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How I Learned To Stop Caring About What People Think About My Autistic Son

The following was syndicated from Quora for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at

My daughter with autism keeps flapping her arms. How do I make her stop?

You don’t! My son has autism. The hand flapping is a stim. To children with autism, it is a way for them to escape and focus when sensory input is overwhelming, or if there is a lack of sensory input it allows for the child to seek input. Chances are, your daughter does not care if people are staring at her. I know my son certainly doesn’t. The hard part is the emotions you feel with regards to how other people perceive your daughters behavior. I totally understand that feeling because I’ve been there. I used to try to stop it too. It just resulted in my son’s frustration and would draw more looks from others opening him up to criticism. I would leave a public place exacerbated and sometimes in tears.

Recently I have let him stim when he needs to. Some days he stims a lot, and other days, not at all. Some days I quietly watch him, wondering what is going on in this secret world of his, wishing he would share it with me. Sometimes I ask him questions about it when he’s flapping his hands and playing with the light that dances through the windows. He’s usually smiling when this happens and he sometimes makes repeated sounds that sound joyful; once in a while he will shoot me a little knowing smile and continue the stim. I feel almost jealous that I can’t be in on his little secret.

My son is very smart. He is observant and it sometimes surprises me what he pays attention to when he is stimming and I don’t think he’s listening. Your daughter is likely listening, so don’t forget that.

Once you get your head in a place where you stop caring what others think, you can really see the beauty in it.

At the end of the day, this is a behavior that seems very necessary to him. It’s a mechanism that helps him make sense of his world and it is enjoyable to him. When “typical” people are overwhelmed, we sometimes eat, drink, smoke, exercise, sometimes to excess to deal when things are overwhelming. For children like ours, they find everyday input and interactions overwhelming at times because it comes all at once. The stim is a nice release for them.

Once you get your head in a place where you stop caring what others think, you can really see the beauty in it. It’s not easy, and it took me years, and I still have days where it’s overwhelming, but I try to remind myself that he’s just trying to make sense of his world. I sit back and I watch and I wonder. I take a deep breath, just go with it and just love him.

Brooke Herbert is a wife, mother, and writer. Read more from quora below: