I remember reading the story of the Princess and the Pea as a child and thinking, “I’d notice the pea”.
For anyone who doesn’t know the story, it’s a tale in which they proved someone was a Princess by placing a pea under a huge tower of mattresses. When the girl in question didn’t sleep a wink because of the discomfort of the pea through all those mattresses, it proved that she must be Royal. Only a true Princess would be so delicate.
Or something like that.
Being me I wanted to test that. I noticed any change in my environment, no matter how small. A tiny ball of fluff in my shoe would drive me up the wall until I could gouge it out.
Touch wasn’t just pain or annoyance though, it was pleasure too. The smoothness of a polished stone would settle my tumultuous mind.
Touching certain things grounds me and brings me peace.
Touching other things sends shocks from my fingers to my teeth and sets off reflex-hallucinations, that pour an acidic taste down my gullet.
I used to steal moments with objects when I felt stressed. Leaning against a window pane, stroking a branch as I walk past it in the pretence that I was moving it. I knew other people didn’t steal moments like this. It was a childish thing to do, to touch things before you accepted their presence. I was an adult, I put away childish things.
Which left me with the negative experiences I couldn’t avoid as the defining trait of my senses. Shuddering from patterned metal. Pained by scraping cutlery. Scratched to the bone by wool. Shoes full of boulders.
A world of constant distractions and discomforts.
I put “not being visibly different” above being comfortable.
At night I would indulge my senses like some guilty fetish. In the days of people sneaking a cigarette in the loos at work, I’d be indulging my own antisocial addiction. Taking a minute to rub scraps of fabric between my fingers.
So much acceptable behaviour is down to the branding. I’ve been told that to imagine a world where strange behaviours are acceptable, is to live in a dream world. But strange behaviours are sold to us as normal day in day out.
Wearing things that not only cause pain, but can structurally alter you permanently in painful and lifelong ways, is normal for those who subscribe to high heels.
Inhaling addictive toxins was fashionable and is slowly becoming more and more antisocial due to careful social manipulation.
To me it can seem like madness not to just confront the logic of things. If flapping your arms makes you feel better and doesn’t hurt anyone, then why should you suffer social exclusion or labelling because of it?
Sadly I don’t make the rules.
Sometimes I play the game. It does feel like a game when you’re on the outside. Over the years many normal autistic behaviours have been taken on by various fields as positive forms of expression and release. Primal screaming. Meditation by focusing on an object. Mindfulness.
Doing things that autistic people cannot help, on purpose, because those things heal.
Living in the moment, experiencing the now, focusing on your surroundings, letting emotions out; these are all autistic traits. They’re also therapeutic ones. When people are encouraged to indulge their needs and focus on the here and now and truly experience it, they tend to feel better.
NB/ That’s not to say that sensory seeking needs cannot be harmful in some forms. I do not mean to minimise the issues relating to doing things that will hurt. Where these things are needed (and they are still needs and not wants), guiding towards options that won’t cause permanent harm is a must. Making these options available too rather than shying away from discussing them, is important.
My smooth stone is not a stim toy. I’m not a child. I have put aside childish things. It is a tool for sensory mindfulness. Something anyone can access and benefit from, but that I need just that little bit more.
This Princess grew up. She accepted the peas of the world, because in return she gets the richness of the silks and the softness of the stones.
If autistic behaviours are a problem for everyone else, then let’s share them. Fancy a mindful-flap, anyone?