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The meaning of autistic movements

Petty, Stephanie ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1453-3313 and Ellis, Amy (2024) The meaning of autistic movements. Autism: International Journal of Research and Practice. (In Press)

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Movement of the body is an essential way to characterise autism, according to diagnostic criteria. However, qualifying descriptions of what autistic movements are, their functions, and personal value, are missing from academic literature and clinical guidance. We systematically searched for autistic adults’ descriptions of their body and its movement within autobiographical narratives in blog data. Descriptions from 23 autistic authors formed a qualitative dataset. The search strategy identified descriptions of movements and meanings without a priori definitions, such as being stereotyped or ritualistic, which were submitted to a thematic analysis. Authors described stigmatisation of some of their movements, causing censorship. However, movement provided personal benefits, including enhanced thinking and focus, routine, sensory regulation, release of energy, increased body connection and awareness, regulated emotion and time without self-restraint. Examples included stimming or self-stimulating behaviour, dancing and physical exercise. Movement was accompanied by qualifying descriptions of being natural and harmless. Moving freely, expressively, and sometimes repetitively, strengthened self-identity. In conclusion, body movements have both stigmatised and non-stigmatised appearances for autistic adults, but these cannot be distinguished by the function of the movement. Expressive, regulating and repetitive movements can be a wellbeing resource for autistic people. Implications for practice are discussed.

Item Type: Article
Status: In Press
School/Department: School of Education, Language and Psychology
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/9880

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