The Human Rights of Stimming and Signing

In the past, Deaf people were misunderstood by society and were perceived as mentally delayed. Imagine, you are brought into a world of moving lips without sound. Everyone expects you to react to their speech but you don’t even know what you’re missing.

Now imagine you were sent to a specialized school for deaf children – away from your family. You realize kids who are like you have made up their own language for things – using their hands – this was sign. Except there was one catch. No teachers accepted it as meaningful communication and the ones that did were shunned from deaf education.

Instead, you are taught to read lips and to produce speech you can’t even hear – Oralism they called it. Forcing you to speak by clenching your jaw, by learning to sense vibrations in your throat, until you made vocal sounds. Oralism was widely reported as an “awful” experience. On top of that, if you were caught signing to your friends you were forced to wear gloves bounded by strings so you could no longer move your hands. “It’s for their own good” teachers proclaimed. So you and your friends hid in the washroom to develop your own way to communicate – sign language – something that still works for Deaf people today. This was the dark ages of Deaf culture – an unbearable time. You would hate it.

Today, treating Deaf children by cuffing their hands together would be a human rights issue and violate Disability Law.


History repeats itself.

As I have discussed in my previous article, many educators believe that stimming serves no function and is a behavior that ought to be abolished. On the other hand, you have plenty of autistics reporting it does serve a purpose – go read about it here.

I fear the very same chain of events that happened to deaf people is happening to autistics right now.


Autistics who flap are physically forced to put their hands in their lap on command – “hands down” … until they fear the teacher’s restraining grip on their wrists … in the same way Deaf people were cuffed when they signed.

The same goes for those who flicker their fingers in front of their eyes… Smell their own body parts…

Autistics who make sound with their hands are told a metaphor – “quiet hands” … And teachers ensure to quiet their hands if they don’t understand the metaphor.

And if the child screams in anguish… “it’s for their own good” teachers proclaim.

Autistics are forced to hide in the washrooms to stim in the same way Deaf people were forced to communicate in the washroom.


Educators believe stimming is not an appropriate way of self-regulation in the same way we once thought sign language was not an appropriate means of communication.

Autistic people today are treated in the same way we treated deaf people in the 20th century. The only difference is…

Deaf people are protected by human rights and Disability laws. Autistics are not.

Educators need to find the empathy to understand why people stim. Only then can we accept the natural variation of human minds and include autistics under human right laws.

And if this article did not reach you… 

Imagine you lived in a world that no one talked. Though when you see a person you felt compelled to speak with them. Every time you spoke to people, teachers would hold your lips together for minutes on end. You would cry, shout and lose your sense of control. You would be made to feel abnormal. Teachers did this until you would no longer talk to others. Nonetheless you continually felt lonelier over time for not being able to talk to a single soul. “Quiet lips” they told you. “it’s for your own good” teachers proclaimed.

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