Hand Flapping


Hand flapping is a common self-stimulatory behavior in autism. It helps them regulate their sensory input. I believe that hand flapping should not be discouraged from others just because it is considered abnormal behavior. Even though I am not diagnosed with autism, I often flap my hands when I am excited or anxious, too. The sensation that flapping makes helps me calm down, feeling more in control of myself.

This is what happened a couple days ago:

“Stop,” my mom shrieked, “don’t learn that!” I was unprepared for her reaction, confused of what she was referring to. It was when I was frozen and unable to move to process her words, that I realized I was flapping my hands. I didn’t feel especially anxious that day, but somehow I was still repetitively flapping. My dad was there, too, but he did not comment about it. Sometimes when he notices that I am flapping, he makes fun at me, calling me a paddling duck or a bird. I think he should know that I flap when I am excited or anxious, because he did read the google doc on “things that calm me”.

I’m angry and hurt by my mom for telling me to stop flapping. It’s like telling me to stop being anxious. Also, it reminds me of the time when I was repetitively making my locker squeak and I was forced to stop. Both incidents are because people don’t like the sound or sight of my self stimulation. I’m sorry that my stims annoy or offend them, but it is how I express my anxiety and they don’t see it. They can’t feel my racing heart. They can’t listen to my shallow breath. But the anxiety is real to me. And I need them to say that they understand, they get it.

Another point that frustrates me is that I didn’t ‘learn that’, I didn’t learn anxiety. I don’t want anxiety, but I have to cope with it. Telling me to not ‘learn that’ makes it seem like I am seeking attention by flapping. I agree that some part of me wants to communicate about my anxiety when my language seems not sufficient to do so. However, even if I am seeking attention, isn’t it kind of abnormal for a teenager to attract attention by flapping hands… or self-harm?

When I look back at what else can calm me down, I find that I still need flapping to stop the urge to scratch. Scratching has stopped this summer as I flap more, knowing that I can’t hide the scars wearing short sleeves. The scars haven’t completely faded yet, even the oldest marks I made on the back of my hand in January or February. I wear my jacket in the lab every day because I feel cold, or maybe my anxiety makes me feel cold. Revealing my arms would mean a good explanation verbally, and I hate lying again that I tripped when I was running. My mom bought a scar fading gel at the clinic for me, because she is worried of how my arms will look at the recital in August. I don’t put it on because of the weird oily, smooth texture and I forget all the time. I still think of scratching when I feel the same helplessness, anxiety, but I am doing my best to cope in other ways.

I don’t know how flapping my hands offends my mom, but it’s necessary for me right now.  I don’t do it consciously, definitely not telling myself – I’m going to shake my hands very quickly right now because I’m feeling anxious. It happens more naturally and subconsciously. And I’m not going to stop now…

Image link (From neurowonderful)


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