Trigger warning: Discussion of ABA, quiet hands, whole body listening, etc.
I’m going to ask you to do something for a minute. Stop moving. Don’t scratch that itch in your left ear. Don’t shift your weight. Don’t frown with concentration. Don’t blink too much. Don’t yawn. Don’t stretch. Don’t fidget.
Don’t have a loud body.
Watch the clock. Has a minute passed yet?
Okay. Sticker. That wasn’t so hard, was it? Again. Two minutes this time. We need to be table-ready before anything else.
Oh, you moved. Quiet body. Sit still, don’t do anything. Two minutes.
Feel how you’re aware of how much you normally want to move. Feel frustration because you know you’re not allowed to.
Don’t frown. Happy face means happy days. Quiet body. Still. Two minutes.
Notice how it feels like you’re being set up to fail. Who doesn’t move at all?
Think about how much concentration this takes.
Okay, sticker. Good job!
Now, I want you to read the rest of this post with a quiet body and face. You can’t learn if you’re fidgeting, after all. No, look at me, look at the words. Quiet face, you need to show whole body listening, remember? Don’t glance away. Not even if you hear a weird sound. Quiet face, quiet hands, quiet body. Whole body listening. Look at me! Sticker, good job.
No, look at me. Don’t look away when I’m talking. I’m not done yet. Look at me. Sticker.
It’s hard, isn’t it? Do you feel how your whole body is rebelling? You know how you listen best. But I won’t listen. Because I want quiet hands, quiet face, whole body listening more than I want listening. Concentrate on it. I won’t stop and prolong things by bothering you about it if you do it right the whole time. If I know that you can’t both concentrate on my words and on whole body listening at the same time, I don’t care.
Now, I’m going to ask you to do some things. They will seem pointless to you. They’re not pointless, but the lesson they teach is not one you’re supposed to be aware of learning. Touch your nose. No, quiet hands. Touch nose. Quiet face. Touch nose. Sticker!
Five stickers, you’ve earned a break! Here, have a quarter of a cookie. No, you don’t get the whole cookie, you have to earn that. Anything you like, you have to earn. Imagine playing your favorite game in two-minute increments, interrupted with doing what I want. You don’t get enough time to do anything in the game. That’s earning!
Quiet face, whole body listening. Look at me. Sticker.
Are you frustrated that you don’t get to finish anything? Are you angry? Quiet face. Are you?
Feel the frustration of never getting to finish anything. Of never being able to just enjoy. Everything has strings. Everything is conditional. Even your body isn’t yours – if you protest or just refuse to do something, I’ll make you. If I’m not big enough to make you, I’ll get a bunch of my friends together and we’ll hold you down until you give up, so you understand that we can make you do anything we want to.
Imagine you go home, and it’s the same. Quiet hands, quiet face, always being tested, always watched. Isn’t it insulting?
Imagine your siblings don’t have to have quiet hands and quiet face and whole body listening. They can fidget and have attitudes and protest and look away and talk back and even outright ignore. Imagine it’s just you that’s expected to do those things. It’s just you that has to be managed all the time. Isn’t it unfair? When others tell you it’s not unfair, does it feel like everything you do, everything you are, is wrong?
Imagine people you care about, who you depend on, make snide comments about you. Not just condescending fake-enthusiastic baby-talk like I’ve done so far. Imagine it’s outright insulting. You can pick up on the insult but not on how. You get frustrated and angry. Your parent tsks and sighs and rolls their eyes.
You get angry. But you’re not allowed to show it. Quiet face, remember? Smile for me! Smile! Good, that’s a nice smile! Sticker.
Everyone else is allowed to fidget and move. Not you.
Everyone else is allowed to get so happy they can’t contain it. Not you.
Everyone else is allowed to relax. Not you.
Look at me!
Everyone else is allowed to have fun own their own time frame. Not you. Your fun is rationed and controlled and earned in bite-size pieces that can’t be enjoyed because they’re only part of a whole that can’t be reassembled.
Everyone else is allowed to get bored. Not you.
Whole body listening, remember?
Everyone else is allowed to get upset. Not you.
Everyone else is allowed to get frustrated. Not you.
Everyone else is allowed to get angry. Not you. Your anger is wrong always, no matter the cause. It’s because you’re autistic that you’re angry, and you have to be trained out of it. Not because any reasonable 15-year-old would object to being treated with condescension and having literally everything in their life, down to when and how long they can play video games for, micromanaged.
Bottle it up. Repress. Don’t feel.
Don’t be happy, it makes you bounce and move. Quiet body.
Don’t be sad, it makes your face screw up. Quiet face.
Don’t get bored, you look away. Look at me!
Don’t get anxious, it makes you wring your hands. Quiet hands.
Don’t like things, they’ll use it against you. You have to earn it.
Don’t protest anything, no matter how unfair. It will be used to punish. You’re losing tokens.
Don’t feel. Don’t think. Don’t move.
Don’t be you.
How long could you live like that before you exploded?
Walk in Issy’s shoes.