Wait… Flapping is Normal?

The other day my friend flapped. It was totally in public and totally natural and completely wonderful. I have no idea if she has autism. I sort of doubt it because she doesn’t seem to have any problems with socializing, but you never know.

The coolest part about this whole thing is that no one stared. At least not in a judgemental, that was weird kind of way. If anyone looked, it was simply to see why she was so excited.

And I just keep thinking, is that how it could really be?

Could flapping really be totally normal? Have I really been over thinking all this that much? Is it really that easy to just be yourself?

I don’t know. I really don’t know. But a part of me really hopes that this is not too good to be true. A part of me really hopes that I can one day get to that point. Until then, I am grateful for the hope that experiences like this give me.

For background on this post, read my latest post about flapping here.

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Allowing Myself to be Autistic

I don’t flap.

At least that’s what I’ve told myself for 20 or so years. (For those of you who don’t know what flapping is, it’s basically waving your hands quickly in up and down motions- often out of excitement and sometimes accompanied with jumping up and down.)

Until recently I believed that flapping was not normal. It simply was not something a person did if they were capable of living a normal life. Now, before you get upset or call me insensitive, try seeing it from my perspective.

The majority of my life has been dedicated to figuring out what is seen as normal so that I can blend in and maybe eventually be accepted. Anything that the majority of individuals don’t do in public is abnormal. And I try to avoid anything in that category.

So I have never flapped in public. (Public being a loose term that to me means any human being in the area or that could potentially see me.) Meaning essentially that I used to never flap because I shared a room or an apartment and there was always the possibility of someone seeing.

Well, after about 20 years, I can happily say I flap. In fact, I flap so much I almost worry that one day I’ll do it in public. But maybe by the time that happens I’ll be okay with being autistic and I won’t mind allowing myself to show that side of me to others.

Flapping

Have you ever felt so excited that it feels like a burst of energy going through your body?

This is what flapping feels like.

I feel the energy go up through my chest and then up into my head and down to my arms.

At this point, I have two choices:

  1. Let the energy stay there and dissipate.
  2. Let the energy come out by flapping, jumping up and down, and smiling like crazy.

Lately I have been choosing the second option more and more. Before this time in my life I didn’t really think I could ever flap. It happened once or twice when I was in college and was in my room alone, but before that I was never alone enough to flap. There was always someone who could potentially see and I couldn’t take that risk.

I have never flapped in front of anyone.
I have never flapped in front of friends or even my family.
No one knows I flap.

But… when I’m alone in an empty house, I can now allow myself to flap. And it feels so good. It just feels good to be completely free and completely me for a few seconds. And I’m glad that I can flap now.

Related Poem

This is my 100th post on this blog. I have been writing in this blog consistently for a little over a year now. I just wanted to thank you for joining me on this journey and being willing to listen and hopefully see things from a new perspective.

He flapped

So far I am the only one in my family and extended family that has been diagnosed with autism. We sometimes speculate if a couple other family members have autism, but nothing has ever come of that. So basically… I’m all alone when it comes to trying to figure out what autism means and how to deal with it. I know my parents tried to learn about autism when I was younger so they could help me out more, but learning about it when you have autism is completely different than learning about it when you don’t.

When you learn about autism and don’t have it, you’re seeking understanding and perspective. When you’re learning about autism and do have it, you’re seeking to understand yourself, but you’re also seeking for validation. The quest to learn about autism isn’t just for understanding- it’s to figure out if you really are as alone as you feel.

I decided to learn about autism because I wanted to be proven wrong. I wanted to learn if I really was broken or if I am just different. And the more I have learned about autism, the more I have realized that I’m not as broken as I used to think I was. I’ve learned that autism isn’t something I should be ashamed of. I’ve learned that autism makes me different- not less.

One of my biggest questions since starting this journey of learning about autism is how much of me is different because of autism. What are things that people with autism do that people without autism never do? Or is it simply that we do the same behavior only we vary on whether we do it longer or more often?

Anyway, the reason for this post is that I finally had some sort of answer to one of these questions. I have often wondered, do people without autism ever flap or ever want to flap? I still don’t know the answer to this question, but… the other day my nephew flapped.

It was only for a split second. But… he flapped…

And my heart stopped for that split second… not because I was worried that he could have autism, but because I was finally not so alone.

I don’t know what it means that he flapped. I don’t know if that means that it’s normal for little kids to flap or if that means he has a little bit of autism. But for now it just means that I’m not so broken.

Happiness released

If you saw me when I’m by myself, you would be surprised at how different I am than when I am with you.

I know this is true for lots of people, but for me it mostly applies to my autism. It is only when I am alone that I realize how naturally autistic tendencies come to me. I jump; I flap; I don’t hold myself back. I never flap when I’m around other people. My family has never even seen me do it. It feels wrong and strange to do it in front of others, but by myself it happens completely naturally. I often wonder to myself, “what is this uninhibited feeling of joy that is coming out of me?” “Why don’t I feel this when I’m around other people?”

I almost wish I could show you who I am when I’m by myself.

I wish people could see that happiness. I wish I could share that happiness with others. The problem is that other people wouldn’t understand it. Has anyone that is not autistic felt so incredibly happy for no real reason that they have to run and jump and cheer?

I wish you knew that feeling. I wish your happiness was released and I wish I could release mine around you. But for now, I’ll just release my happiness when I am alone.

A Different Outcome

As I learn more and more about autism and therapy- past and present, I’ve looked at how I grew up and how different it might have been had I been in different therapies. I was only in therapy specifically for autism once. It was play therapy and I didn’t see the point of it, so I stopped going. Other than that, my therapy consisted of the school speech therapist and the occasional psychologist.

Now when I say this I’m not saying that this is the ideal path for everyone with autism, but it worked for me. Although I think some additional therapy might have helped with certain things, I am at the age now where I can form my own therapy and work on things that I specifically need help with.

On the other hand, I look at some therapies used in the past and I am very glad that I was not involved in those therapies. I look at stories and videos of children having meltdowns and exhibiting self injurious behavior and I think that could have been me if I had been in a different situation. If people had tried to restrain me from being autistic, if people had tried to pressure me into situations I was uncomfortable with, if people had forced me into the mold they wanted to see, I think I would have had a lot more problems. I could see myself responding to those types of things with anger, aggression, meltdowns, self injury, and even hate and dissociation.

I have a very strong personality and I respond very negatively when people try to change my thought process or emotions. I need to change my own thoughts and emotions. Sometimes with help, and sometimes on my own. If someone tries to force me to change though, it usually makes my behavior worse.

I was very lucky to have grown up in a house where I was allowed to process things at my own speed and find my own way of responding to things. I was lucky to not have been put in a therapy setting where I was forced to comply to demands that I would have negatively reacted to. I was lucky to be challenged to grow within my own realm instead of being forced into a different world that I did not yet understand and pressured to grow there. I was very lucky.

I didn’t start researching autism until I became an adult and learned about autism in my college classes. I had no need to research autism before that. I had no need to understand autism. The only thing I was worried about understanding before that was myself and the world around me. And I am grateful that I didn’t worry about autism back then because it’s a lot to handle. All the information and stories and articles and studies and blogs and comments and videos are a lot to handle. Knowing you have autism is one thing, but knowing autism is something completely different.

Now that I know autism better I am so grateful that my family didn’t treat me as autistic. I am grateful that my diagnosis didn’t change my life. I am grateful that I was able to develop in the way I needed to in order to become the person I am today. And I only hope that others will be as lucky as I was.

The Act of Normal

I’ve been reading a lot of posts lately about people saying that they’ve been told that they couldn’t have autism because they seemed too normal or well-adapted. I’ve been thinking about this in regards to my life. I’ve had lots of people tell me that they never would have guessed that I have autism. My response to this is usually something along the lines of I’m glad that my act is working.

I try very hard to appear normal. I think this is partly because I want people to see that people with autism aren’t all that different from themselves and partly because I’d rather keep my autistic side hidden away in a place only I can see and experience. Autism is like my hidden secret, my hidden world. It’s like when you want to keep all the chocolates to yourself so you hide them under the bed and only savor them when you know that no one else will know about it. I love my autism and doing autistic things because it’s natural. It’s freedom. And I don’t want that freedom changed by the world so I keep it to myself.

Now this may seem somewhat contradicting, but I am actually very open about my autism. It’s hard to be on my facebook and not see that I have autism. And I’ll tell people I have autism if the topic comes up. The secret hidden things though are the actual autistic behaviors that I exhibit.

Talking about them, such as on this blog, makes them almost less real and more like abstract concepts that we try to analyze and understand. However, seeing them makes them real and tangible and they become a problem to those around me. That’s why I try so hard to make my autism as abstract and distant as possible. The more distant my autism seems, the less people see my autism as a problem and the more autistic I can actually stay.

Hiding my most autistic traits is something that comes automatically to me. No one, not even my family, has seen my hands flap. No one has seen me so uncomfortable that I want to wriggle out of my body. People have seen me twist my hands or scratch myself or shift in my chair and a couple times certain people have seen me cry, but in general people have only seen what I deemed appropriate for them to see. They’ve seen what I felt was ok for them to see based on our relationship and their therapeutic role or work position.

Even if I were to try to show my hidden autistic traits to someone, it would be impossible to do so. I literally cannot do certain things in front of people. My body just wouldn’t allow itself to. Instead, I do the socially appropriate things and deal with the uncomfortableness of holding things in until I can be alone and get things out.

When I am alone, I can be whoever I want to be without worrying about whether it is the “right” thing to do or not. By hiding my autism from those who might try to squash it, I preserve the beauty of it. I love jumping for joy when I’m alone or smiling so much that I feel like my happiness will burst out of me or flapping my arms because I’m excited or simply glorying in the textures of the world around me. I even pretend sometimes to have conversations with people that I could never have in real life. I can work out my frustrations easily because there are no pressures to work them out in the way other people want me to.

And so, the act is not only to try to reduce stereotypes, but also to preserve the beauty that I see my autism to be.

So when someone says, “you seem so normal” or “I never would have guessed” or “wow, I’m surprised”, I secretly cheer inside because my act is working.