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Can you walk the walk?

Posted Nov 10 2008 4:51pm
Reading some of the recent posts about rude comments and the difficulties in distinguishing them from the "just curious" comments or actually harmless ones, I reflected again on the number of times I've encountered people who saw it as their right to amuse themselves by imitating the way I walk. I tend to exhibit what was recently referenced on a discussion board as the " Aspie Bounce", and this was a great source of entertainment to fellow students in my junior high and high schools. This was long before I knew I was an Aspie. Aspies did not exist yet and autistics, as everyone knew, were children who did not speak and certainly did not make appearances in the hallways of "regular" schools.

Often, I would notice a "follower" or someone approaching me would see fit to show me how ridiculous I looked to him or her. Mostly I ignored these as well as possible, though I did sometimes stop in my tracks to stare down the offender. A few times I offered instructions on needed improvements in the imitator's technique. Secretly, I wished that I could confront them with the shocking news that my walk was due to a neurological condition, that they were in fact making fun of a disability. Not that I thought that was true or anything.

It was the bounce that offered my first glimpse into my autistic nature. I was reading a book by an autistic woman when I saw it. The book happened to be Donna Williams'Nobody Nowhere. I had been finding pieces of myself throughout in the "talking in poetry", the stored scripts, the role playing needed to relate to other people, in many other details. When I got to the page where she described the way she had walked as a child, though, I knew. It was the Eureka to end all Eureka moments in my life.

I started to read all of the literature I could find, both professional and biographical. I saw it everywhere. Odd gait, awkward gait, toe walking. Frank Klein, for one, has written somewhat wistfully about having had the walk trained out of him. Where had it all been before? Invisible, I suppose, like so many things have been until I was ready to see them, and then, suddenly everywhere.

The behavior of children had never surprised me. The pre -teen and teen years are a time of boundary exploring and drawing which seem for some to bring cruelty to the surface. What threw me for a loop, though, was finding out the adult world was not really all that different. People who have seen fit to mock my way of walking have included store clerks, co-workers, bosses, and even a social worker I met through other acquaintances.

Unlike some others I've read about, I never unlearned or outgrew the Aspie bounce. I tried a few times, but thinking about every step was exhausting and tended to produce a very foul mood. I'm glad now that it didn't work. This walk is a part of who I am. Not an important part maybe, not an essential part of my spirit or personality, but a part nevertheless and there is no reason on earth I should be expected to give that up.
For forty years, I never talked to a single person about this and how I felt about it. I honestly believed that other people acting like jerks meant that I had a problem. The only problem I had was living in a world that expects everyone to be alike.

I guess that's why when I found out I was autistic, I wanted to tell everyone. I was finally okay with myself, reasonably happy, and it had taken such a long time to get here. When I started to talk about the walk, a longtime friend responded, "You mean you don't walk that way on purpose?" I guess she had imaginined I must think it was cool or something. And you know what? Now, I kind of do.
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