I have a habit of trying to stop her. I shush her noises when they’re too loud. I put my hand on top of her furiously flapping one. I tell her to calm down when she is jumping up and down and laughing at what seems like nothing. I need to stop living so fearfully and start living fearlessly. I need to respect the stim. I need to accept that stimming is a part of autism and autism is a part of her. I need to respect and accept my daughter fully.
Stimming is short for self-stimulatory behavior and it is any behavior that helps alleviate stress and anxiety. For people who are not on the spectrum, stimming boils down to nervous habits like biting nails, bouncing a knee while sitting, or twirling hair. Many people on the spectrum jump, flap, or script conversations they have heard. Biting nails, bouncing our knees, or twirling hair are acceptable behaviors while out in public. However, jumping, flapping, and scripting are looked upon as weird. People have a tendency to stare at Debbie or give her a cursory glance and then look quickly in another direction. I have a tendency to care too much about what other people think.
I realized I had an issue this past Passover. While we were reading the story of Moses leading the slaves out of Egypt, Debbie was smiling, giggling occasionally, and flapping fearlessly. Every single time she flapped I gently pushed her hand down and every time she giggled I quietly shushed her. Why? Why was I trying to force my “square peg” into the “round hole” of proper etiquette? Why am I fighting a battle that I know ultimately is an uphill one? I’m not going to stop Debbie from flapping any more than she is going to stop me from picking at my nails!
It didn’t really dawn on me what I was doing until I read another blog and the words that really stuck with me were, “Respect the stim.” Respect the stim? Yeah! Respect the stim! Stop trying to squash Debbie’s unique expression of joy and excitement. Stop preventing Debbie from being Debbie. Stop living fearfully and start living fearlessly. I took the bull by the horns and tried it.
A few weeks ago we went to Hershey Park for Debbie’s birthday. I made a conscientious decision to allow Debbie to express herself fully – jumping, flapping, scripting and all. We had a great time. We went on both old and new rides. We ate lousy expensive food and we waited in long lines. Inevitably the staring happened as we were waiting our turn to get on the Wild Cat coaster. We ended up behind a family of four – Dad, Mom, two daughters. Joey and Vince were behind Mom and Dad. Debbie and I were behind the two girls. Debbie started jumping and giggling. She was really excited to get on this ride. The girls looked at me. They looked at Debbie for a really long time. Then they looked back at me. I should have leaned over. I should have asked them if they wanted to ask me anything. I should have seized the opportunity to educate two little girls. I should have lived fearlessly instead of fearfully. But I didn’t. I let my fear get in the way. I didn’t stop Debbie from stimming but I didn’t go out of my way to educate others about autism. I didn’t try to dispel any myths that day. I allowed my embarrassment of stimming get in my way. Maybe those girls were staring not because they thought Debbie was weird but maybe because they were simply curious. Would their parents have really minded if I had talked to them? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
The bottom line is I wasn’t respecting or accepting Debbie. She is entitled to expressing herself as best as she can and stimming is her method of expression. I need to get over it and not care if others think she’s being odd. I need to respect the stim, educate others and live fearlessly! She sure does!
xoxoxo ~ Julie