Photography by Matt Wyatt

I do it too

Youth who have Autism (or anyone who does for that matter) exhibit very strange behaviors.

Or do they?

When something doesn’t fit into the mainstream category of ‘normal’ we tend to label it, we tend to fear it. If you saw a person with Autism in public displaying a behavior you didn’t understand as a result of condition you’ve never heard about, it might be natural for you to have some reservations about being around that person. Well, I am here to give you some good news; there is nothing to fear!

Some of these seemingly ‘strange behaviors’ are actually easier to understand than you might think because well, you and I do them too! Now, first let me get some things out of the way. This post isn’t to make light of the complexity of Autism or the hard work of those continuously researching this condition to help us better understand how we can help those whose life’s are impacted by it. I also do not want to make light of how devastating the fear of this condition has been. Indeed, many tragic years of forward progress have been lost to the fear of Autism. Today this fear presents itself typically in more subtle ways but at the height of institutionalization, countless people were treated as anything but. Thank God these horrid places were closed allowing for momentum to swing in the direction of progress. This post is written in hopes of keeping that progress going.

One of the most commonly displayed behaviors that persons with Autism exhibit is called ‘stimming’. Stimming is the repetition of physical movements, noises or manipulation of objects. Some of the more common example include hand flapping, snapping fingers and rocking. Nobody is 100% for sure why someone with Autism engages in these types of behaviors. However, there are a few theories out there, very few of which are easy to understand. So I’m here to offer a more simple explanation. It’s not scientific at all and I’m not going to back up my idea with academic research. It’s a simple idea based off ‘a-ha’ moment I had.

Cruising into work on a beautiful blue sky day with easy and smooth flowing traffic, I found a favorite song on the radio and cranked it. It was too good of a feeling, the warmth of the sun rays, the smell of a freshly cleaned car, the feel of speed in the steering wheel, the wind hitting my hair and of course the sound waves flowing into my ears. Overwhelmed by the intake of my five senses I had to respond. I started tapping the steering wheel, bobbing my head and singing along. What I was experiencing internally could not be contained anymore, allowing itself to an external response. It clicked for me and maybe it will for you too. Think of stimming as nothing more than an external response to an internal sensory overload; a scenario we know people with Autism experience far more often than most.

It’s just an idea. But I like this idea because it narrows the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’ making it more like there’s just us. Everyone experiences sensory information (to a certain degree or another) and everyone responds to it. Our responses all look different even among those not diagnosed with Autism but we all still share a common trait; humanity. So relax, take it easy, people with Autism aren’t scary, they’re just people. And we need to be careful to label them as anything else. Labels are dangerous because when we as adults in the presence of youth give out labels such as ‘idiot’ to the driver that cuts us off or ‘stupid’ to the waitress who messes up our order then what labels are kids likely to give themselves when they make the necessary mistakes that come with learning and growing up?

So the next time you see a kid waving their hands around and you see it as random instead picture it as excitement and remember that you display the same thing when you clap your hands or throw them in the air at a concert. The next time you see a person with Autism rocking themselves see it perhaps as self-comforting, something you and I do when we have a speech to give but we’re so overwhelmed with nervousness that we can’t keep our feet still. Heck, the next time you see a person with Autism, just see them as…..

a person.


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