Tag Archives: communication

Polyamory and autism

I am polyamorous.

I don’t really talk about it on this blog because it’s not really part of its overall scope. However, the intersection of polyamory and autism is within the scope of my blog, so I am going to talk about it here. When it comes right down to it, there really don’t seem to be any spaces out there for talking about this particular intersection, so I need to make my own. I don’t claim that my experiences are universal – this is simply how autism and polyamory intersect for me.

So I got featured in the tumblr Poly Role Models and you can read my answers to the questions here. I was specifically chosen because someone was asking about being poly while autistic and a friend nominated me for that, as I am both poly and autistic.

Now I am attempting to write a follow-up, so I can get more into the intersection of poly and autism. Honestly, though, this is kind of tough for me. While I know the two do interact and being autistic impacts how I am polyamorous, sometimes it’s hard to see exactly how when I am in the middle of living it.

First of all, forming connections is hard for me. Really hard. I know that the usual response to this is to explain to me that everyone finds it challenging to make connections, but that is an awfully dismissive thing to say. A major (arguably *the* major) point of autism is that it is a social development delay. I am 34 years old, but I do not have the social development of a 34 year old. Socially speak, my skills are significantly behind my age. They always have been, and they always will be.

Poly, on the other hand, often demands significant emotional and social skills. Above and beyond simply making connections, there is managing how multiple intimate relationships will interact with each other, all sorts of emotional entanglements and responses and consequences, figuring out boundaries and making relationships without the typical benefit of pre-made relationship templates that most people learn in childhood.

Some of these are easier for me due to autism, and others are more difficult. Far more difficult. As I mention in my answers to the poly role model questions, the social templates for relationships have been easy for me to move away from. Or at least, easier than what I see in other people. For instance, many people (including poly people) seem to have an assumption that being in a relationship means sleeping in the same bed with your significant other. It’s so much a default that no one questions it. Yet in my (11 years and counting) relationship with Nee, we do not sleep in the same bed. We do not even sleep in the same bedroom. It is an unconventional way to do relationships, but it works for us so we do it.

Part of the reason for this is that I have a very strong need for a safe space that I can retreat to, that is mine and only mine. Even within my own home I need this. As such, I have my bedroom, and even Nee does not enter it without my explicit permission.

Now let’s talk about communication. In the poly world, there is a social norm of communicating all thoughts, feelings, desires, etc to the Nth degree. There is an expectation that things will be brought up immediately and processed via conversation. While I am poly in that I desire and multiple intimate relationships, this is a part of the overall poly culture that I fit in with very poorly.

In a recent post on my blog entitled “Disconnect and Effort” I speak some of my difficulty in having conversations.

“Simple” things like conversation also take intense effort. I constantly run things through in my head, trying to detect codes or metaphors, decode those codes or metaphors, figure out replies, and how to take the concept of the reply and turn it into words, and how to arrange those words so that they make sense, and how to arrange my facial expression in an appropriate way, and I have to do it all fast enough that the conversation seems normal to them. It’s HARD. Even when I can manage it, it is exhausting and sometimes downright painful.

Doing my emotional processing in the context of a conversation has always been disastrous. I simply cannot do it. Instead, I must defy the polyamorous social norms and do my processing internally, quietly, away from other people. I also must take time to do it – days or weeks or even months is my normal. It is only after I fully process that I can go ahead and talk about whatever it is that needed processing.

Sometimes people get upset with me under the idea that I kept things from them. The fact is, though, that when an issue is complex or difficult, I am often entirely unable to voice it until after I work through it for a while. Moving thoughts from their typical abstract form into a word-form can always be tricky, and in some situations it can take a good long time.

I also want to talk about the rest of the world a little bit. Now, it is very normal for your typical monogamous person to be very confused about polyamory, and I’m sure all polyamorous people have gotten icky comments from people who definitely Do Not Get It (several of which can be seen on this polyamory bingo card). Being both poly and autistic, with all the associated difficulty in developing any relationships at all, can get me my own kind of comments, on top of all the usual ones.

When people find out that I am both poly and autistic, particularly when they find out that I deeply struggle to form relationships, they tend to inform me that I should just be happy that I even managed one relationship because even that is more than many autistic people manage to do. They basically tell me that because I am autistic, I should not be poly. When they do, it tends to seem like they are simply telling me to know my place. That my place as an autistic person bars me from more involved forms of relating, and I shouldn’t even try. This is so hurtful, but I have yet to find any neurotypical spaces where I can be safe from this kind of commentary. Any time I out myself as both poly and autistic, this is the sort of comment I fear.

Returning to poly social norms, there is also the issue of poly social spaces. I used to try to be active in poly communities, both online and IRL. What I found was a community that was extremely unwelcoming, and at times outright hostile, to mental illness and neurological differences. The general concept that people like me should know our place existed there too, with the idea that people who struggle with mental issues just shouldn’t be poly. With so much speaking out in favor of getting away from monogamous norms and getting off the relationship escalator and whatnot, I was sometimes shocked at their narrow acceptance of neurology. I often felt hurt at things I saw and how some individuals treated me and the overall attitudes I saw towards neurodiversity, and eventually I just gave up. I no longer go into poly spaces, as they are decidedly unsafe for me. (of course, there is also the point that the poly community often has issues with otherness in general, being largely white, middle aged, middle class, and abled, but that is getting outside the scope of this post)

I know that autism makes things about being polyamorous more difficult for me. Sometimes in inherent ways (like communication and connection) and sometimes in social ways (the ways people treat this intersection). The fact of the matter is that intimate relationships are important to me. Real, deep, human connection, however difficult it is for me to form, is important to me. I am poly because it is the best description for how I approach love and relationships.

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Why are scripts so bad?

Ok first, let’s talk terms. In the autism world “scripting” generally refers to the practice of taking chunks of dialogue from places like tv shows or movies, and replaying them out (often over and over and over again) in real life. Sometimes it involves wanting other people to play a role in the script, to make a dialogue.

Frequently when I see people (particularly therapist types) talking about scripts, it is in terms of how you shouldn’t engage, shouldn’t participate, because that just encourages the behavior. Which, of course, carries the implicit assumption that there is something wrong with the behavior and we should ignore it until it goes away.

To which I ask – WHY??? What is so awful about scripts that we should just ignore them, regardless of the reason a person may be engaging in them, regardless of what may be communicated by them? It is because it looks autistic and we gotta look normal? Is it because neurotypicals get exasperated by lots of repetition? Seriously, what?

Luckily, there are also lots of people out there explaining about how scripts are communication. When we can’t put together words on our own, scripts provide words that are already put together. Now, I was not a scripter in that way, so I do not feel qualified to explain extensively about how scripting is communication. Instead, I will refer you to other sources who have explained it all excellently.

https://adiaryofamom.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/she-gets-it/
http://emmashopebook.com/2014/10/09/scripts-a-communication-bridge/
http://www.thinkingautismguide.com/2012/03/scripted-language-and-authenticity.html

That said, I AM someone who was verbally precocious (I started speaking at 6 months) but who also finds that the connections between words, sentences, and conversations to be tenuous at best.

See, I like words. Words are pretty cool. I knew words at a *very* young age. Go me. However, putting words together into sentences is challenging. My mom, well before we figured out what was going on with me, would sometimes tell me about how, as an infant, I would “practice” talking. My mom and I would also practice conversations before I could talk. She would say something, I would babble, she would reply as though I had said something that made sense, I would babble more, and so on and so forth. I practiced a lot.

Now let’s talk about when I was older. I can remember as a child, needing to spend time before I was going to talk to someone making sentences. I needed to figure out what I was going to say and how I was going to say it, because figuring that stuff out on the fly is incredibly hard. I also tried to predict what they would say in reply and formulate my responses ahead of time, so that I could do the conversation thing. That one tended to not go very well because people did not follow my scripts, and then I would flounder around trying to think of what I want to say, why I want to say it, how I should say it as fast as possible, all while they looked at me funny for taking so long. If I explained that it was because they didn’t follow the script, they would laugh at me for trying to script out my conversations. You’re just supposed to “go with the flow” don’t ya know.

As I’m sure I’ve expressed before, it still can take me a long time (up to months, sometimes) to put together my words into a way that conveys what I want it to convey. I have to think really hard about what I want to say, why I want to say it, what words to use and what order to put them in. And then if someone asks a question I’m not prepared for or responds in a surprising way? I have to do it all over again, and it takes time.

Most people don’t want to give that time. ESPECIALLY to someone who can pass for normal on the surface. What I do now is usually stumble around with a few of my rote responses, trying to pick one that sort of applies to the conversation so that they’ll stop looking at me expectantly and I can work through my words later.

This is not actually a fabulous solution. My rote responses are limited and people can usually tell that there is something a little … off … about my reply to them. It can also mean that I sometimes unintentionally give people the wrong impression about what I actually think or feel, which can make things really awkward later. Then, when I do finally have my words, they’ll be all “but we had that conversation days/weeks/months ago! And you said [something else]! Why are you only now telling me this, and why did you not tell me then?” And trying to explain all this, about how long it takes me to find words, about how much I think through before I can put my words together, is not an easy thing to do. I have not found many people want to listen, or understand at all. I’m “high functioning” so people can get really surprised when they learn I have very real challenges. Sometimes they get angry. People are strange.

I’m trying to find a better solution, but it’s tricky. Sometimes, when I think I won’t need more than a few minutes, I’ll just say “processing.” I got that one from Data on Star Trek:TNG. But when I need more time then that I just don’t know. (any ideas? I could use them)

So getting back to what started all this exploration – let’s imagine someone who has much more trouble that I do with making sentences. Who *really* struggles to make sentences fast enough to have conversations, or maybe just can’t make sentences that fast. Scripts provide pre-made sentences and conversations that make communication possible. *Talking* communication, which so many people value so highly.

It does not make sense to me to insist on talking, on sentences and conversation, and then reject an incredibly useful tool for having those sentences and conversations. If you want conversations, maybe let us have our stepping stones. You are asking something very challenging of us; yeah, it’s cool to be able to converse, but I can’t do it as easily as you do.
So I gotta ask – what is so bad about scripts? I just don’t see it.

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Communication and Comprehension

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.   -Albert Einstein

The above is a quote commonly attributed to Einstein. Like many quotations, it’s challenging to find a primary source to reference. However, I’m really more interested in the line itself, the fact that many people seem to respect it, and the underlying assumptions that go along with it. A friend of mine recently mentioned the quote to me; it got some part of my brain bubbling over it, and eventually I realized that I was having thoughts and feels about it. So, of course, I share those thoughts with you now. I’m a blogger, what else would I do?

First of all, it bugs me. It took me a while to process and figure out why it bugged me, but bug me it did. Eventually, though, I realized something. This quote is based on the idea that there is a direct correlation between one’s ability to communicate, and one’s ability to think or understand.

Oh dear.

I’m going to start with words. While the attitude is slowly changing in some corners, there is still a strong idea that words are required in order to think – and, by extension, to understand. It’s an assumption perpetuated by word-thinkers (who happen to be fairly dominant in society), who have apparently decided that since they think in words, everyone must think in words. And since they cannot envision a method of thinking that does not involve words, clearly all thoughts are word-thoughts.

So if we extend it just a bit more, maybe the idea is that if we have a thought, and it is in the form of words because all thoughts are words, then all that is required to communicate that thought is to simply say those words. For all I know, this method works really well for people who think primarily (or exclusively) in words. Since I only occasionally think in words, I wouldn’t know.

When the idea for this blog topic bubbled out of the recesses of my brainspace, I tried to share it with Nee. I didn’t have anything to write it down with at the time and I didn’t want to forget, so I was hoping getting it into two brains would make it easier to remember. The idea seemed pretty clear in my head. I had a pretty good idea of what I believed, what I wanted to say, and a rough outline of how I wanted to say it. Actually verbalizing it, though, was rough. Like whoa. I stumbled over my words, had lots of partial sentences, and was having a really hard time getting the concept out in a word way. Why? Because the thoughts were not in word form in my head. I was needing to translate them from their conceptual form into talking form, and quite frankly, I’m not very good at that. This occurred only a few hours ago (from the time of writing this) so I don’t think it’s that I didn’t really understand it before and just had a lot of time to clarify the thought. It’s that the thought was not in word form, so saying it out loud was not working very well. Also, my brain has trouble with that sometimes.

Now, for me this is only an inconvenience. I write fairly easily, and given time I can usually work out words in talking form too. However, not everyone is verbal. Not everyone can speak, and not everyone can communicate in words at all. If we assume that thoughts must be in the form of words, and if we are faced with a person who has no words, then the only logical conclusion is that they also have no thoughts.

That is a terrible conclusion.

Those who speak already have significant privilege over those who do not speak. Our response to that privilege should not be turning it into a way to deny the intelligence of those who do not speak or do not have words. Happily, there is more and more attention being paid to examples of people who did not have words for some portion of their lives, eventually found words, and have then been able to tell the world that yes, thoughts existed before words. A particularly famous example is Temple Grandin, and her explanation of how she thinks in pictures. More and more people are speaking out about having thoughts that are not in the form of words. Just because I sometimes have difficulty translating my thoughts into words, that does not mean those thoughts are any less real than someone else’s word-thoughts.

Speaking of which, this is not just about words. This is about communication, and means of communication, and the fact that some of us have limited communication. Not everyone on the autism spectrum speaks. Not everyone on the autism spectrum types. Some people can only communicate via picture boards or electronic devices that help to communicate basic needs and such things. Sometimes a person’s ability to communicate is very limited, for instance, a person who communicates with a picture board would probably be unable to communicate some types of thoughts and concepts. Assuming that a person’s ability to communicate directly reflects their ability to understand an idea or a concept is to say that these people never have thoughts beyond “I’m hungry” or “I need to use the bathroom” or whatever is possible using whatever communication devices that have been provided. This is not an ok thing to assume. Frequently, it is not an accurate thing to assume. This is why we push to presume confidence. This is (one of the reasons) why I talk about how what you see on the outside does not necessarily reflect what is happening on the inside.

These assumptions are harmful. Casually tossing around such quotes as though the reflect some constant truth is harmful. Intended or not, it’s ablist. I want to see people approach these assumptions more thoughtfully, with more care about what’s implied, and the impact it might have on people who have more severe disabilities.

Because thoughts are not always words. And our ability to communicate our thoughts does not necessarily reflect on our level of comprehension.

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Navigating sex and relationships

Navigation like whoa!

After I wrote my post about finding boundaries, I thought I’d take a stab at writing about navigating sexual and/or romantic boundaries. I don’t really have any big, magical answers here, but I do have my own opinions (being that I am, in fact, somewhat opinionated).

As I peruse the internet I occasionally stumble across articles purporting to give “universal” rules or “unspoken” rules about how relationships work. I have a distinct tendency to disagree with a significant portion of those lists. I thought about grabbing one (or a few) and deconstructing them, but then I thought that maybe that wasn’t the best approach. It’s one thing to say “I disagree with that rule, don’t do that” and yet another thing to say what I do think would be good. So instead I figured I’d take a stab at making my own list. Though I think I’m going to call them “suggestions” rather than rules, because it’s hard to come up with hard and fast rules for all situations. Also, please note – I wrote this specifically with people on the spectrum or those in relationships with people on the spectrum in mind. That said, I think these have some general worth for everyone as well.

1. Practice active consent.
When it comes to sex, much of the general population seems to use an implicit consent model, where you carefully (or sometimes not so carefully) move forward until someone says no. (and if you don’t stop when someone says no, or otherwise indicates a negative, that is something else entirely) However, I prefer an active consent model, where you get a “yes” FIRST, and then move into whatever it is you’re going to do. No ambiguity. I especially find this important in the early days of sexual relationships. As people get to know each other and learn each other’s dances, it is certainly acceptable to mutually decide to go with a different consent model. But at first? I STRONGLY recommend active consent. Also, The Pervocracy has written about active consent far more eloquently than I did here. It’s good stuff.

2. Be aware of what you need/want.
This seems like it would be obvious, but it’s actually not always an easy thing to do, and not everyone has it down. Also good is if you don’t know what you need or want, try to be aware of that too. This involves introspection and being willing and able to take a good, hard look at oneself. I will admit, I am a very introspective person just in general and I am often befuddled when I encounter people who are not. So there is a lot of bias in this suggestion, but I do think it’s very important, as it is a prerequisite for the next suggestion.

3. Ask for what you need/want.
No one is psychic. Your partner is going to have a hard time figuring out what you need if you can’t or won’t voice it, and this ranges from sex to forms of affection to how you want to structure your relationship. All too often I see people wanting someone from their partner that they aren’t getting (like maybe they view cuddle time as affection, and feel like they aren’t getting enough of that), but refusing to actually ask for it. Instead they say things like “well if they really cared, they would do it anyway!” No. It does not work that way. Maybe they are expressing affection in a different way and simply do not know that you need or want something different. Maybe they would be happy to cuddle more if you just let them know. It is not less “real” because you asked for it.

4. Ask your partner what they need/want.
Yes, there is a bit of a theme here in these suggestions. ^_^ Along with recognizing that your partner is not psychic, also recognize that you are not psychic. Be willing to just ask them what they are needing or wanting, and make a point to do so. This is always important and sometimes I still ask Nee 8 years into our relationship, but once again, it is especially important early on when the people involved are still learning to navigate each other. Just ask. Additionally – you might be worried that these sorts of conversations will be awkward. I can very nearly guarantee you – at least occasionally, they will be. That’s ok. Be awkward together! You’ll get through it, and sharing these sorts of things is worth it.

5. Be honest.
Seriously. I think this is important in general, but is especially important for people on the spectrum or people involved with those on the spectrum. I’m not meaning this simply as “don’t lie.” I crave honest, direct communication. No hints, no needing to interpret what you say, nothing like that. I also prefer to do my own communicating that way, and I get frustrated in situations when I have to change what I say to allow other people to re-interpret my words into what I mean. It’s obnoxious. Can we please just make a point to be straightforward, especially when it comes to things that are already as complicated as sex and relationships?

6. Assume your partner is being honest too.
It’s always possible that they aren’t. Maybe they’re lying, maybe they’re leaving something out, maybe they’re being passive aggressive. However, I have always had the most success when I simply assume honesty and go from there. It is my responsibility to be honest about my needs and desires and whatever else, and is is their responsibility to be honest as well. Let’s assume we’re all adults and can act as such.

7. Don’t be accusatory.
I specifically mean this one in the context of a problem or disagreement happening. It’s easy, oh so very easy, to leap into accusations. Internally, at least, I know that’s often the first place I go. I see things from my own perspective, and it’s easy to read malevolence into someone else’s actions. Which is why I like to sit on things for a while first, think them through, until I can talk about them without those accusations. What I tend to find out is that usually the problem with a misunderstanding or a difference in perspective. Yeah, sometimes people are just assholes. But don’t assume that first, because if you’re wrong you might be the one who behaved like a butt.

8. Don’t share everything.
I don’t actually just mean this about objects and possessions, though it applies there too. I mean in terms of hobbies, activities, friendships, etc. Having some shared interests or hobbies or mutual friends can be fabulous, but they really do not all need to be shared. It is valuable to pursue your own interests and hobbies, regardless of if they are things your partner is interested in as well. Nee takes an interest in my hobbies simply because I do them, but there are plenty that he has no desire to do himself. The same goes for me and his hobbies. I support what he does, but I often have no desire to pick them up myself. This is healthy.

Overall, in general, and applying to most (if not all) of these points? Don’t do things simply because “that’s how it’s done.” It is very easy to do things just because it seems that’s how it’s done, and it can be surprisingly tricky to really look at that and decide for oneself if that’s the best idea for you or for your relationship. Nonetheless, it can be most valuable to put the work into doing so anyway. My relationship with Nee is, in a lot of ways, quite non-standard. It wouldn’t work for everyone, but it works for us. Figure out what works for you, even if it means your relationship does not look the way society tells us relationships should look. If everyone involved is happy and satisfied and enjoying the relationship, then you’re good.

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Social Rituals

Taking a break from all that stuff about labels (for now.  mwahaha).  I’ve had part of my brain mulling over social rituals for a while now, and as they recently came up in a conversation with a friend, I figured now is as good a time as any to write about them.

Social rituals have a long history of baffling and/or offending me.  My current favorite example is the “hi, how are you?” ritual.  It used to REALLY bother me.  A person comes along and asks me how I am without actually meaning it, and I am socially obligated to say that I’m fine regardless of how I’m actually doing, and then return the question knowing that I won’t get an honest reply.  It tapped right into my “why is lying considered polite?” confusion (of which I still have many examples, but that’s a post for another time).  The ritual wasn’t just confusing to me, it was downright offensive.

Then I happened upon an explanation for the ritual, and rather suddenly it stopped bothering me altogether.  See, it isn’t just meaningless social noise as I once thought.  It’s a ritual that carries a meaning other than the literal words.

So the words go kind of like this:

Them: Hi, how are you?

Me: I’m fine, thanks, how are you?

Them: I am fine as well.

But the actually meaning of the words is more like this:

Them: Hi, I acknowledge you as a person.

Me: Why thank you, I acknowledge you as a person as well.

Them: Thank you.

Presto chango!  Meaningless social noise has turned into a ritual of courtesy and connection between two people who are likely otherwise fairly unconnected.

I can view shaking hands the same way.  It isn’t simply the neurotic need of people to grab ahold of me (ok, it is still that, but importantly, it’s MORE than that).  It’s a way to create a sense of connection between two people, to help the people to relax a bit around each other and smooth further interaction.  It’s important for me to remember that most people out there are not so bothered by strangers touching them as I am, and touch helps many people feel a minor sense of connection with whoever it is they touched/were touched by.  This one is not as easy for me to participate in since it requires that I either be ok with touching strangers or simply grit my teeth and get through it, but at the very least I don’t find it particularly offensive at this point.  I understand why people do it and why they want me to do it.

I have, at this point, decided that when I see social gestures or rituals that seem to have no meaning, I will assume that there is a meaning and it just isn’t immediately obvious to me.  It may not even wind up having a meaning for me, but that doesn’t mean it has no meaning for the people who use it.

For instance – a while back on the wrongplanet forums I saw someone asking about why some subgroup of the population (usually girls) interacts with each other the way they do.  Specifically, lots of fast-paced chatter, talking over each other, with a noticeable lack of actual information being exchanged.  The general attitude of those in the thread was condescension and derision for that particular mode of conversation, with several people decrying it as totally meaningless.  Now, it’s true that interacting in such a way would be meaningless *for me.*  I would find it stressful and un-fun, so I don’t socialize that way.  However, I prefer to assume that it does have some sort of meaning for the people who do socialize that way.  Even if absolutely nothing else, it seems quite likely that it serves that purpose that so many rituals do – creating a sense of connection between the people participating.

Thus far it’s actually been really helpful to me to view various kinds of social interaction as rituals.  While it doesn’t explain everything, it does take me a lot further than I was before, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who may be confused or offended by the strange social rituals and accompanying obligations that are in the world at large.

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behavior is communication

I used the phrase “behavior is communication” in my last post, and since then I’ve been thinking about it.  It’s a phrase I see rather often in blogs and articles talking about autism, and I am realizing that I find it rather dismaying.  Not the message itself – that is fabulous.  No, I am dismayed that the message needs to be sent in the first place.  That people need to be reminded of this fact.  Of COURSE behavior is communication!

People really like to parrot around that blah-de-blah percent of communication is via body language.  What does that mean?  It means that behavior communicates more than words.  I talked about my horseback riding, and how my behavior is communication with the horse.  Anyone who rides horses knows that behavior is communication.  When I train my cats, I train via my own behavior far more than I train via words.  In fact, any words I use to train them, I first have to train them to respond to in the first place.  Anyone who trains animals knows that a) you communicate best by your behavior and b) they communicate right back with their behavior.  I’m sure I could come up with plenty more examples, but I’m writing this a bit off the cuff.

In any case, there is really no good reason for a person to not realize that behavior is communication.  So why is it that this lesson seems to get lost when it comes to those with autism (and possibly other developmental disabilities)?  Is it because the behavior cannot be easily understood immediately?  People with ASD think and feel differently from most people, so often our reactions are confusing to others.  Yet anyone with a pet often encounters the same thing.

I am happy to join the “behavior is communication” chorus in my little corner of the world.  While I do it, though, I will keep circling back to wondering why it is necessary in the first place.  I find it very sad.

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quiet hands

So there’s this blog post I read about quiet hands and abuse.  It’s a really good read and I think it makes really good points.  I am also finding myself all sorts of conflicted about the whole concept.

I mean, in general I totally agree with the point of the post.  And what the author went through as a child is absolutely awful, and I cannot even imagine why anyone would do things like that.  This idea people seem to have that stimming is wrong is very upsetting to me, and I wish people wouldn’t be so afraid of a little repetitive movement.  I feel very sad that the author of that post went through what she did, and I wish the world weren’t like that.

On the other hand, well, I do horseback riding.  I am in a theraputic riding program, and I am pretty sure that I am not the only person there on the autism spectrum.  Sometimes, when there, I hear my teacher say to a student, “quiet hands” or “quiet feet.”  If I were to only go by that blog, that would be a horrible thing for her to say.  Now, I don’t know about what the context is beyond horseback riding.  I don’t know if the people in their life are trying to make it so that they don’t stim, or if this is isolated to riding.  I do, however, know about the riding context.  And in riding, quiet hands and quiet feet are actually really freaking important.

Why is that?  Well, as the blog said, because behavior is communication.  In this case, communication with the horse.  When I ride, I only sometimes talk to the horse with my voice.  Mostly I talk with my hands and my feet and my knees and my thighs and my hips and my torso and my head and… everything, really.  I would never have gotten as far as I have in riding if I weren’t able to have quiet hands and quiet feet.  So if an autistic person gets on a horse, and honestly really enjoys riding, is it still wrong to say “quiet hands”?  Personally, I don’t think so.

I think it’s a context thing.  In most contexts, no one is hurt by someone flapping or exploring the texture of a wall or whatever.  In most contexts, if someone is made uncomfortable by that, that is their problem and no one else’s.  But in some contexts, it matters in a really direct way.  I guess I just think that there has to be some way to find middle ground.

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