Finger Flicking and Humming: The Language of Autism

BrainThere is an absolutely amazing article in this month’s issue of Wired magazine by David Wolman, entitled “Yeah, I’m Autistic: You got a problem with that? Online, the article is called “The Truth About Autism: Scientists Reconsider What They Think They Know.” Now, it gets hard to find a topic more polarizing than autism in the first place. What kind of therapy is best? Is it caused by vaccines? Will an anti-gluten diet reduce or eliminate symptoms? Is there any magic bullet that will cure it? So I admit, it was a little jarring to come across an article describing a school of thought that autism is a difference, not a disability — much like the argument utilized by many in the deaf community that being deaf is merely a trait, no more a disability than having freckles or being nearsighted.

The article is well-written, thought-provoking and thorough. It cites research that concludes that using an IQ test called “Raven’s Progressive Matrices,” children with autism can score up to 30 points higher on the Raven than on the more language-dependent Wechsler Intelligence Scale. The article also touches on the probable reaction of many families of children with autism: that regardless of an IQ score, the ability to function in day-to-day activities, like dressing yourself or planning your meals, is also important – in fact, so important that an individual’s inability to perform them bespeaks of a disability, not a simple difference.

But the jaw-dropping aspect of the article is the YouTube video it references by an autism activist for the “difference model,” who has autism herself and is non-verbal. Her name is Amanda Baggs, and in the first several minutes of her video, she catalogs some of her own behaviors stereotypic of autism: hand flapping, humming, paper flicking. She then goes on to interpret some of these behaviors, using an augmentative communication device that speaks what she types. She describes these behaviors as being in a constant conversation with every aspect of her environment. Boy, can this woman write. She states:

Ironically, the way that I move when responding to everything around me is described as “being in a world of my own.”

This video is an absolute must-see for anyone who knows someone affected by autism. Whether or not you subscribe to the “difference” model or believe autism to be a disability, it’s eye-opening to see the complexity of thought that may be running around but not communicated via traditional verbal models.

Please, send me your comments about this article and video.

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2 Responses to “Finger Flicking and Humming: The Language of Autism”

  1. David Wolman Says:

    Thanks for kudos. And I’m thrilled to see that people are reading and reacting to this story. Toddie: Keep up the good work and insightful commentary.


  2. Christine Green Says:

    I have been working on the creation of a (not) surprizingly related piece. This connection with one’s environment being one of greater than Being than not. Literally. I am one who has lived a normal life until 3 years ago when I chose to reprogram my way. One for more ‘in here’. One of less ‘out there’. With the result way of Being including me having developed a natural physical instinct to flick, flap, and hum. My experience being one of being more connected with the present moment. With those around me being in constant contact with some other moment. Something being from the past or the furture. At all times.
    I am very excited to see where my continued pursuit of connection takes me. Possibly even more deeply into what is labeled as Autism. What I believe to be Present.

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