Just Stimming…

A land we can share (a place I can map)

The Obsessive Joy Of Autism

with 70 comments

I am autistic. I can talk; I talked to myself for a long time before I would talk to anyone else. My sensory system is a painful mess, my grasp on language isn’t always the best, and it takes me quite some time to process social situations. I cannot yet live on my own or manage college or relationships successfully. I can explain, bemoan, and wish away a lot of things about me and my autism: my troubles finding the right words to say what I really mean, my social processing lag and limits, my rubbery facial expressions, my anxiety, my sensory system’s dysfunctions, my brain’s tendency to get stuck in physical self-destruct mode and land me in the ER. I can complain about the suckiness of being socialized and educated as an autistic and as an outsider, about lack of supports and understanding and always needing to educate.

One of the things about autism is that a lot of things can make you terribly unhappy while barely affecting others. A lot of things are harder.

But some things? Some things are so much easier. Sometimes being autistic means that you get to be incredibly happy. And then you get to flap. You get to perseverate. You get to have just about the coolest obsessions. (Mine are: sudoku and Glee. I am not ashamed.)

Now, maybe you do not understand. Because “obsession” and even “perseveration” have specific dictionary and colloquial meanings which everyone uses and understands and which do not even come CLOSE to describing my relationship with whatever I’m obsessing on now. It’s not just that I am sitting in my room and my heart is racing and all I can think about is Glee and all I want to do is read about it and talk about it and never go to sleep because that would take time away from this and that has been my life for the past few days. It’s not just that I am doing sudokus in my head or that I find ways to talk about either numbers or Glee in any conversation, including ones about needing to give a student a sensory break so he’ll stop screaming and throwing things.

(It’s not just the association and pressure of shame, because when ever an autistic person gets autistically excited about something, there will be people there to shame and bully them, and some of us will internalize that shame and lock away our obsessions and believe the bullies and let them take away this unique, untranslatable joy and turn it into something dirty and battered.)

It’s not any of that. Those are all things neurotypicals can understand and process. This goes beyond that. It’s not anything recognized on the continuum of “normal”.

It’s that the experience is so rich. It’s textured, vibrant, and layered. It exudes joy. It is a hug machine for my brain. It makes my heart pump faster and my mouth twitch back into a smile every few minutes. I feel like I’m sparkling. Every inch of me is totally engaged in and powered up by the obsession. Things are clear.

It is beautiful. It is perfect.

I flap a lot when I think about Glee or when I finish a sudoku puzzle. I make funny little sounds. I spin. I rock. I laugh. I am happy. Being autistic, to me, means a lot of different things, but one of the best things is that I can be so happy, so enraptured about things no one else understands and so wrapped up in my own joy that, not only does it not matter that no one else shares it, but it can become contagious.

This is the part about autism I can never explain. This is the part I never want to lose. Without this part autism is not worth having.

Neurotypical people pity autistics. I pity neurotypicals. I pity anyone who cannot feel the way that flapping your hands just so amplifies everything you feel and thrusts it up into the air. I pity anyone who doesn’t understand how beautiful the multiples of seven are, anyone who doesn’t get chills when a shadow falls just so across a solitaire game spread out on the table. I pity anyone who is so restrained by what is considered acceptable happiness that they will never understand when I say that sometimes being autistic in this world means walking through a crowd of silently miserable people and holding your happiness like a secret or a baby, letting it warm you as your mind runs on the familiar tracks of an obsession and lights your way through the day.

It takes a million different forms. A boy pacing by himself, flapping and humming and laughing. An “interest” or obsessions that is “age appropriate”—or maybe one that is not. A shake of the fingers in front of the eyes, a monologue, an echolaliated phrase. All of these things autistic people are supposed to be ashamed of and stop doing? They are how we communicate our joy.

If I could change three things about how the world sees autism, they would be these. That the world would see that we feel joy—sometimes a joy so intense and private and all-encompassing that it eclipses anything the world might feel. That the world would stop punishing us for our joy, stop grabbing flapping hands and eliminating interests that are not “age-appropriate”, stop shaming and gas-lighting us into believing that we are never, and can never be, happy. And that our joy would be valued in and of itself, seen as a necessary and beautiful part of our disability, pursued, and shared.

This is about the obsessive joy of autism. So I guess, if I’m trying to explain what an obsession (and, by necessity, obsessive joy) means to me as an autistic person, I can bring it back to the tired old image of a little professor cornering an unsuspecting passerby and lecturing them for half an hour. All too often this encounter is viewed through the terrified eyes of the unwillingly captive audience. I’d like to invite you to see through the eyes of the lecturer, who is not so much determined to force their knowledge into you as they are opened to a flood of joy which they cannot contain.

And why would you want to contain something like that?

 

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Written by Julia

April 5, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Posted in autism, disability, personal

70 Responses

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  1. Thank you for this. This is the first description of what obsessions are like that I’ve ever see, and I completely agree with it. Obsessions are wonderful.

    Shwoo (@Shw00)

    October 3, 2011 at 5:35 am

  2. [...] The Obsessive Joy of Autism appears here by permission. [...]

  3. [...] She felt happy and wondered if she’d ever felt this happy before. The gold light, the falling seeds, the dancing bees … it was all one thing. This was the opposite of the dark desert. Here, light was everywhere and filled her up inside. She could feel herself here but see herself from above, twirling with a buzzing shadow that sparkled golden as the light struck the bees. Moments like this paid for it all. “This is the part about autism I can never explain. This is the part I never want to lose. Without th…“ [...]

  4. Wonderful, Really incredible. Hart moving, tears, joy.
    Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share your thoughts.

    Elaine Ossipov

    December 12, 2011 at 8:42 am

  5. [...] about my self, my privacy, or my belongings. Indeed, my distress when several things I had charished as perhaps only an Autistic can were lost in our move to Pennsylvania were added to my greed and willfulness. The only “Cardinal [...]

  6. Thank you so much for sharing all this! I am moved and inspired and feel a deep sense of shared humanity with you right now. Thanks for explaining obsessive joy and flapping. I already understood spinning and rocking and recommend it for everyone (especially children). I think vestibular stimulation is good for humans :) Hugs, Shelly

  7. Sharing your blog with my middle school students with autism if that’s ok…? Thanks!

    Cheryl Palen

    December 15, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    • Oh my god, yes, please, that is the goal! If any of them are interested in any kind of dialogue, or have any questions or anything they’d like to share, please let me know!

      Julia

      December 15, 2011 at 7:44 pm

  8. [...] The Obsessive Joy of Autism appears here by permission. [...]

  9. Hi, English is not my mother language, sorry if I´m not able to make myself clear enough….
    My daughter is 3 years old and an autism person, I do not want her to loose certain manners such her finger movements, etc,… as a matter of fact -even before reading your wonderful descripcion of obsseive joy of autism- I always have think she should be very happy with that which makes me happier too of course, but what about some other things such as: when something that at the beginning makes you happy (such playing with your hair or knocking your fronthead with mirrors) becomes a dangerous motive joy for you because the intensity is increasing day after day .Thank you and regards from Spain / Marta & Helena

    Marta Patiño

    December 24, 2011 at 6:35 am

    • I’m not the original poster, but I understand your question and as an autistic adult, I can answer. Try to encourage alternative forms of ‘stimming’. Give your daughter things that she can use to do it – like squeaky balls, colourful toys with lights, things to chew, bounce upon or rock with. Give her lots of praise if she does this instead of the harmful/dangerous stim. It can be hard because stimming – as well as a sign of joy – can be one of uncomfortableness. So try and find out if she does any of the head banging things because she is upset/too hot/uncomfortable/lights are too bright/there are too many people. Give her a sensory ‘safe’ zone where she can stim without hurting herself. If one of her things is mirrors, maybe get her a blanket/cloth with mirrored fabric and encourage her to use that instead. It may take a while because it won’t feel the same, but self harm behaviours can be discouraged and replaced with other stims, provided enough effort is put in :)

  10. I LOVE IT !!

    Felipe Murillo

    December 26, 2011 at 2:33 pm

  11. [...] Just Stimming Share this:TwitterFacebookGostar disso:GostoSeja o primeiro a gostar disso post. Filed under [...]

  12. Beautifully written. Thank you. There is such a deficit of appreciating the brilliance associated with Autism. More attention needs to be directed towards learning from high interests and joys vs demanding that individuals with Autism fit the mold and jump through all the hoops of the expected societal norms. With your permission, I would like to repost your essay on my blog: http://www.vortexspectacular.com

    vortexspectacular

    January 8, 2012 at 1:41 pm

  13. This made me sad. In a good way.

    sanabituranima

    January 12, 2012 at 7:06 pm

  14. My son is 3-years-old and has been officially diagnosed with autism for just over a year, although we knew a while before that. It’s impossible for me to watch his happy stimming and consider stopping him–how can I tell him it’s wrong to feel that way? When something really tickles him and he starts grinning and flapping and jumping and shaking, it is, as you said, contagious. It makes ME happy. I won’t take that away from him. Thank you for the insight. <3

    Ambermist (@battlechicken)

    February 17, 2012 at 1:24 pm

  15. thank you for that. it givs better insite into my sons world. iv allways thout ther was something so beautifull about him and how happy he is. He is truly a joy to me and everyone that knows him. he is a wonderfull kid i wory that happy side of him will fade as his simtoms of autisum fade . dio you have any thouts on that ?
    autisum can be beautifull ignorincs is the tragiety
    thank you agen

    Dan Bodwell

    March 11, 2012 at 9:04 pm

  16. This is fantastic. Thank you.

    Amber R. Sesnick

    April 18, 2012 at 3:13 pm

  17. [...] friend of mine posted a link to an article that I had the pleasure of reading today.  I hope you will take the time to read it as well. [...]

  18. Wow. Brilliant. Autistic/aspie hugs!

  19. [...] reader shared the blog post with me, “The Obsessive Joy of Autism,” this week and I thought it was so beautiful that I wanted to share it here with you. [...]

  20. That is a brilliant article I’m glad I took the time to read it.

  21. I really agree with you. My son with ASD also has many joyful things those are not understanding for NT’s view. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Kyung-ah Lee

    October 3, 2012 at 7:23 am

  22. [...] Again from Julia, her post, The Obsessive Joy of Autism: [...]

    • Superb article! I’ve never come across any description which makes it so easy to identify with flapping, or perseveration. Congratulations on the engaging writing too.
      I have a question, though.
      I’ve been studying the influence of the ‘built environment’, that is how rooms, corridors, staircases and such are laid-out. And also how much light, noise, cold, warm is bearable for people with autism who live, work, learn or enjoy their leisure time in these buildings. That’s not all: one can expand the qualities of spaces (in and outdoors, such as in gardens or patio’s) to include the smoothness of walls, the visibility of radiators, the height and the material of fences, the lighting of garden paths – you name it: anything in and around buildings which may hinder or help people with the most varied autistic traits.
      My question is two-fold: are these qualities of the environment important to you? If so: how?
      The second part is: how important do you think these things are to some or most people with autism? And if they are in your experience: how come they’re seldom or never included in stories such as yours. You mention so many things, among which sensory problems, but not this issue.
      I’m really curious and of course anyone who has something to sat on the subject is more than welcome.

      Flip from the Netherlands

      Flip Schrameijer

      October 29, 2012 at 8:53 am

  23. [...] The obsessive joy of autism [...]

  24. {Hugs}

    A wonderful explanation. I don’t feel like this as often as I want (my ASD is co-morbid with clinical depression), but when I’m writing… oh, *YES*! *This* is how I feel! It’s so much a part of me….

    Thank you for the wonderfully descriptive post.

    :) tagAught

    tagAught

    January 25, 2013 at 10:49 am

  25. I’ve seen the glimmer of this joy on my son’s face but your description has made it all crystal clear. thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Melinda Newton

    January 27, 2013 at 2:47 am

  26. [...] March 1st, 2012 I read Julia Bascom‘s post ~ The Obsessive Joy of Autism.  A post she’d written almost a year before, but I was only now reading.  Her post begins [...]

  27. […] The Obsessive Joy Of Autism by Julia Bascom from Just Stimming […]

  28. […] The Obsessive Joy Of Autism (juststimming.wordpress.com) […]

    Kittens! | autisticook

    August 1, 2013 at 8:39 am

  29. […] soccial norms are going to attempt to squash out of him (as they did with me for a while) – The Obsessive Joy of Autism . I want to protect it. I want to nurture it in myself, my son, and others who show […]

  30. This is beautiful. My son has that joy. He doesn’t stim much, but his enjoyment of life is SO pure – it’s such a treasure! I hope he never looses it. I posted a link to this on my blog :) walkinontheedge.wordpress.com. Thanks for your insights!

    PK

    September 5, 2013 at 4:54 pm

  31. This literally made me cry. My younger brother is Autistic and does not have the ability to speak and/or express himself as others. He mostly communicates in sounds/phrases and my biggest worry for him all my life was wondering if he was happy and this made me feel so happy and at peace, thinking that this is what he’s feeling when he sits down to watch one of his hundreds of Disney movies (his favorite “obsession”) humming and laughing to himself. Thank you for sharing something so beautiful. I hope you don’t mind that I share this on my blog, I will make sure to credit you. http://thatislandchild.tumblr.com/post/62368400218

    Gaby R.

    September 26, 2013 at 7:15 pm

  32. Thank you for posting this, it is an eye opener. I promise to keep this in mind as I go forward.

    Diana Shaffer

    February 13, 2014 at 4:58 pm

  33. Thank-you! I needed to read this tonight.

    Samantha Gibbon-Raymer

    March 7, 2014 at 2:46 am

  34. Have you ever had two obsessions at once? That can get pretty crazy! Yeah, there can be a lot of joy in indulging an obsession.

    theasdgamer

    March 7, 2014 at 8:32 am

  35. As a fellow autistic person, I agree. My obsessions are Great Big Sea and the Montreal Canadiens. Everything you wrote is very true. Well written! :)

    Krista Eddy

    March 23, 2014 at 12:28 am

  36. Thank you! My three year old son has autism and is easily one of the most gloriously happy humans I’ve ever seen. We have always encouraged those things that make him light up – his laughter is infectious, his smile brightens your soul. If he wants to spin, we spin; wants to jump, we jump; wants my hair in front of his face, You got it… and we smile and laugh together as we go. I’d never want to stop that, to minimize how he moves through & enjoys this world and I’ll fight anyone who tries to limit him by making him “more mainstream”. We learn from him every day.
    This gave me great insight into his mind, since he can’t yet share what he’s thinking with words. You have given this mom a great gift. God bless you.

    Leigh Reynolds

    March 23, 2014 at 1:06 am

  37. […] THE OBSESSIVE JOY OF AUTISM […]

  38. Thank you, it’s beautiful! I prefer to use the word ‘passion’ instead, but whatever the word, this is a truly wonderful post!

    bunnyhopscotch

    March 23, 2014 at 2:34 am

  39. Reblogged this on TAG: The Autism Gathering and commented:
    This is just about one of the most lovely pieces of writing I can imagine being written about joy, and (incidentally) about autism. Listen to this: This is about the obsessive joy of autism. So I guess, if I’m trying to explain what an obsession (and, by necessity, obsessive joy) means to me as an autistic person, I can bring it back to the tired old image of a little professor cornering an unsuspecting passerby and lecturing them for half an hour. All too often this encounter is viewed through the terrified eyes of the unwillingly captive audience. I’d like to invite you to see through the eyes of the lecturer, who is not so much determined to force their knowledge into you as they are opened to a flood of joy which they cannot contain.
    Thank you, Julia Bascom.

    Carolyn Ogburn

    March 23, 2014 at 9:16 am

  40. Hi Julia,
    First off I am going to start by saying READING THIS BLOG POST HAS CHANGED MY LIFE. It is going around Facebook, and I took a look last night. My son, who is 4, has ASD 2. My life is consumed with getting him in to the best school program and therapies now so that his adult life can be as rich in happiness as possible in a mostly NT world. He is happy the majority of the time (unless he is tired, he is a toddler still!) I read your words and connected with you immediately. I have concerns as a mother of how he will deal with the world and other children & adults as he grows. I can’t help it. He is MY WORLD. I don’t want him to be bullied or unaccepted. But, I know we all have our own journey and it’s part of our path to becoming and being WHO WE ARE as individuals.
    I joined a couple of adults with Asperger’s groups on Facebook to read what adults are experiencing, and the majority of it sounds so sad and frustrating. I had to stop following those groups because, as a mother of an amazing autistic little boy, I DON’T WANT NEGATIVITY IN MY MIND. Your blog post was the most beautifully written pieces about autism I have ever read. I am so thrilled to hear your positive point of view and how you love being in your skin. YOUR HAVE CHANGED MY PATH AS A MOTHER. I am not going to let anything inside our world other that positivity and hopefulness. It is going to be OUR WAY OF LIFE. If I brew that in him his whole upbringing, I will pray everyday that he has a similar contagious happiness as you do.
    Thank you Julia. Thank you.
    Never stop writing. You are immensely talented. You have beautiful thoughts and things to say.

    I hope I can find you on Facebook! I like to photograph my son and celebrate his uniqueness through images. If you would like to watch him grow you can find me: https://www.facebook.com/jasansmom

    So grateful!

    Heidi Allen

    Heidi Allen

    March 23, 2014 at 9:51 am

  41. Well written. May peace be with you :)

    Gede Prama

    March 23, 2014 at 1:45 pm

  42. Thank You! This is beautiful & made me smile thinking about my 8yr old sons joy whenever he sees a School Bus…then has to draw it as soon as we get home! Your story will help so many understand the joy instead of just thinking of ways to stop the obsessive behavior. Thank you!

    Anne O'Meara Twohig

    March 23, 2014 at 2:33 pm

  43. Reblogged this on Beyond Meds and commented:
    Read this please:

    Monica Cassani

    March 23, 2014 at 6:11 pm

  44. Thanks for this. I’m in my 40s and have never been diagnosed with autism, but I can REALLY relate to what you are describing here. I get caught up in enthusiasms that seem inappropriate to others, and I have been bullied for my intense feeling and mired in shame. I get caught up in things and want to talk about them for days and can’t understand why others don’t care about it. I’ve always felt an outsider, but seen lots of psychiatrists and never been diagnosed with anything to explain it. I have shades of many things, but nothing set in a slot well enough to be a sure diagnosis. No meds have helped me. Anyways, thanks again and I’m going to share this.

    Vivian Oberon

    March 23, 2014 at 6:35 pm

  45. Reblogged this on The Darkness in the Light.

    thefirstdark

    March 24, 2014 at 11:44 am

  46. […] Bascom has a blog post, “The Obsessive Joy of Autism,” which I love and to which I’ve linked repeatedly.  Her post should be read in its […]

  47. […] Bascom wrote a post, The Obsessive Joy of Autism, that I think should be attached to every single autism diagnosis. What if instead of being asked […]

  48. Just came to this post from momfog and it was a deep, deep joy to read.
    When I saw this: “This is the part about autism I can never explain. This is the part I never want to lose. Without this part autism is not worth having,” I **immediately** thought, “Being neurotypical is not worth being without these joys.” You SO articulated my lifelong feelings, and those I very much hope my son will share. he’s hitting his tween years, with all the bullying and teasing about non-age-appropriate interests to which you refer. I keep telling him, we feel more-good and bad. the good is worth it. AND: one day none of this will matter, because you will find your people. Thanks so, so much for this post. I think I will print it out for us.
    Love,
    Full Spectrum Mama

    Jennifer Brunton

    April 2, 2014 at 11:44 am

  49. Thank you for giving me insight. It helps when someone can explain their actions in a way to make others understand. Now I think I know how my son feels and reasons for his actions. I used to try to make him stop, but one day decided to just leave him be. He holds back a lot when we are out with friends/relatives, but when he returns home, he can flap all he wants and obscess as much as he desires. Life is easier that way and I love him just the way he is… Thank you!

    Darlene Richardson

    April 3, 2014 at 6:36 am

  50. […] week – a piece which was posted by two of my close friends who are moms of boys with autism: The Obsessive Joy of Autism. Julia’s post is incredible, eye-opening, and just beautiful. I hope you’ll click over […]

  51. […] The Obsessive Joy Of Autism […]

  52. Reblogged this on Are We In Narnia Yet? and commented:
    Simply amazing.

    midwinter7

    April 14, 2014 at 2:23 pm

  53. […] that day when I found Julia Bascom’s blog, Just Stimming, and specifically her post “The Obsessive Joy of Autism.”  It’s an idea I’ve tried hard to put into practice these past few years. The […]

  54. […] The Obsessive Joy of Autism from Just […]

  55. Thank you for such a beautiful and detailed explanation of your world.

    I am the mother to two children with Autism and 3 NT’s. My 17 y.o. daughter has enjoyed many obsessions over the years, ranging from SpongeBob to Anne Frank and lots in between. :) My 5 y.o. son is currently obsessed with Angry Birds Star Wars. He loves the figurines/games, apps; he loves playing with them, drawing them and learning about every possible nuance via youtube videos.

    My 2 kids actually share a special stim. They ride razor scooters together in tight circles around our paved yard. You cannot imagine how fast they zip around. It’s shocking how they never crash considering the relatively small area they are orbiting and the speed they are both going – it’s like orbiting electrons. It is truly a beautiful sight to see them in this “zone” together. A social stim. ;)

    Alexa Suez

    April 20, 2014 at 8:21 pm

  56. Hi, I am on the Autism Spectrum & the people around me don’t understand. I
    Used 2 go in a little corner & pace alone, but now I do something that looks much more normal, that is soothing to me: a couple of years ago I bought an iPhone, which has helped me 2 completely stop pacing, but now when I am in public, I am always playing on my iPhone, cause typing & having buttons to press is soothing to me, & now even the people who know me well falsely accuse me of having an iPhone addiction, which I do not have. The iPhone is really soothing 2 my Aspergers & people think that is abnormal.

    rainbowgirlfan

    May 27, 2014 at 5:31 pm

  57. […] The Obsessive Joy of Autism2. Don’t Mourn For Us3. Quiet Hands and Grabbers (TW: ableism, abuse, R-slur in Grabbers)4. The […]

  58. […] Julia Bascom has written this wonderful peace entitled The Obsessive Joy of Autism. […]

  59. May I please translate it into Polish and put it on my blog? I want people where I live understand more about autism and how it feels to be autistic. Thank you for this.

    Agnieszka Sznajder

    June 19, 2014 at 3:44 am

  60. Reblogged this on illuminessenselodge.

    illuminessenselodge

    June 19, 2014 at 1:16 pm

  61. I will never, ever tell my daughter to stop flapping again. You have changed the way I see her! She does this out of joy and who am I tell tell her to stop feeling joy??!! Thank you!

    Linda Moran (@ljpmo55)

    June 19, 2014 at 7:32 pm

  62. […] "This is the part about autism I can never explain. This is the part I never want to lose. Without this part autism is not worth having. Neurotypical people pity autistics. I pity neurotypicals."  […]

  63. […] suffering.  Autistic people do not suffer from autism.  Julia Bascom, over at Just Stimming, wrote this post about the deep joy we feel in our sensory world.  Sometimes, autism makes it harder for us to […]

  64. […] In my field, people talk a lot about getting autistic kids to have more “age-appropriate” interests.  They would say that my 10-year-old client shouldn’t be watching videos aimed at preschoolers and playing with his Thomas trains all afternoon.   I agree that developing “age-appropriate” interests makes it a heck of a lot easier to relate to peers and make friends.  But trying to take away these special interests is cruel.  This is a great time for you to go read this blog post, “The Obsessive Joy of Autism.” […]

  65. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    judygurfein

    June 25, 2014 at 9:34 am

  66. […] The Obsessive Joy Of Autism. “If I could change three things about how the world sees autism, they would be these. That the world would see that we feel joy—sometimes a joy so intense and private and all-encompassing that it eclipses anything the world might feel. That the world would stop punishing us for our joy, stop grabbing flapping hands and eliminating interests that are not ‘age-appropriate’, stop shaming and gas-lighting us into believing that we are never, and can never be, happy. And that our joy would be valued in and of itself, seen as a necessary and beautiful part of our disability, pursued, and shared.” Read more […]


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