Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Hillary, Alyssa. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Hillary, A. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Quiet Hands Response Paper

Trigger Warning: Abuse as therapy, ABA, Quiet Hands

For my literature class, I had to write a response paper on, well, pretty much any ``text." I wrote about Quiet Hands.
My response paper is the kind of cruddy hurried thing that most of my papers for English classes honestly are, but I figured I'd put it up anyways because I just haven't been writing that much. Here it is:

     Julia Bascom's ``Quiet Hands" resonated when I first read it. A friend of mine, also autistic, sent me a link to the poem. I read it. I cried. ``The literal meaning of the words is irrelevant when you're being abused. / When I was a little girl, I was autistic. And when you're autistic, it's not abuse, it's therapy" (11-12.) Of course, Julia does not agree that it's not abuse, but therapy. It's just what other people think about the therapy, where they teach her to have quiet hands, that is, to keep her hands at her sides, not to fidget, not to flap. Being able to sit still is useful, of course (and something I still can't do, partly because no one figured out that I am autistic early enough to abuse me that way,) but she doesn't think it justifies the methods they used, including that ``they held my hands down in tacky glue while I cried" (1) and ``held my hands down in textures that hurt worse than my broken wrist while I cried and begged and pleased and screamed" (5.)      Here, she is showing specific examples of why holding the hands of an autistic person down is actually a pretty horrible thing to do. Sure, they're less distracting to anyone else, but you just might be causing legitimate physical pain while you do it, and not at the level of the loud rather than hard slap that many parents still use when their child misbehaves.
     I really think that showing that point, that the quiet hands taught to autistic kids is actually abusive, is the main point of this text, though getting through her own feelings on the subject is also likely a large goal, considering that the specific examples I have cited so far really did happen to her. Even with no one having had more of a weapon against my flapping than turning a blind eye to the kids who bullied me about it, and occasionally making fun of it themselves, I know how I feel about it. (That's all they had because, technically, it's not against the rules to flap or rock unless you have an IEP or ABA plan that says you need to work on that. All my weird was chalked up to giftedness, which, while true, is not the whole picture.) I give their missing the part where I am ALSO autistic, not just smart, credit for the fact that I am still comfortable flapping when I want to. See, I'm well aware that for some, ``you might as well be flipping them off when all you're saying is this menu feels nice"(22.) I know full well that ``I need to have quiet hands" (45,) at least according to the rest of the world. Like Julia, however, who is the speaker in her own poem, I don't care. And unlike Julia, my education could only ever glance at my loud hands in passing and make a quick effort to hush them, which is nowhere near enough to convince me.
``I need to silence my most reliable way of gathering, processing, and expressing information, I need to put more effort into controlling and deadening and reducing and removing myself second-by-second than you could ever even conceive, I need to have quiet hands, because until I move 97% of the way in your direction you can’t even see that’s there’s a 3% for you to move towards me" (43.)
     That's what they are trying to convince her of, what they are trying to convince every autistic child of when they teach quiet hands, and what they would probably try to convince me of if I ever tried to get help with any of the actual problems I have. There's a reason it takes abuse to do it.
      In two places, she mentions similar treatment being given to others. One is a seven year old who had a special chair with straps to tie his hands down, which his old school distric had used. She threw the straps away. The other is a child in a supermarket, excited by one of the displays. His mother notices, and reminds him about quiet hands, looking rather embarrassed. ``I catch his eye, and I can’t do it for myself, but my hands flutter at my sides when he’s looking. (Flapping is the new terrorist-fist-bump)"(49,) is her response to this child. She sees people trying to enforce the same guidelines that were enforced on her as a child, and she fights it in the small ways she has available to her: throwing out the straps that are used for one child, flapping when another child is looking, and of course, writing this text. (Calling that last one small is debatable, however, considering that it then proceeded to go viral. Sometimes the internet can be very useful.)
``I wish everyone could look at my hands and see I need you to slow down or this is the best thing ever or can I please touch or I am so hungry I think my brain is trying to eat itself " (20.)
      Despite everything she has been told to the contrary (``Behavior isn’t communication. It’s something to be controlled"(33) and ``Flapping your hands doesn’t do anything for you, so it does nothing for me"(35,)) where she is now speaking in the voice of her therapists, behavior IS communication. She knows what her hands are saying, and her sister knows what her hands are saying, so clearly someone can read her flapping. But if they see her flapping, they do not understand. It's a language they do not speak, and it makes them feel unsafe. So they make her unsafe when she flaps. I've been there. As she found, so have the rest of us found- very few people can read flaps. There are happy flaps and frustrated flaps and flaps that mean that I'm trying to think of a word that's right on the tip of my tongue and I can't come up with it. There are flaps that mean I'm scared and that whatever it is that scared me is BAD and needs to go away. Because however verbal I might normally seem, when I'm scared, I'm not. At the end of the day, speech is not the only way to communicate. Behaviors like flapping and rocking MEAN something, and Julia knows it, just like the two other kids she referenced in the poem know it. But... ``Someone who doesn’t talk doesn’t need to be listened to" (31.) Again, she's saying that yes, she know's. She knows that's what's taught. But you can tell she doesn't agree. And neither do I.
      To some extent, writing this poem was an act of rebellion. What came after the poem went viral was an even bigger, more organized act of rebellion against a system that thinks the most important thing is to make those who are different seem normal, no matter the cost.
``Let me be extremely fucking clear: if you grab my hands, if you grab the hands of a developmentally disabled person, if you teach quiet hands, if you work on eliminating “autistic symptoms” and “self-stimulatory behaviors,” if you take away our voice, if you… " (50.)
     She is equating those actions. And she is rebelling. That's where the Loud Hands Project came from. That's what nearly everyone who argues against Applied Behavioral Analysis cites. That is as spark that set a huge part of the autistic community on fire, and that is a powerful text.



  2. The people who did it to me didn't even know this was A Thing. They just saw it was "weird" and thought it might be OCD, and didn't want to get into trouble. Fear rather than deliberate cruelty as the motivation doesn't make it better, but it did mean that an explanation helped them as well.

    ...This is eliciting a reaction that is internally complicated. I'm sorry if my response is problematic. Thank you for writing about this.

  3. I used to feel sorry for the other kids that they did this to in my class. Me, well, I was at least canny enough to resist, but the others didn't have a clue about what was going on. They just did as they were told. Whenever someone said 'quiet hands', on a good day I'd raise them above my head and do some jazz hands stuff. On a bad day, I just flipped them off. But the others, there was this one girl who used to do it a lot, and they really used to slam the hands on the table, and I can still remember the shouting and the crying when they restrained her.

  4. there is no "Then I... I... I...". If someone want's me to do something with my hands, then I'll flip them off.


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