(c) Melinda Smith 2011

Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

The impossible blindfold

In Autism Poem on August 22, 2011 at 1:43 pm
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Poetry appearing on this page was produced with the generous support of artsACT

This poem is in the voice of an adult with ASD, and explores his / her ambivalent feelings about working with a bunch of neurotypicals.

It was inspired by the writings of Edgar Schneider (Discovering my Autism) and Temple Grandin (Thinking in Pictures).

The quote from the Bible used at the beginning is one that Schneider returns to again and again in his book.  If you look carefully, you’ll see I have hidden one word from the quote in each line of the poem.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your ways – Isaiah  55:8

The impossible blindfold

: an autistic adult prepares for a day in the workplace

Today again I’ll strap on my mask for you;
zip up my ludicrous human suit;

force most of my thoughts into small closed boxes
so that when I speak, you are not made uncomfortable.

When I am not trapped in a room full of chattering
sometimes I can pass for one of your kind.

You few who reach for me with well-meaning thoughts:
even you have no clue how hard this is, nor can you. 

If you are sighted and want to try blindness,
bind your eyes for a day, a week – you might come close.

But there are no easy ways to shut down your radar,
lock yourself in my clumsy robot cage

and be. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your ways.


A prehistory of autism

In Autism Poem on August 20, 2011 at 2:57 pm
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This poem is in the voice of a tribal elder from long ago, describing some of the special members of the tribe who display ASD-like behaviours.

As the mother of a child with ASD I have often wondered how my son would be perceived if we were living in a different place and time – one without a mass education system, where the main societal unit was a small community or tribe.  Of course no one can ever know the answer to that question, but my hunch is that his ‘deficits’ would not be as much of a problem, and would be tolerated better because his ‘gifts’ would be thought of as supremely useful. What follows is a poetic response to that thought experiment.

UPDATE: Since writing this poem I have come across an article published in May 2011 in the Journal of Evolutionary NeuroPsychology by Dr Jared Reser, hypothesising pretty much the same thing. Here is a summary of the article and here is the article itself. When this poem first appeared on my other blog, Dr Reser was kind enough to comment on it (in a good way).  Great minds think alike…

A prehistory of autism

This one can run and run, never tiring;
climb trees and cliffs until the gibbons are afraid for him.
Even when he falls he feels no pain.  He has little need of sleep.
He speaks only by repeating what he hears
but he is the best of nightwatchmen
and in the hunt he is magnificent.

That one scents the lions on the wind;
smells the poison in the berries.
If her special stone is taken away
she makes wounded beast howls
but she can spot a snake’s hole at forty paces
from three newly bent twigs and a fresh hollow in the dust.

This other knows the places of the stars by heart.
He speaks often of the wandering ones:
he can see their journeys as clear as the track to the waterhole
although he will not look any man in the eye.
He sits alone all day, dotting sky pictures on pieces of bark.
Only he knows the day when the wildebeest will move.

That one over there has no love but for making spears.
He chips stone after stone until the sun is low;
walks far to find strong wood for the shafts.
He does not join the hunt: he is slow and clumsy
and does not do what he is told – but in the hands of others
his weapons fly true and bring down many of the running herd.

Another has the gift of singing –
all melodies are hers at one hearing.
She has mastered the speech of those over the mountain
and of the fishers by the lake.
She will not let men come to her, although she is grown.
She screams and spits at any who try.  Her kind smiles are only for small children
and for those who bring her new songs.

Love song of autistic husband

In Autism Poem on August 18, 2011 at 1:45 pm
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Poetry appearing on this page was produced with the generous support of artsACT

This poem is in the voice of a high functioning autistic husband talking to his neurotypical wife. It is not meant to be a portrait of a particular relationship, but it owes a lot to Edgar Schneider’s book Discovering My Autism and a little to the film Snow Cake. 

The verse from Isaiah quoted at the start (from the Bible, for those readers not familiar with it) is one Edgar Schneider discusses a lot in his book. The poem’s slightly awkward, repetitive rhythm is based on the cadence of ‘for my thoughts are not your thoughts’.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways
– Isaiah 55:8

Love song of autistic husband

It is pleasant to see you;
when I’m near you I’m happy –
and if ever you leave me
I will think it a pity –

but my love is not your love.
You assume that your feelings
are a halo around you
I could see if I tried to;

that your heart is a mystery
I could solve if I wanted –
but to me it’s an organ
and the secrets inside it

are just muscles contracting.
I am always a stranger
understanding you sideways
but I’ll always be loyal;

I can’t help but be truthful
I remember the housework
and I’m there for the children –
surely these are important ?

You insist I’m withholding
all my tenderness from you
but it’s not like a river
that I’ve slyly diverted:

it is more like an absence
like a cave or a sinkhole.
When we fight (so you tell me)
you are harrowed with terror

but my anger is over
when my voice has stopped shouting –
it is you seems to carry
little scars for a lifetime.

When I think of the future
I consider you dying:
what will stretch me to breaking
won’t be grief at your going

but the alien business
of the funeral, the lawyers.
My routine will be scrambled
I’ll be sick to my stomach

I will shout at the children
I will leave the wake early
and when later I’m solo
I will balk at your absence

I’ll be frightened and angry
  – but I don’t think I’ll cry.

An autistic woman explains the terror of affection

In Autism Poem on August 16, 2011 at 1:37 pm
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The following poem is in the voice of a young autistic woman.

It is inspired by Donna Williams’ book Nobody Nowhere, in which she describes how feeling affection and closeness with another person was a terrifying experience for her, and made her fear that she would be ‘swallowed up’. She did, however, sometimes feel closeness with inanimate objects, and objects associated with certain loved people would become very special to her. It is an extremely powerful book – highly recommended.

The draft poem below is also in the form of a glosa (a poem that responds to another poem and uses some of the original poem’s lines as stanza endings in the new poem). The original poem is ‘Circle and Square’ by Edwin Muir, and the bit I’ve decided to start a conversation with (and use the lines from) is the final stanza, quoted at the start. The full poem can be found here.

Give, but have something to give.
No man can want you all.
Live and learn to live.
When all the barriers fall
you are nothing at all.    
        – Edwin Muir, ‘Circle and Square’. 

An autistic woman explains the terror of affection

A rushing of the sea:
your smile is drowning me –
I have to fight to live.
Why can’t you let me be ?
I feel in negative:
Distress is all you give.

Lost as I have been
I dare not let you in
however loud you call.
I cower in my skin
I curl into a ball.
No man must have me all.

You want to show you care?
You will not reach me there,
that is not where I live.
Just barely touch my hair
– that, I may forgive.
Live, and let me live.

Or give me for my own
a button or a stone –
something smooth and small  –
and when I am alone
I’ll feel you through this wall.
But when the barriers fall

I cannot meet your eye;
you stab me when you try
to look at me at all.
To let you is to die.
I’ll go under, I’ll fall –
I’ll be nothing at all.

I prefer

In Autism Poem on August 14, 2011 at 1:25 pm
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This poem is in the voice of an autistic primary (elementary) schooler. 

The poem plays around with a common writing exercise, where you have to write a series of statements in the form of ‘I prefer x to y’. When you try writing one of these poems about yourself it is almost always BORING and unavoidably solipsistic. Try writing one from the point of view of someone else – say, an autistic child – and the result is, hopefully, more worth reading…

This poem will shortly be published in Quadrant magazine.  When it appears there it will have a different title: ‘Wish list for autistic primary schooler’ (I needed to put that information in the title because in the magazine I don’t get to write an explanatory note like I do with a blog post).

I prefer

serious illness to surprise
computers to my brother
reading number plates to Christmas morning

straight lines
submerging my ears in a warm bath to waterslides
deep fat fryers to matchbox cars

torture to haircuts
libraries to birthday parties
standing ankle-deep in ocean

tenpin bowling to climbing trees
looking at things out of the corner of my eye
Sonic the Hedgehog to family time

death to dentist visits
my mother with her glasses off
plastic wheelie bins to petting zoos

not to see my school friends outside of school
cricket statistics to Toy Story
chewing clothes-pegs to talking

rules to freedom
truth to sarcasm

to be left alone

Brain weather

In Autism Poem on August 12, 2011 at 1:19 pm
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This poem is in the voice of a parent / carer / friend of an autistic child, looking on helplessly while the child has a total meltdown.

In case you’re wondering, the extra spaces are intentional.

Brain Weather

:autistic meltdown ground zero

Think of                hemispheres:    Western, Left;
the wind-flows                 that connect them; the currents                       of sea; of electricity.

When was  it that             your frontal        lobe
Cauterized          itself against your       will
leaving  you endless       atomised local                   storms
with no way       to blow them    -selves out?

The last words you          said before the clouds came
stutter on            your small           tongue;
settle    in like cat-and    -dog rain, the syllables
hammering down, fixing one      thought with      a dozen stabs of lightning.

The miracle is not that it                stops, but how afterwards you can be so              calm and charming
– and puzzled that the rest of us still        drip and shiver from the rain.

autistic child with acute auditory processing disorder

In Autism Poem on August 7, 2011 at 11:14 pm

So here is the poem that led to me writing this book. It got lots of feedback wherever it went, and even won a prize.  I started to feel like there was a lot more where that came from. New Zealand poet and doctor Glenn Colquhoun saw a (much longer) early draft and told me it needed to be a whole collection of poems. I agreed. So did the ACT Government – they gave me a grant to work on it one day a week. Now I am writing it lots of brothers and sisters. The full CircleQuirk collection of autism poems is coming out in April 2012.

This particular poem explores the frightening and bewildering world of an autistic child, assaulted by everyday sounds most of us don’t even notice. Some of what happens in the poem has happened to my son, the rest has happened to children I know.

autistic child with acute auditory processing disorder

in the foetal position in the museum toilets, hands clamped over my ears, shrieking
trying to say there’s a dryer, there’s a dryer, any second now someone will set it off
the sound will be a faceful of boiling water

I’m sorry, your patient explanations are not getting through. It’s a very bad line.

at the indoor swimming pool, crouched behind the waterslide, poo-ing into my damp trunks
trying to say I have to get out, the echoes are attacking me in four dimensions, I’m on a bad trip and I can’t come down

at the washing line, moaning and trying to burrow under the grass
trying to say there’s a bird, there’s a bird, it’s going to swoop down and screech in my ear
the sound will ice-pick my skull

Your cognitive behaviour therapy is not getting through at all. It is a very bad line.

at a birthday party, buried under cushions and wailing like a siren
trying to say I can’t stand it, the music and the voices are tearing at me, pecking me apart

in my bedroom after school, kicking my baby sister in the face
trying to say go away, go away, you’re noisy, you’re unpredictable
I’ve been clinging to a cliff face for six hours and you’re dangling yourself from my ankles

sprinting straight into traffic, terrified of a toy poodle on the footpath
trying to say there’s a dog, there’s a dog, it’s going to bark
the sound will slug me like a sandpaper boxing glove

Your elaborate reward and punishment system, your guilt trips, your lectures, your bellowing and tears aren’t getting through either. This is a very bad line.

Published in Quadrant magazine, Jan-Feb 2011

Autistic Acrostic

In Autism Poem on August 5, 2011 at 4:54 pm

This poem is for all of us ASD parents who have had a ‘moment of clarity’ in the middle of one of their child’s meltdowns.

Incidentally, the poem is an acrostic, meaning the initial letters of all the lines spell out a word or message.  Can you read what it is? 

Autistic Acrostic

Any day now, it will lift.
Under your mask of howls, I see
Two knowing eyes reproaching me,
Incensed that I should try to shift
Some blame, for this, our hell, to you.
Mummy feels like howling too.

First published in Quadrant, Volume LIII, No.4, April 2009

Beach cricket with four-year-old

In Autism Poem on August 5, 2011 at 4:45 pm

A summer autism poem to warm up those of us freezing in the Southern hemisphere – and to chime in with the holiday vibe up North. If you don’t know what cricket is, just pretend it says ‘baseball’…

Beach cricket with four-year-old

Bat and ball
glow brightest summer yellow.
Mango-yellow; floatie-yellow; Slip’n’Slide yellow.
He loses patience
with hit and miss; prefers
to float them both—
mismatched vessels—
in the long flat lace-wash close to shore.
The water loves its new toys,
drags and tumbles them
never quite letting go.
He studies the shallows, points
at a bubble cluster.
“A galaxy! A galaxy!”
And suddenly the hollow
plastic things are flotsam
adrift on space-time;
an oblong and a sphere,
still loud yellow.
Rocket-flame-yellow; sun-yellow.

First published in Quadrant magazine, Nov 2009

Twitter poems about autism

In Autism Poem on August 5, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Since getting onto Twitter two months ago (yes, I know, a little late…) I have been exploring the 140-character format, complete with #hashtags, as a way of writing condensed poems.  My autism twitter poems are collected below. The are not exactly twaiku, but I think they’re still kinda punchy.  The slashes between phrases show where the linebreaks would go if Twitter allowed linebreaks. I’ve been struggling with what to call them. Autistweets? Suggestions welcome…

my boy perches on the pool’s edge/flapping his wet hands/people are staring/he sees only me, and grins:/’I caught an imaginary trout’ #ASD

#micropoetry #ASDparenting #firsteverjointsleepover Both sons away tonight/after 7 years/I don’t recognise this quiet/or this calm

#autism #newdiagnosis #bewilderment with that one word/a glass wall traps me/i thump and plead/the doctor looks away

The arrivals board/says my plane has landed/your brother hugs me/you won’t let us go home/the cascading numbers/are too beautiful #ASD

#micropoetry #ASD #autism #anxiety “I still have a ‘drenaline feeling'”/so I walk u down the hall/7 years old & terrified/of Bugs Bunny

#ASD #autism How about this one, madam:/calm to chaos in 60 seconds/looks like a Ferrari/handles like a submarine/oh and we lost the manual

4 years old/you splinter doors with your rage/There are questions I dare not ask now/One starts with the number 14/another with 40 #autism

locked out of our new house/I scrabble at flyscreens. You shriek./Note to self: explain #autism to the neighbours/before they call the cops