(c) Melinda Smith 2011

Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page

all magpies are autistic

In Autism Poem on October 31, 2011 at 5:41 pm
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Poetry appearing on this page was produced with the generous support of artsACT

This poem pretty obviously takes as its starting point the picture book All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome by Kathy Hoopman (and its companion All Dogs Have ADHD). However my poem experiments with another animal which is not quite cute enough for a picture book – the Australian Magpie.

 Readers from the Northern Hemisphere may not know about this bird, a beautiful but quirky creature about the size of an adult forearm, with black-and-white plumage (like its northern namesake) but with markedly different behaviour. They nest in eucalypt trees and are supremely comfortable in suburban gardens.  In spring, adult magpies defend their nests by aggressively swooping on all perceived intruders (i.e. passers-by) within about 300 yards of the nest.  Not only does this include pedestrians, but cyclists and cars as well ! Springtime magpie attack is such a public safety issue that many local councils erect signs like the one pictured at left.  This feature of magpie behaviour is alluded to in the poem, as are many other interesting magpie peccadilloes.

On another level the poem, like both of Kathy Hoopman’s picture books, plays with the idea of labelling of behaviour: what looks aberrant to one group looks perfectly normal to another. This idea may resonate with you if you have ASD – or if you know, care for and / or love someone on the spectrum. Enjoy.

All magpies are autistic

odd body postures and limb movements, such as twisting or flapping

                flutter-flutter. puff. flap-flap. stand. stalk. stop. hoppy – hoppy – hop. stop. waddle-potter. waddle-potter. stop. step. step. step. head on one side. stalk. stalk. stop.

misinterpretation of the intentions of others, causing antisocial behaviour

                Warning…Warning…Birds swooping! Birds are nesting in this area. If you come too close, they may attack !

failure to recognise social concepts such as personal space

                ‘Mum! The magpie’s trying to stand on my sandwich !’

appetite for substances largely non-nutritive (pica)

‘Muuuum!’ Now it’s trying to eat the plastic wrap!’

seemingly random outbursts of speech and noise-making

                ‘Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle, the magpies say.’*

extreme absorption in one restricted activity with apparent obliviousness to surrounding environment

                stock still. stock still. listen. listen. statue. statue. stock still. stock still. listen. listen. statue. sta – STAB THAT WORM !!

frequent self-stimulation by viewing shining, sparkling or rapidly oscillating objects

                pretty pretty alfoil. twinkle. twinkle. crinkle. love to watch. shiny bottle cap. light. light bouncing everywhere. pretty.

failure to understand social boundaries and lack of concern for the views of others, leading to transgression of behavioural norms

                pretty alfoil. want. take it. take it ? take it ! SNIP !



(*from Denis Glover‘s poem, ‘The Magpies’)


Shechinah – or God meets Temple Grandin

In Autism Poem on October 29, 2011 at 2:23 pm

This is a poem about the spiritual journey of Temple Grandin, a famous designer of humane livestock abbatoir technology who also happens to have autism.  She writes about the evolution of her faith at length in her book Thinking in Pictures. I have tried here to condense it to poetry – please comment if you think I have failed ( or even if you think I have succeeded ! ).

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Poetry appearing on this page was produced with the generous support of artsACT

For structure I have used a quote from Albert Einstein (a quote which Grandin also cites with approval in her book).  If you look carefully you’ll see that each stanza has one word of the quote in it somewhere ( in order, of course – this is an autism poem, after all 🙂  ).

The Hebrew word ‘Shechinah’ in the title means ‘the in-dwelling presence of God’.

This version of the poem has been revised substantially since it first appeared on my other blog back in September.

Science without religion is lame.  Religion without science is blind.
                                  – Albert Einstein

Shechinah – or God meets Temple Grandin

I find Him first in logic: in the science of snowflakes;
in the patterns silver makes on platinum.

Then entropy terrifies me, chaos as telos.
Without order, I worry: where can He dwell ?

Perhaps if He keeps the gate, shepherding each atom
on its path from heat to cold ? In this image I remake my religion.

I discover Him also in libraries: my serene heavens of silence
and infinite shelving. My dearest wish is an afterlife of browsing,

tasting the bliss of the Great System – the halt and the lame reclining
in the silent reading corner; angels bringing them books.

Then: a swim in a dip tank drowns my religion,
organophosphates douse my pillar of flame.

The hangover leaves me without my wonder.  I am Dorothy, aching for awe,
raising the Wizard’s curtain, staring at the little old man.

At long last I find Him in science again, not in order but in the mystery
of entangled subatomic particles: their synchronised vibrations

span universes in an instant.  He is everywhere at once ! And again, after all my seeking
He comes to me where I am: He is with me in the slaughterhouses,

with me in the daily work of death. He blesses my sacred charge:
to ease each animal, calmly, with love, through the blind valley of the shadow.

autism crumpets

In Autism Poem on October 25, 2011 at 7:42 pm
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Poetry appearing on this page was produced with the generous support of artsACT

I have been having fun with anagrams this week. Did you know there are 107,143 possible anagrams of the words ‘autism spectrum’ ? I picked a few of my favourites and made a poem for you. It does actually make a kind of alien sense if you read it through like you would a normal poem – as a story told from the outside, from the perspective of observers and carers.

By the way, pica (mentioned in the poem below) is a condition where a person has an appetite for things that aren’t food – e.g. soil, nails, paper, etc. Some ASD folks have pica in addition to their other challenges. Note it is different to oral sensory-seeking behaviour where the person sucks and chews things – with pica, they actually want to eat them.

PS : If you want some anagram fun of your own, go play with the internet anagram server.


autism crumpets

Static ‘me’ rumpus.
Imp tutu screams.
Mute. Strums. Pica.
Eat up! Mm! Tics-r-us.
Mute Mac purists.
Um…miscast erupt?

Up came mistrust
(rips Mum acutest).
Impact: muse rust.
Tacit ‘summer’s up’
captures its Mum.

Sure must impact,
must impact user.

Mum stirs teacup.

what the child hears

In Autism Poem on October 21, 2011 at 10:41 am
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Poetry appearing on this page was produced with the generous support of artsACT

This poem is for children.

In autistic child with acute auditory processing disorder  I explored some threatening and frightening aspects of living with hyper-sensitive hearing. This poem tries to find a happier place; to explore how constant contact with all audible sound –  the inability to ignore what most neurotypical people filter out unconsciously – may be a positive and enriching experience.

what the child hears

the sheep are speaking
to the frogs who are speaking
to the ravens who are speaking
to the crickets who are speaking
to the horses who are speaking
to the flies who are speaking
to the trucks on the highway who are speaking
to the ripples in the water who are speaking
to the farm dog who is speaking
to the metal bucket who is speaking
to the dragonfly who is speaking
to the plane who is speaking
to the reeds who are speaking
to the tractor who is speaking
to the mosquitoes who are speaking
to the magpies who are speaking
to the chainsaw who is speaking
to the sulphur-crested cockatoos who are speaking
to the farmer’s wife who is speaking
to the chickens who are speaking
to the frogs who are speaking
to the sheep who are speaking
to me