The phrase quiet hands’ stems from the early days of ABA (applied behavioural analysis), which you can read about in a separate post by clicking here → Applied Behavioural Analysis. ABA therapists as well as teachers and parents following ABA techniqueS, used the instruction ‘quiet hands’ to communicate to autistic children to stop stimming with their hands – it being considered a distraction in a learning environment. Unfortunately, a quick Google, particularly on social media, will reveal that ‘quiet hands’ is still in use by professionals, despite some of the more recently qualified ABA therapists being appalled at the very idea of it.

I only learned about the dreadful business of ‘quiet hands’ whilst listening to an episode of the podcast 1800 seconds on Autism. The episode Turn down the studio lights (first episode of the first series) discusses, among other things, stimming. One of the presenters, Jamie Knight, said that ‘quiet hands’ was an instruction frequently aimed in his direction by teachers in primary and the lower part of secondary school, when he was stimming in the form of hand flapping or pen clicking.

In case you’re hoping that his experience was unusual, his co-host, Robyn Steward, surveyed 100 autistic people and found that 72 of them had been asked to stop stimming. Jamie goes on to explain that he felt that the instruction ‘quiet hands’ stopped him being able to “think and work and be part of [his] own body”. It made him feel that his hands were “in prison” on the table. He continues, that if we are not going to continue to “deny autistic people bodily autonomy”. He concludes by saying we should ALL hand flap as much as we like, in Jamie’s words, free the flaps!”. I love that as a potential t-shirt slogan!

Below is a link to a really interesting academic article from the website, Law and the Senses. The article linked below was written only five years ago, also suggesting that the use of ‘quiet hands’ is very much in current use in ABA therapy.

“The dirty truth about “quiet hands” and other attempts to train the autism out of us…— teaching us to look others in the eye, stop fidgeting, stop rocking, stop doing anything that “looks too autistic” — is that these therapies are not really meant to help us. They are meant to make others feel more comfortable around us and to allow others to try to forget that we are Autistic.”  

(Max Sparrow – quoted in the article Quiet Hands: Autism, Law and the Senses)