Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Nice girls don't flap

I've written and rewritten this post half a dozen times, binning a series of ideas that just didn't click, until this Facebook conversation inspired by recent discussions of  'quiet hands'.

It's about stimming, and in particular, the push from well-meaning neurotypical folk of the therapist persuasion to prevent it.

Stimming can be stopped, sometimes, for a while, just like you can put your finger over the end of the hose and stop the flow of water.  But just like the hose will eventually explode off the tap and shoot water everywhere, the constant vigilance and concentration it takes to suppress a stim builds up like pressure until it explodes in a full-scale meltdown or breakdown.

Stimming's a release valve.  When I'm overloaded with sensory bombardment, stress, or emotions I don't know what to do with or how to process, stimming helps.  A warm shower, a cup of tea, a nice rock, and I'm ready to face to face the world again.  It's also a means of self-expression.  My 'happy' flap is different from my 'thinking' flap is different from my 'distressed' or 'overwhelmed' flap.

But stimming doesn't look 'normal', so there's a lot of pressure to not do it.  Even though it does us no harm (and I mean general, harmless stims here, not self-injurious behaviour which is a topic for another time) we're encouraged to suppress it so we can pass.

But supressing stimming and other autistic tells doesn't stop us being on the spectrum.  Learning to play the role of a neurotypical person is not the same as 'cured'.  If you read through the comments in that Facebook link, you'll find references to people being told to stop stimming and be "nice" - the implication being that stimming isn't "nice".

Nice is insipid.  Nice is bland.  Nice is homogenised and allergy-free.  Nice is pureed for ease of consumption.  Nice is the pale pastel print of a basket of flowers in a hotel room.  Nice is inoffensive, but it offends nobody because it means nothing to anybody.

We tell people to "be nice" when what we mean is "be invisible". Stop doing that thing, stop having that opinion, stop disagreeing with me, stop having needs, stop existing in a way that's different from how I exist because it's making me uncomfortable.  Be nice.

Don't be nice.

Be amazing.  Be outspoken.  Be brilliant.  Be passionate about your thing, whatever thing thing is.  Be a wonderful mixture of starstuff and spirit, an irreplaceable tangle of DNA millions of years in the brewing, available now for this life only.

Be who you are.