Loyalty : Asset or Trap? by Stiofán MacAmhalghaidh Âû


La città che sale (originally titled Il Lavoro), 1910, Umberto Boccioni, oil on canvas, MOMA New York retrieved from Widimedia Commons 13 Aug 2017

When we look at the list of positive characteristics autistics have identified in themselves as a counterpoint and correction to the prevailing picture of deficits and impairments, one stands out as problematic. That characteristic is Loyalty.

On the face of it the concept of loyalty appears quite positive. We speak with admiration of a loyal pet dog, of loyalty to a life partner, boast of remaining loyal to a favourite sports club through thick and thin. All good stuff really – what’s not to like? Well, there is a hint hidden in there: “through thick and thin”.

Loyalty is not something that can be quantified. You cannot hold it in your hand. It is even more ephemeral than that – it is meaningless unless there is a reason to be disloyal. Essentially it does not exist unless there is an opportunity and reason to take advantage of that opportunity.

Specifically in the context of the workplace, loyalty means remaining in your job despite the availability of alternative employment that offers easier access, better pay or opportunities, better work conditions and so on. When a person does not have those options – or does not feel confident in those options – they stay where they are. And the boss boasts of their ‘loyal workforce’.

Employment is a problem for many autistics. It is estimated that in the region of 85% of adult autistics are either unemployed or under-employed at any time. From an autistic perspective, this situation creates a real vulnerability to abusive and unhealthy working conditions that simply does not exist for most of their peers. When this is coupled with a lifetime of experiences that commonly include exclusion from social activity – and consequently limited opportunities for networking, restricted access to educational opportunities, and all too often an early life filled with traumatic experiences, there is a very real risk that employed autistics will endure an abusive work environment. They will stick it out, not protest, not leave. There is too much at stake. There is too much to lose.

This is called loyalty.

Now certainly there are circumstances where autistic dedication is coupled with a supportive environment. The two work in harmony and everyone benefits. We’ve all read reports of businesses that have capitalised on the real positive attributes that many autistics have to offer, Microsoft being a well-known example. These instances only result in – at best – a few hundred jobs. There are well in excess of 200 million autistics globally, which means in the region of 27-30 million autistics holding down some form of employment. Those are the people at risk.

This issue is three-fold. We’ve seen that employers can exploit autistic disadvantage in the name of loyalty; we have seen that, for autistics, those same disadvantages mean the opportunity to nullify the negative impacts of that exploitation are heavily restricted. We have seen, too, that central to this problem is the word ‘loyalty’. So, let’s break this down.

In terms of addressing this deeply problematic situation – and it is a common one for many neurodivergent and disabled people – we know that seeking to change employer attitudes directly will be a long and slow process with many instances of back-tracking. We know also that, while easier in some ways, addressing the self-image and opportunities for autistics is also a long-term project. What we can do today is unmask the lie.

The word is perfectly suited to hide abuse. More than that, when it is presented to autistics as an attribute they can ‘sell’ to a prospective employer, we directly undermine their already deeply compromised opportunities to self-advocate, to protest abuse, and to seek a future that is better than their past.

While I’ve focused on the workplace here it is important to appreciate that this issue does not stop at the factory gate. It applies to abusive personal relationships; it applies to schoolyard bullying; it applies to the denial of services and supports; it applies even to the exploitation of autistics by organisations (and individuals) claiming to be ‘about autism’ or ‘combatting autism’ or even ‘curing autism’.

Let’s think about this. Let’s unmask the lie. Let’s make the future honest, respectful and dignified. We have waited long enough. The ‘loyalty’ stops here.


Quiet Hands by Julia Bascom

Note: This seminal piece was originally published by Just Stimming and has become an important part of Autistic Culture. Julia is now the President of ASAN. You can see the original post here: https://juststimming.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/quiet-hands/ 

TW: Ableism, abuse

Explaining my reaction to this:

means I need to explain my history with this:

quiet hands

quiet hands


When I was a little girl, they held my hands down in tacky glue while I cried.


I’m a lot bigger than them now. Walking down a hall to a meeting, my hand flies out to feel the texture on the wall as I pass by.

“Quiet hands,” I whisper.

My hand falls to my side.


When I was six years old, people who were much bigger than me with loud echoing voices held my hands down in textures that hurt worse than my broken wrist while I cried and begged and pleaded and screamed.


In a classroom of language-impaired kids, the most common phrase is a metaphor.

“Quiet hands!”

A student pushes at a piece of paper, flaps their hands, stacks their fingers against their palm, pokes at a pencil, rubs their palms through their hair. It’s silent, until:

“Quiet hands!”

I’ve yet to meet a student who didn’t instinctively know to pull back and put their hands in their lap at this order. Thanks to applied behavioral analysis, each student learned this phrase in preschool at the latest, hands slapped down and held to a table or at their sides for a count of three until they learned to restrain themselves at the words.

The literal meaning of the words is irrelevant when you’re being abused.


When I was a little girl, I was autistic. And when you’re autistic, it’s not abuse. It’s therapy.


Hands are by definition quiet, they can’t talk, and neither can half of these students…

(Behavior is communication.)

(Not being able to talk is not the same as not having anything to say.)

Things, slowly, start to make a lot more sense.


Roger needs a modified chair to help him sit. It came to the classroom fully equipped with straps to tie his hands down.

We threw the straps away. His old school district used them.

He was seven.


Terra can read my flapping better than my face. “You’ve got one for everything,” she says, and I wish everyone could look at my hands and see I need you to slow down or this is the best thing ever or can I please touch or I am so hungry I think my brain is trying to eat itself.

But if they see my hands, I’m not safe.

“They watch your hands,” my sister says, “and you might as well be flipping them off when all you’re saying is this menu feels nice.”


When we were in high school, my occasional, accidental flap gave my other autistic friend panic attacks.


I’ve been told I have a manual fixation. My hands are one of the few places on my body that I usually recognize as my own, can feel, and can occasionally control. I am fascinated by them. I could study them for hours. They’re beautiful in a way that makes me understand what beautiful means.

My hands know things the rest of me doesn’t. They type words, sentences, stories, worlds that I didn’t know I thought. They remember passwords and sequences I don’t even remember needing. They tell me what I think, what I know, what I remember. They don’t even always need a keyboard for that.

My hands are an automatic feedback loop, touching and feeling simultaneously. I think I understand the whole world when I rub my fingertips together.

When I’m brought to a new place, my fingers tap out the walls and tables and chairs and counters. They skim over the paper and make me laugh, they press against each other and remind me that I am real, they drum and produce sound to remind me of cause-and-effect. My fingers map out a world and then they make it real.

My hands are more me than I am.


But I’m to have quiet hands.


I know. I know.

Someone who doesn’t talk doesn’t need to be listened to.

I know.

Behavior isn’t communication. It’s something to be controlled.

I know.

Flapping your hands doesn’t do anything for you, so it does nothing for me.

I know.

I can control it.

I know.

If I could just suppress it, you wouldn’t have to do this.

I know.

They actually teach, in applied behavioral analysis, in special education teacher training, that the most important, the most basic, the most foundational thing is behavioral control. A kid’s education can’t begin until they’re “table ready.”

I know.

I need to silence my most reliable way of gathering, processing, and expressing information, I need to put more effort into controlling and deadening and reducing and removing myself second-by-second than you could ever even conceive, I need to have quiet hands, because until I move 97% of the way in your direction you can’t even see that’s there’s a 3% for you to move towards me.

I know.

I need to have quiet hands.

I know. I know.


There’s a boy in the supermarket, rocking back on his heels and flapping excitedly at a display. His mom hisses “quiet hands!” and looks around, embarrassed.

I catch his eye, and I can’t do it for myself, but my hands flutter at my sides when he’s looking.

(Flapping is the new terrorist-fist-bump.)


Let me be extremely fucking clear: if you grab my hands, if you grab the hands of a developmentally disabled person, if you teach quiet hands, if you work on eliminating “autistic symptoms” and “self-stimulatory behaviors,” if you take away our voice, if you…

if you…

if you…


Then I…