Ten Questions That Make My Head Hurt

Okay, so I’ve got some questions:

1. Why is it perfectly okay for a child to rock back and forth sitting on a swing, but not rock back and forth sitting on the floor?

2. Why is it perfectly okay for an adult to rock back and forth sitting in a rocking chair, but not rock back and forth sitting on the floor?

3. Why is it considered very romantic for two young people to rock together in a swing, but if they were to sit on the floor and rock together, others would very likely attempt to separate them?

4. Why is the ritual of lining things up considered a meaningless activity indicative of pathology, while the ritual of sitting for hours in a line of cars on the highway during certain weekends of the year is considered vital to observing a national holiday?

5. Why is hand-flapping considered an activity with no apparent purpose, while saying “How are you?” without actually meaning it is considered a necessary social skill?

6. Why is finger flicking called a stim while pencil twirling is called a cool thing to do when you’re bored in meetings?

7. Why is echolalia on the part of a single individual an indication of a disorder, while a ritual in which thousands of people obsessively repeat absurd statements such as “Obama wasn’t born in America” is an act of free speech?

8. Why is a passion for everything associated with Star Wars considered an unhealthy obsession, while a passion for everything associated with the New England Patriots is considered a sign of a loyal fan?

9. Why does perseverating on spinning objects buy you a trip to the developmental pediatrician, while perseverating on the debunked idea that vaccines cause autism buys you a spot on Oprah?

10. Why do neurotypical people accuse autistics of lacking empathy when we are not responsible for most of the bullying, warfare, and injustice in the world?

Do you have any answers? Or just questions that make your head hurt? Let me know.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg blogs at Journeys with AutismTen Questions That Make My Head Hurt

appears here under the terms of this Creative Commons License.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg’s recently published memoir is The Uncharted Path: My Journey with Late-Diagnosed Autism.

[image:  Migraine Day, Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg]

on 11/12/10 in featured, Politics | 5 Comments | Read More

Comments (5)


  1. Stephanie says:

    It doesn’t make my head hurt, but the only answer I have is that hypocrisy is alive and well. (And my boys prefer swings to the floor, but the “pathology” is in how much they need the swings, versus just for “play.”)

  2. My answer would be that it’s about majority privilege, of which hypocrisy is often a symptom.

    It’s interesting that you mention that the issue is how much your kids need the swings. It makes me consider the fact that some people (not you, I don’t think) would answer these questions by saying that the “problem” is, for example, sitting on the floor rocking too much, rather than just sitting on the floor rocking. I don’t think so. If I sat out in the rocking chair on my porch, for instance, people walking by would generally say hello and the neighbors might come by to chat. If I were sitting on the floor of the porch, in the exact same place, rocking for the exact same time, with the exact same tempo, most people would very likely give me a very wide berth-at that moment, and very likely, for days to come.

  3. Stephanie says:

    Though, I am familiar with the argument, I don’t consider the swinging and rocking to be a symptom of autism that needs to be controlled.

    I don’t consider duration to be an issue at all. Except, perhaps, in the sense that a long duration of rocking is often indicative of an overwhelmed sensory system. But then, the issue is not the rocking, but whatever overwhelmed the sensory system.

    Sometimes my boys rock and swing for the pleasure of it. For the most part, I have no problem with that unless it’s causing another problem. For example, our in-door swing was set up in a doorway, and sometimes the swinging risked injury to others. Another example is when one of the boys is swinging or rocking, instead of getting on the bus to go to school.

    But sometimes they rock or swing because they need it. Instead of their faces glowing with the pleasure of their play, they’re agitated and sometimes grimacing in pain. That generally starts a hunt to discover why they need it and if the cause can be eliminated or reduced. In that sense, the swinging and rocking is sometimes a symptom of environmental stressors that can be dealt with. But I don’t think it’s a problem in and of itself.

  4. Jeff W says:

    Brilliant. We’re all guilty of considering the ticks, and nonconforming gestures, movements and obsessions to be associated with a particular disability but when placed in the context of conforming to societal movements and obsessions the argument almost disappears.

    I truly had never thought of these in this way and I feel almost ashamed. Of course these are direct signs associated with certain disabilities but they shouldn’t be viewed in a negative light.

    Star Wars vs. The Patriots. Nice job!

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