This post was written for Autistics Speaking Day 2012. For a brief history of the event and my experience with it, please see the footnote below. It will also be published on the Autistics Speaking Day blog (link will be provided when it’s up, and hopefully they will link back to here as well. ETA: aforementioned link), and I highly encourage everyone to go read some of the other posts there. It’s an extremely powerful website and day. Since this day is very much about Autistics communicating about themselves, also want to point you to “The Third Glance” and “Words” – two essays I’ve written that really embody the spirit of this day. Thank you for reading.
They say autistics can’t communicate. They say that our communication and social skills, especially nonverbal ones, don’t exist, that we’re impaired. That we can never share our feelings nonverbally. That our ability to communicate is somewhere close to nonexistent. But that’s so far from the truth, that I don’t even know where to start. I know this year, there was some talk about changing the name of this wonderful November 1st autism holiday, from Autistics Speaking Day to Autistics Communication Day (or something similar), but I’m glad it hasn’t changed. “to speak”, at its most basic level, is to communicate. When I type, when I blog, I’m speaking. When I sign, I’m speaking. When I use my voice, I’m speaking too. And when I use my body and behavior, that too, is a way of speaking. And today, I want to share a way that I speak.
I am autistic, and I flap my hands and arms. It’s something I do.
When I’m excited, I bounce up and down, and flap fast and free, and my hands are usually up near my shoulder level, facing forward or sideways. There’s a flap for that.
When I’m startled, I usually jump and flap quickly, once or twice. My hands rarely make it to shoulder level before I clamp them back down. There’s a flap for that.
When I experience a sensory sensation that is awful for me, especially something texture based, I shake my hands palm down in front of my chest, often rubbing my fingers into my palms, bottom to top. There’s a flap for that
When I’m thinking, I rub my fingers together with my thumb, pinky to fore-finger, to fist. There’s a flap for that.
If I’m tense, or trying to regulate an ongoing sensory overload, my flapping is restricted to my hands, and is far more deliberate – open/shut/open/shut/open/shut. There’s a flap for that, too.
If you spend enough time with me, you’ll start to recognize the flaps, the rocks, the facial expressions. They might not be the same as yours, but of course, they’re not yours. They’re mine. With nearly everything I experience, just like with your smartphone, there’s probably a flap for that.
There’s an expression, to wear your emotions on your sleeves is to show your emotions outright, without hiding them. Well, my hands show my emotions. They show my immediate thoughts. Usually they’re inside my sleeves (unless I’m actively doing something with my hands), pulled inside the nice cozy fleece, to avoid being attacked by the air. This very real difference can be made into an analogy. If neurotypicals wear their emotions on their sleeves, then they look for others’ emotions on their sleeves. But the thing is, my emotions, my nonverbal communication, it isn’t on my sleeves. It’s inside them, on my hands. It’s no less valid than theirs, just different. And all you have to do is look and care, to learn my communication.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to talk. Sometimes I can’t find words or form words to say what I want to say. Sometimes my brain and body go into sensory overload, and all my processing power goes into keeping myself safe. Sometimes I’m incredibly articulate, and sometimes, when I try to talk, words and letters come out in a jumble, completely confused and lost within each other.
But I’m also a person. A valid person with thoughts and feelings. And when that is recognized and accepted by people, yep, you guessed it, there’s a flap for that too.
Happy Autistics Speaking Day, everyone. *flaps*
Today, November 1, is Autistics Speaking Day, a great “autism” holiday that was started 2 years ago in response to the “communication shutdown” that a few misplaced “activists” suggested. The idea was that people should refrain from all online communication for a day, so they could “get an idea of what it’s like to be autistic”. In response, Corina Becker and Kathryn Bjornstad sparked the first Autistics Speaking Day. Hundreds of autistic people refused to be silent that day, and to instead, use the opportunity to show the world just how wrong this assumption really was. Being silent online has nothing to do with being autistic, after all. Instead, they created Autistics Speaking Day, to share their stories and show the world that autism isn’t about not communicating. 2 years ago in 2010, on the first Autistics Speaking Day, I was just beginning to accept my place as autistic. I’d known about my official diagnosis for over a year, and I’d been “self suspected” for some time before that, too. I was just starting to discover blogs of autistic individuals, and wasn’t anywhere near ready to comment or think about them. Though a high school acquaintance posted a long facebook note about his autism (news to me but not unexpected), that was all I really knew about for the day. Last year, I was closer still to being able to speak out, but not yet ready to talk. I almost did, but I just wasn’t ready to speak up. This is my first year participating in autistics speaking day, and up until 9pm on the night before, I had started about 5 drafts of what I was going to write, but still hadn’t come up with anything. Then, lying in bed about to fall asleep, it came to me, and I had to get up and write this piece. And yes, when I make a great connection and am half asleep, but immediately find myself wide awake, brain racing, excited beyond all reasonable measure about a really great post idea, yep, you guessed it, there’s a flap for that.