I read a blog post recently, that made me stop and think. Moms that have children on the spectrum, indeed, moms with children with any over abundance of awesomeness (“special need”); finds themselves asking “Am I doing the right thing?” Should I let my child do this? Is it ok if they do that? Should I always hold their hand, or can I use a leash? Do I put them in the big part of the shopping cart, or make them sit in the seat? Should I try and get them to eat that carrot, or let it go today? Do I let them Stim, or don’t I? In case you are wondering; stimming is where a person does something that stimulates them, helps them release or hold in their excess of emotion. It’s like laughing; you heard or saw something funny and you release a laugh. An example of stimming would be chewing on things, flapping their hands, spinning in circles, etc. One person who is on the ASD, said that it helps them to release their emotion, that without it, they feel like they would explode.
I do not have Autism. I do not know how someone with Autism feels when they stim. But I do know how it feels to be so overwhelmed with sadness that tears explode from my eyes. I know how it feels to be so angry that I clench my jaw to the point of causing a headache. I know how it feels to be so excited about something, that I literally jump up and down. So why are these acceptable means of expression, but hand flapping, is not? Why should my son go through therapy, to remove these “socially unacceptable” behaviors? The truth of the matter is, I don’t have to. I’m forced to make the decisions that all parents of Autistic kids make; to stim or not to stim. There are countless blogs and posts by adults with Autism that say that they stim, and even take pride in it. They say it is a beautiful release that gives them a unique charm. Other people may look at them, and laugh, look away, or ignore them. But which is more important? For the person with Autism to be accepted by society, or for them to accept themselves?
The answer may be different for different people, but for me, I think I have finally found my answer. I choose to stop his behaviors that are self injurious (the finger biting). I will not stop it by force, but I will give him other things to chew on and to stimulate him in so many other ways, that he doesn’t feel like he needs to hurt himself anymore. Will I stop the hand flapping and leg flapping? No. After careful consideration, I have decided that it is a part of who he is. Flapping his hands, makes him happy. He does it when he is so excited that he can’t keep it in anymore. He shows he loves something, when words are impossible. It’s an expression I can’t bear to take away from him, and I have no right to do it.
An ABA therapist commented on a woman’s blog. The woman had said how she loves her son’s stimming, and that she will let him do it. The ABA therapist was very nice in her response, but pointed out that one day, the mother would be gone and that it was her responsibility to make it possible for her son to survive in the world. For him to be socially accepted. But what this ABA therapist doesn’t take into consideration, is that that boy, has to live with himself first. Society may be the largest obstacle he will ever have to conquer, but he lives with himself all of the time, 24/7. Taking away his stimming, is taking away a piece of himself. The little boy had even spoke when he did it, which the mother said was a rarity. That isn’t something to be stopped, it’s something to be encouraged and cherished. If it is the gate keeper to his voice, let it shine!
Everyone has a way that they deal with day to day life; people drink wine after work, smoke, sip coffee, chew gum, pick at scabs, twirl their hair, bite their nails, chew their lips, spin their ring, check their phone, etc. Do you walk up to people and say “hey, I noticed you twirling your hair and I wanted to say I’m sorry.” Or “hey, you know it’s not socially acceptable for you to be sipping that coffee to relax.” No! You would let the person be. So why is hand flapping, or spinning in circles (two things that are completely harmless), socially unacceptable? With the way society is going, my hope is that one day, it will be seen as a wonderful thing. That everyone will embrace their own stimming, rather they have ASD or not. That time may not be now, but now is my son’s time. I have no idea how long he has on this Earth. He could die tomorrow in a horrible accident, and I would regret not watching him flap his hands in excitement, one last time. I would mourn not spinning his toys one more time, to see him kick his legs and giggle. Yes, he needs to be able to function in society, but it’s more important that he love himself and feel comfortable in his own skin. And it is MY job to make sure that happens. And so I will.
So to everyone on the outside looking in, let them be. Let them express themselves. To everyone looking out, and trying to find your way; be who you are. If I see you spinning and laughing in public, I will smile, knowing that you are saying you are happy, in the only way you know how. And if you see my Little Man flapping his hands in public, please smile, and know that something wonderful just happened.