just makes “holiday spirit” the same thing as “feelings I associate with winter holidays” but really, does it have to be any more than that? Maybe I can acknowledge and honor all the feelings I tend to get this time of year, regardless of how pleasant they are at any given moment.

On a side note, the morning after our conversation about holiday spirit, Nee actually found his. Apparently to him, magnets and camera flashes are associated with the solstice, and he often finds himself happily looking at fun magnet and light toys this time of year. That is, apparently, his version of a holiday spirit.

Do you have a “holiday spirit”? If you do, what does it mean to you? If not, is it something you think about? I’m curious

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It’s that time of year again…

Autism Awareness day/week/month/whatever.

Or is it Autism Acceptance?

Or another word that we think might be better that also starts with A, because apparently alliteration is super important in our catch phrases?

I normally just stay quiet around all this. There’s just too much bickering around what word to use and what organization to support and the parents vs. autistic adults thing seems to get thrown into even sharper relief and I’m just not really sure what we’re trying to accomplish. I guess asking for a consensus is a bit much, but mostly I just try to duck under something safe and stay away.

Thing is, though, I’m not actually against the idea in principal. As absurd as it seems, I actually recently learned that there are still people out there in the western world who have never heard of Asperger’s Syndrome. Even if we’re only working for awareness in North America and Eastern Europe, which is a pretty narrow focus right there, we’re not actually done.

Though then I wonder why autism is so special that it gets the awareness month when there are so many other, debilitating yet almost entirely unknown health issues out there that have people struggling for awareness in a very real way. Sometimes it feels like, as a society, we’ve really focused on autism, but it’s also possible that I have some confirmation bias here, since I rather surround myself with autism-related things. I also sometimes worry that we’re lumping ALL developmental delays or disabilities in with autism, and I’m not sure that’s a fantastic thing to be doing.

Point is, I always get weird mixed feelings this time of year. I’m not sure if I want to try to bring some poignant, heartfelt words to the table only to see them lost among all the other poignant, heartfelt words and the bickering and the “I’m always aware!” and everything else that happens, or if I just want to avoid it all.

So as I do, I’m writing about those mixed feelings. This is what I bring to the table – myself, my ambivalence, my thoughts, and my words. I do have a metaphorical horse in this metaphorical race, so maybe staying out of it entirely isn’t quite the right answer for me. So instead I participate in the odd, not-entirely-in-it way that I do.

Jumping a bit, this month also gets me thinking about autism tattoos. I do have tattoos and sometimes I think about getting an autism tattoo. Except I intensely dislike the whole puzzle thing and I refuse to get a tattoo that uses it. Which leaves me wondering – what else is there?

No really, do you know anything? Because I sure don’t.

Anyway. I rather doubt I’m going to be acknowledging autism awareness/acceptance/other word that starts with A month beyond this post. When it gets really loud I lose my ability to make my voice heard, and in the autism world this month sure is loud. Loud and messy and not very friendly to my brain. Which I guess is not that surprising, in a disjoint “community” that seems to bicker as much as it does anything else. Maybe someday, when we’ve managed to mend some of these rifts, it will be different.

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Who are we?

I rather want to talk about identity again. It seems to be one of those topics that I just love to keep on visiting. I am increasingly fascinated by concepts of identity, ways people self-identify, what aspects of a person might be an “identity” and what is kept separate.

Sometimes clothing choices get thrown in here too. Specifically, when I see people talking about clothing in terms of conformity or lack thereof, and always someone will sneer at all those non-conformists insisting on conforming to the prevailing standard of nonconformity, and I just keep thinking that’s missing the point. Clothing has a bunch of different uses. Of course, the primary two are protection from the elements and hiding body parts that are considered taboo. But beyond that, there are all sorts of stylistic choices people can make as to how they cover themselves. Those choices are largely informed not so much by personal style, but as a way to announce to the world what group you identify with. Whether you’re a metalhead or doing business casual, your clothing choices tell the world around you what you are choosing as an identity. Change the uniform, and you change your identity and how people will perceive you.

So yeah, subgroups and counter-cultures almost always come with a uniform – a look you will be expected to conform to in order to be part of the group. It’s a way of showing allegiance. It doesn’t just matter in counter-cultures either. It matters in the business world – it matters a lot. Wearing the right clothes, showing through the bits of fabric that you use to cover yourself that you belong in their world and deserve respect and attention and the right job. It may seem stupid, but it matters a whole lot.

Anyway, I don’t only want to talk about clothes. Identity is such a thing. It’s fascinating to me to see how so much of the autism community is about autism as an identity (and yeah, I’m in that camp too), and it’s fascinating to me when people reject the autism identity and want it to be something separate. I am very interested in how and why people make these choices – deciding which aspects of themselves are intrinsic and which are not. Why do I say that I am a crafter, rather than a person who does crafts? Or a cat person, rather than a person who has cats? Or a person with red hair, rather than a redhead? Some things are intrinsic to me, some are not.

I have actually occasionally pondered putting all call out, asking if anyone would be willing to make me a couple of lists of self-descriptions – one of things that you are, and another of things that you have. As with crafting and cats and hair, I imagine many (if not most) of the items could be put in either list depending on how you choose to phrase it. Which is, in fact, exactly the thing that I am interested in – which traits would you put in which list, and why? (by the way, if I did ask, and I could offer a way to do so anonymously, would you do it? I haven’t been brave enough to ask yet and I’m hoping for some encouragement here)

Increasingly I think that identity, and being able to carve about a space for oneself via identity, really matters. Being able to identify with a group matters. Choosing who you are, it matters. I’ve always been different, and over time I carved myself out an identity based around being different. When I went in for my assessment to see if I had Asperger’s, the psychologist was able to identify me as the possible aspie immediately. I was surprised, but she told me it was something she saw a lot of. The people who are different all their lives are the ones who frequently wind up turning it into an identity, so my pink hair, long skirt, and boy cut t-shirt with a cartoon on it showed me as that person.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, and I don’t think I have much of a point. These are just thoughts that have been rolling around in my head and I wanted to share them. Identity – it’s interesting.

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Orderliness

Lemme talk to you about my eyes. Or, well, not my eyes. The process of seeing, and a rare occurrence that happens when I don’t know what I’m looking at.

Not long ago I was in Wilmington, in a car on the way to the train station. There was a lot of traffic backed up on several streets, so we turned down one that wasn’t busy and suddenly saw a tall masted ship crossing the road! Or, well, it was going down the river right in front of us, and the bridges were all up to let it past, which is why traffic was backed up.

Also, I didn’t see a tall masted ship. The person I was with saw the tall masted ship, and pointed it out. I saw a jumble of colors and shapes going across in front of me. For several seconds that’s all I saw. Ok, that’s not quite right either. I saw everything else just fine, resolved into visual sense, but there in the middle was a bunch of shapes and colors where I was told there was a ship. After a brief but confusing few seconds, the ship suddenly went “pop!” and there it was! A tall masted ship crossing the street! Wow!

This is a thing that happens to me once in a while. If I don’t know what something is supposed to be, I might not be able to resolve the shapes and colors into anything that makes visual sense. At least, not at first. I have occasionally read of autistic people who are living permanently in a space of shapes and colors that never resolve into images, and I consider myself fortunate that it’s something that only happens to me once in a while, for short periods of time. The most consistent times it happens is in the lobbies of movie theaters, if they have one of those 3-D cardboard cutouts promoting a movie. Once I looked at one while leaving the theater and, once again, saw nothing but shapes and colors. I wanted to figure out what it was so I stayed and studied it for a minute or two. I had to carefully pick out individual pieces – here was a chain, there was a face, down here is a tire, now I see a foot, and eventually I managed to put it all together (it was a guy on a motorcycle wielding a chain).

I don’t know much about neurology, but I do occasionally get curious about how our brains do vision. Apparently it’s actually a fairly complicated process involving different parts of our brains doing different things to put pictures together, and one of the most fundamental parts is the part of our brain that handles shapes and colors and such. I’d actually love to be able to talk about this in terms of neurology but unless I can find a neurologist to interview, I’m going to have to make do with reading books by Oliver Sacks and such, and leave the educated brain stuff to the people who actually know what they’re talking about.

However, one thing I definitely have gathered from reading books like Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks is that the lenses in my eyes may project a picture onto my retina, but it’s my brain that turns that image into something I can make sense of, and this process is actually quite complicated with all sorts of parts of the brain doing different things.

(warning: ramble ahead) When I think about this I tend to get a little philosophical about order and categories and labels and the way we turn the world around us into something we can make sense of. Sometimes I see discussions about this or that animal that is defying our categories, refusing to be neatly placed within the lines we’ve drawn around all living things, and people often react with astonishment, at how weird that animal must be. Until eventually (and this does frequently happen, though not always) someone comes along and reminds us all that nature does not care about our categories. Our categories are ours – we made them up in an attempt to create order; to make sense of the world around us. However, the world is not bound by those categories and sometimes they will fall short.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but it’s something I like to remind myself of. That nothing in the world is as neatly placed as we are pretending it is. And this is coming from someone who really likes labels. I just think it’s really important to remember the limitations of labels. We can draw a line around something in an attempt to understand it, but ultimately that line will fall short. However, as with our brain making sense of what our eyes tell us, those categories are actually really important. I would not be able to functionally see if I was not able to take those shapes and colors and turn them into coherent images – seeing that this shape belongs with the tree but that shape belongs with the fence and so on and so forth.

Though I do sometimes think it would be cool if I could choose to not visually process so far, and only see the world as those shapes and colors all jumbled together, with no rhyme or reason involved. But only if I could choose to go back at any time. I may be artificially creating order, but it’s pretty darn useful to do.

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Processing

THIS IS TERRIFYING.

Story! I remember when I was young, I was very scared of escalators. In fact, I would refuse to step onto one unless one of my parents was holding my hand, and this persisted past the time my mom thought I should be over such needs.

Escalators seem to be one of those things that most people consider an easy alternative to going up or down stairs and I don’t think many people really think about them beyond that. I do, however, occasionally see people talking about escalators as difficult in terms of sensory processing, and that got me thinking.

In processing terms, there is kind of a lot going on with escalators. Just stepping on to one is this fraught process involving needing to know exactly where your feet are while tracking the motion of these constantly moving stairs and getting your feet in the right position at exactly the right time to get on, and then moving forward hopefully smoothly to transfer your weight onto your now-moving foot so that you can get your other foot on. Gods help you if you need to manage luggage or something at the same time.

And neurotypicals find this easy? Wow.

Needless to say, I prefer the stairs. Not because of fitness (though I suppose that helps) but because stairs are easier. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t always know where exactly her feet are, so stairs are actually kind of tricky too. Just less tricky than trying to get onto or off of an escalator.

All of which is to say, I don’t really process some things all that quickly. It isn’t universal. I can’t just say “I process slowly” and have that be it. I’ve been told that in some contexts (like maybe crafting) I can pull things together in my head at lightening speed. Which is cool. But sensory processing? Not so much. That can be downright slow. The same is true of social processing – seriously un-speedy. When you combine sensory processing and social processing – like, say, listening to someone talk – once in a while that is downright snail-like. Not always. I can turn it up when I know I’ll need to be using it, but if it’s unexpected then… well, yeah. Slow city.

I don’t think this post has much of a point. Honestly, I just wanted to tell the escalator story and talk about how scary and complicated they can be when you actually need to deliberately think through everything involved in using one of those contraptions. Real time sensory processing where TIMING IS EVERYTHING.

No thanks, I’ll just use the stairs.

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Bound by my word

I’ve noticed that there are some ways that I seem to use my words differently than other people. I am literal, I am absolute, I tend to take things seriously. This impacts my life in an incredibly large number of ways, and one of those ways is in words and language and how I treat what I say.

Specifically, I am bound by my word in a way that I’ve noticed other people are not. I was having some goofy conversation with a friend of mine a while back, and he was doing something physically goofy as well. It was all very silly. At one point he said that he was done doing the goofy thing for the night, but then he did it more a few minutes later. And my first response was to think that he lied. It was not a big deal or anything, but still. A lie. But then he said that no no, it was not a lie. He had simply changed his mind, which is apparently a totally valid thing to do. I am trying very hard to respect that, and acknowledge that language is apparently fuzzy for other people.

However, it does not work that way for me. Language is rarely fuzzy (though sometimes language is unclear, and it bothers me when it is), and I mean what I say. Or at least, I had bloody well better mean what I say, because I am bound by it. I don’t need to say “I promise” or “I give you my word” in order to set my word more firmly and make it solid. It is simply always like that, by default. If I say that I am done with something for the night, then I am bound by that. My options are to be done for the night, or to make myself a liar. Changing my mind simply is not an option.

I mean, it could be an option. But it has to be put into the words I say. I would have to say “I think I am done with Thing” or “I am probably done with Thing” or maybe “unless something changes, I am done with Thing.” If I wrap my language around my decision not being certain, then I get to change my mind and my decision can be less-than-solid. If I don’t do that, though, then that’s it. If I do not make my words say there is an option to change my mind, then the option is not there. If I do not put an end-time on Thing, then there is no end-time. If I say “I am done with Thing” then I am done forever, because I did not give myself the option to change my mind, nor did I stipulate end conditions. Therefore there are no end conditions and instead it lasts forever.

I’ve started idly speculating where this might be coming from. Some of it might be my Christian upbringing and that bit from the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus says “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.” (Matthew 5: 34-37) That was one of the verses I distinctly remember from growing up, and despite my dramatically changed beliefs, it may have stuck with me.

It also might be due to Aspergers and how it reflects in my thinking. As I mentioned before, I am literal. I am absolute. I do not think in shades of gray and I never have. So viewing what I say in absolute, inflexible terms is really only natural. There is also the fact that I have a history of learning to be very careful with what I say simply due to necessity. People who do not have this history may not regularly watch their words particularly closely. Or perhaps the Christian upbringing and my aspie self and history collided, causing some extreme reactions in some of what I say and do.

It is hard for me to remember that not everyone works this way. That people can made a declarative statement with no explicitly stated way out, and still change their minds. That this does not make them liars. I am trying, though, and working on respecting other people’s fuzzy use of language.

Nonetheless, that effort to understand fuzzy language does not extend to myself. Trying to understand that other people are not bound by their word the way I am does not actually change the fact that I am bound by what I say. I wonder if someday this will change, but right now it seems unlikely.

 

Update: Ok, so I wrote this back in August and am only now posting it. That’s sort of how it goes with this blog. However, in that time frame, something changed! Specifically,  I’d added a “not in my right mind” clause for if I make a bad decision at a time when I can reasonably say that my brain is malfunctioning. Then, I’m not bound by it. I haven’t actually managed to test this yet, but it seems to have wormed it’s way into my thinking.

I am also finding myself confronting the fact that in this case, my rigidity is not doing me any favors, and there are probably more circumstances where I need to be able to change my mind. On a side note, it feels really weird to type the phrase “change my mind.”

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OneRightAnswerItis

There is a condition I want to warn you all about. It’s as old as humanity – for as long as people have had a concept of answers, there’s been a concept of right answers. And as long as there’s been a concept of right answers, there’s been OneRightAnswerItis, or ORAI.

What is OneRightAnswerItis, you ask? Well, let me tell you about it!

What is OneRightAnswerItis?

ORAI is characterized by a person’s narrow, limited thinking that any problem can only have one solution, any question can only have one answer, that there is only ever one right choice. ORAI is usually accompanied by an odd lack of confidence around one’s own choices. A person suffering from ORAI will feel personally challenged or attacked whenever someone makes a different choice than they made. Even more so if the different choice was the result of significant thought, or if the different choice had a positive outcome. This is because they believe there is only one right answer, and if someone else’s choice was good or correct, it must mean that their choice was bad or wrong. ORAI seems to make a person blind to nuance, context, and the simple truth that different things work for different people.

What are the symptoms and warning signs of OneRightAnswerItis?

ORAI expresses itself through speech and behavior. A few examples would be:

Responding defensively if you decide to not do a thing that they do. “Why, is my way not good enough for you?”

Insisting that you try the things that worked for them, regardless of context, personal history, or actual need.

Confusion and denial when presented with the idea that different people have different needs with different solutions.

ORAI can also be insidious, and is rarely presented universally in any person. ORAI is very common when it comes to religious choices, yet very rare in regards to job choices. A person can be very open-minded to multiple choices when it comes to treating the flu, yet present severe ORAI when it comes to treating or helping autistic people.

I think I or a loved one might have OneRightAnswerItis!

Not to worry! ORAI is very treatable and with the right approach can be eliminated! The first step to treating ORAI is by far the most difficult – recognizing that you have it. Unfortunately, ORAI comes with firm (if oddly fragile) conviction of one’s own rightness, so it can be easy to say “oh, I don’t have ORAI, I really AM right!”

However, if you see other people making different choices than you are, and doing so with apparent forethought, consider that maybe they are also right. Consider that maybe there are actually multiple right answers.

The underlying emotional triggers to ORAI will stick around even after admitting the problem, but they are much easier to address when you recognize it. After that it’s a matter of learning to feel good about your own choices because they were right for you – not because other answers or other people are wrong or bad. Some people can find this a difficult way to think, but it is very rewarding once achieved.

Be on the lookout for OneRightAnswerItis. It can be a sneaky thing, but it is very disruptive when it takes root.

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Hiding stims

The Socially Acceptable Stimming Chair

Once in a while, when I am so inclined and feeling up for it, I spend some time in online autism communities. One topic that tends to come up repeatedly is how to hide stimming. From autism.about.com: “The term “stimming” is short for self-stimulatory behavior, sometimes also called “stereotypic” behavior.”  I find the frequency of this topic kind of sad, because I really wish that it was not a thing. Stimming is not bad or wrong, and I intensely dislike that it’s something people feel the need to curb or eliminate – either in themselves or in their autistic children. I would rather push to make stimming acceptable than hide a simple action that helps me cope.

On the other hand…

I understand that not everyone can fight every battle. If a person is focusing in other areas and just cannot handle prejudice because they happen to flap their hands, it’s really not my place to judge them.

So with that said, I figured I could brainstorm a few things on how to hide stimming.

Overall, I think the main ways I know of to hide stims come down to three basic groups.
1. emulate how neurotypicals stim
2. do something small
3. have a fidget toy or craft.

First of all – everyone stims. This is not something restricted to people on the spectrum. Stimming is natural and normal for EVERYONE. The difference is that autistic people are inclined to stim a lot more, and possibly in bigger ways. So my first possible tip if you want to hide stimming would be to find a stim that is socially acceptable.

A very common one is crossing your legs and rhythmically wiggling your foot. I can remember my mom doing this one quite frequently, and as far as I know she is not on the spectrum. Other “normal” stims include clicking pens (though many people also find this annoying), drumming your fingers, tapping your foot, chewing gum, or even playing solitaire.

Now, despite my lofty “it should be ok to stim” ideals, I do sometimes try to stim in unobtrusive ways because sometimes, I just don’t want to deal with the looks or comments I would be likely to get. A very common thing I do is flick my fingers or twitch my wrist. They are very small actions which are easy to keep within a small area of personal space.

Certain crafts and hobbies can also help. I have a tendency to haul a crochet project with me almost everywhere I go. If I feel anxious or just generally want to be soothed, I haul it out and start crocheting. I am reasonably certain that the rhythmic motion of the hook and yarn is a stand-in for other sorts of stimming. It is not at all uncommon for me to be crocheting in a train station or a group social situation or other such environment.

creative commons image by zyada on flickr

Yarning away

Nee, my significant other, uses rubber knead erasers and plays with them much like modeling clay. Squish, make a shape, squish, make a shape, squish, and so on and so forth. Bucky balls (a toy that is sadly no longer to be made because people apparently kept eating them) are another fidget toy for him.

squish, squish, squish

I still say we would all be better off just being allowed to stim as needed without social consequences. I mean, as long as your stim is not something actually destructive like punching people in the head or something, or terribly distracting to people around you in an environment where that would be harmful, it should not be wrong. Flapping your hands in the grocery store should be an ok thing to do. Still, it isn’t fun to get stared at or have people look at your like you are crazy, so I understand that we sometimes need to find something different to do.

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On Being Polite

creative commons image by smithereen11 on flickr

All up in your face!

This is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time. It also refuses to sit around patiently in the back of my mind like other blog topics, instead regularly jumping out to grab my attention. Of course, this is partly because pretty much every day I get hits on my blog from people googling about autism, aspergers, and rudeness. Clearly, this is a thing.

However, it is also a HUGE thing. The more I think about it the more I get intimidated by the prospect of trying to write about it. Politeness is a large and complicated subject matter consisting of a large variety of social dances, and I have different feelings about different ones. However, it does deserve to be written about, and I am reminding myself that it’s ok to do an overview post and go into more detail about different sorts of things in future posts.

So. The autism spectrum and what it is to be polite or rude. I think I’ll just start with the simplest (to me) area, and what first comes to my mind when people talk about this sort of thing. That is: saying “please” and “thank you.”

I have occasionally run across the attitude that these are just more examples of meaningless social noise, but I disagree with that attitude strongly. Much like other forms of social rituals that help to smooth interactions between people, simple expressions like “please” and “thank you” act as a vital social lubricant between people. “Thank you,” for instance, is a simple, shorthand way of saying “I recognize and acknowledge that you have done a thing for me, and I wish to express that I am appreciative of this and it has not gone unnoticed.” It smooths interactions. It helps people feel easier with each other. This is valuable.

I think sometimes part of the issue with this in particular and people on the autism spectrum is that neurotypicals, I gather, often seem to be able to grasp the value of those types of words and phrases intuitively. Or at least, neurotypicals seem to make the connection between using those words and finding interaction goes more smoothly fairly easily. Us autistic people, though, may have a more difficult time with that. And sadly, while neurotypicals may have an intuitive understanding, that does not mean they know how to fully articulate why it’s important or how it helps. So sometimes you wind up with people on the spectrum being rude (or at least impolite) without really understanding why, and neurotypicals being offended or bothered while having some difficulty articulating why.

Of course, there is more to being polite than simply saying “please” and “thank you.” Oh so very much more. There’s knowing when to talk and when not to talk, there’s knowing what sort of questions are appropriate to ask and what sorts are not, there’s learning to recognize and respect other people’s boundaries, how to enter or leave conversations, when it is or isn’t ok to touch people, and so very much more. Way more than I could ever address in a single blog post. And learning these things is more than just a simple lesson on being polite. They are all different skillsets that often need to be learned independently, and people on the autism spectrum often need to keep many in mind very explicitly and deliberately. It can be challenging. By and large, with few exceptions, I do strongly advocate working hard to learn how to functionally do these things, simply because we do live in a society and unless we are going to be hermits, it’s important to know how to navigate in society.

Now, before wrapping this up I want to go over an area of politeness that I actually strongly disagree with. Something where what is polite to most people comes across as ridiculously rude to me. Basically, there seems to be an entire arena of politeness that I describe as “politeness via lying.” There is a whole range of such things, all of which vex me to various degrees, but one type in particular that really gets my goat (I wonder what the root of that metaphor is) is phrasing requests or things that one wants as offers. When someone wants something for themselves, but is phrasing it as though it’s for the benefit of the other person. A very simple example is ending a phone conversation with “well, I’ll let you go now.” This one is actually only minorly vexing to me (I find it annoying, but at least I recognize it for what it is). However, people use this kind of phrasing for many things very often.

I really REALLY intensely dislike it, to an extreme degree.

From my point of view, when someone does that they are putting me in a position of being expected to mind read/recognize that what looks like an offer actually is not, and then obligates me to act grateful or like I am accepting something even if I don’t want it. Even if it’s a problem for me in some way. I cannot figure out the politeness of this; it comes across to me as shockingly rude. I have been informed that at least in this type of case, politeness is about obfuscating who the beneficiary is. That’s… interesting. However, I still don’t really understand it. The best I can manage is that it’s about avoiding vulnerability. Nonetheless, I still can’t quite bend myself to this one, and I get very resentful of people who use it with me.

I may write more about other specific areas of politeness and such in the future. As it is, the area is huge. Being polite is not always simple and straightforward, and decoding other people’s “politeness” is sometimes even more complicated. This does not mean that I believe Asperger’s or autism excuses rudeness, especially extreme rudeness, but it does mean that sometimes it really is hard. Sometimes we really don’t understand things that a neurotypical person thinks should be obvious. And sometimes we’re rude when we don’t mean to be.

Personally, I do try very hard.

And sometimes I mess up.

And then I keep on trying, and hope (once again) that people will meet me in the middle somewhere.

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Filed under issue, ramble