My kid flaps. And I don’t care.
A year ago, we were asked to fill out an M-Chat. The questionnaire is supposed to screen for autism. One of the questions asked on it is does your kid flap? I thought about it. A lot. I checked no. I wanted to check yes. I wanted the questionnaire to raise some red flags; to get Boogie noticed, to get the right people involved to solve this puzzle that was my daughter. Still, I checked no. I spent a lot of time mulling over that question. I always came back around to the same answer of no, my kid does not flap.
Then, the other day, I saw Boogie flapping. She was excited. And she was flapping. My mind flashed back to other times where Boogie was feeling BIG emotions and, in my mind, I saw her flapping. My kid flaps. I just never really noticed it before. Not because I don’t pay enough attention (in fact, some may call me a helicopter mama), but because it is such a part of her, so inherently a natural behavior for her, I never noticed it.
And that brings me to this internal debate I have with myself. Autism is still new to me, to us, to our family. We are still finding our footing, figuring out where we stand in this new world. While Boogie is still Boogie, Mr. Boogie and I have entered new territory as parents. There are different views on the subject of swimming. Quiet hands is a phrase that is common in the autism community. I love the view the linked blog post gives on it. Essentially, quiet hands (in my mind) means “stop flapping. Act normal.” In my mind, this is not okay. It’s never okay. I’ve been taught by many of my daughter’s therapists, doctors and teachers that behavior is communication. If you believe that, as I do, then why in the world would you ever want to say to your child “quiet hands”?
I don’t want to stop my kid from flapping. In fact, I don’t want to stop her from stimming at all. If licking or chewing a pacifier helps her feel calm and regulated, why would I want to stop that? If rolling across the grass or the sand at the park gives her the input she needs to withstand a few more minutes of the busy playground, who am I to say “no”? If flapping is how she lets out BIG emotion, why is that so awful?
I want Boogie to be herself. I want her to express herself however she wants. (That’s not to say all behavior is allowable; there is no hitting or kicking allowed in our home.) My internal debate is this: Boogie is smart. She’s actually too smart for her own good sometimes, and she has been known to outsmart Mr. Boogie or myself on occasion. Because she is smart, and aware of her surroundings, she knows that she is different. Even at age 3, she knows she is different. I don’t want my girl feeling alone, or feeling so different that she hurts. I don’t want the other kids to make fun of her. I don’t care what the other moms think of me; I’ve had years of worrying about others’ opinions, and I’m so over it. But what about Boogie? Do I teach her socially acceptable replacements for some of her behaviors? Do I replace that pacifier with a lollipop or a chewy necklace? Do I wait and see? Does teaching her socially acceptable behaviors for some of her stims somehow negate her feelings? Is is any different from “quiet hands”? I just don’t know. At this point, I’m making it all up as I go along. Right now, the only answer I have is that if a behavior or stim is hurting herself or others, it must be changed. Other than that, anything goes in our world.