Friday, May 4, 2007

Can you walk the walk?

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.


  1. Interesting. I had no idea that the 'bounce' was autistic. I trained myself out of it during my teenage years (for the usual reasons), but it took a fair bit of conscious effort until it became 'natural'. My wife says I still have a slightly 'off' gait, but I don't notice it.

  2. I took to wearing very high-heeled shoes. They in fact feel much more natural to me than flats, and keep me literally on my toes. The second I take them off, I'm back on my toes of my own accord. But with the heels, my walk is not only bouncy -- it's freakin' impressive. Now the remarks I get about my walking are more along the lines of "Wow, you sure can move really fast in those heels!"

    When I tell folks that I'm more comfortable in high heels, though, they naturally presume I'm lying. And I'm regularly accosted by strangers when I wear them to, say, a national park with rocky trails or something. It gets obnoxious very quickly, with the crap folks think they have a right to say. And the stuff they say is quite obviously not always out of "concern".

    One rather cool experience, though, occurred when I was walking with my husband at a park with very high, almost mountainous terrain. I was already anticipating all the "Bet your feet hurt, huh?" crap that I'd be approached with as we returned to the visitors' center. But the only people still hanging out there were two women, each sitting with a walker (the device, not a person who walks). One of them said, "Wow, you walked that whole trail in those shoes?" When we answered in the affirmative, she said, "Well, we admire you, then!", and laughed. And somehow their demeanor was so candidly friendly that we found that comment very funny indeed.

  3. One thing about walking on toes is it develops strong calf muscles. When I was in the Air Force the bounce was called beebopping. Learning how to march allowed me to smoothen or eliminate the bounce. But then I tended to walk kind of militaristic. -until I got a girlfriend that was a model and I took her advice to take modeling lessons and that was the final touch not only in smoothening out my gait but also in other coordination issues and turning around. She was a good coach too. Martial Arts lessons also helped in my coordination and muscle tone too.


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