Ch. I: At the Zoo During a Pandemic (1st 6 pp. and last page)

Posted as of 5/2/2021: the first 10 pages — and very last page (currently unnumbered) — of this volume’s last chapter. Set during the early months of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, Ch. I’s main focus is on Aspie Mouse’s interaction with a variety of zoo animals and his sister E-flat. An outline for the rest of this chapter follows the first 10 pages. At the end of this last chapter of this graphic novel (that last page), E-flat’s “oh by the way” revelations both tie up some loose ends from prior chapters, and open up new possibilities — which will be explored in a sequel, The Further Adventures of Aspie Mouse. The new chapters will start as “J” (maybe with a “Pre-J”) and then go K, L, M, etc. Meanwhile, the first 10 chapters of this blog will remain complete on the blog until they’re published in print and e-book. Even afterwards, the first page or pages of these first volume chapters will remain on the blog.

Note: Aspie Mouse’s sister E-flat — the other major character besides Aspie Mouse in this chapter — is introduced briefly in Ch. B; she’s then the last of the “visitors” in Ch. G; and makes a cameo in Ch. H in preparation for her key role in this chapter.

This Chapter I is expected to be one of the longest chapters, rivaling Ch. G (36 pages). It has more action than most chapters — in that respect more like Ch’s. A & H — as Aspie Mouse goes from animal to animal in the early days of a (the) pandemic when the zoo is closed to visitors.

Synopsis of plan for rest of this chapter: After losing his mask while visiting the “big cats,” AM tries each of the other three “cat” buildings (medium-large, like cougars; medium-small like bobcats, and finally smaller house-cat-like cats. Having had enough after trying to play with these zoo cats, he is intrigued by the “Birds of Prey” exhibit until he realizes his mouse brethren inside are being eaten. He then tries to find his sister, but unsure of where she is, gets a series of “rides” from a giraffe, a camel, and an elephant to the house of snakes — where he “rescues” other mice from becoming snake food from two zookeepers. After finding out that large dogs like coyotes, wolves & foxes aren’t interested in playing “fetch,” AM finally finds his sister E-flat, and together they finish their visit with other land rodents that they can talk with — helping Guinea pigs get coveted dandelion greens that grow naturally out of reach. Just as AM & his sister are about to split to go to their respective homes, E-flat casually mentions hearing that AM’s former family is looking for him. That — along with other news she reveals — leaves him confused & conflicted. Besides making readers look forward to reading this volume’s sequel, this ending helps settle a couple of unresolved threads from previous chapters.

Chapter I Notes:

Chapter I begins with Aspie Mouse learning about the pandemic from his sister E-flat. The time is likely mid-April of 2020, a good five months after Chapter H ends (a week before Veteran’s Day): this “gap” may raise questions from observant Aspie’s. The author tries to cover that long time gap in the first panel, but it’s an inconsistency that bothers the author, so it may bother readers as well. How better to treat that gap would be welcomed!

Social interactions between Aspie Mouse and various animal species (including fellow rodents) is the main thrust of this chapter — and the misunderstandings that result from how different the experiences and perspectives of these other animals are from his.

AM becomes eager to join E-flat to the zoo when the opportunity to play with a variety of cats is proposed — for too long, he hasn’t been able to. But first he sees pandemonium (and no social distancing or mask wearing) at a feeding site for animals suddenly deprived of their usual zoo visitor feeders. Then he goes off on his own, first coming across bats — fellow rodents, but with completely different powers and problems. They remind him of the squabbles he had with his siblings growing up, so he leaves eagerly to find the promised cats. But first he decides to take a shortcut through Monkey Island. Turns out it IS a shortcut, but not without its risks. And he learns that animals playing together with their own species play very differently with other species, something he hasn’t quite understood with cats not named KK.

The heart of the chapter is AM’s journey through the four buildings in the cat quadrangle. He gets more than he bargained for, especially in the first three buildings, devoted to large, medium-large and medium-small wild cats. While only one set of questions are devoted to these adventures, the interactions are rather numerous, albeit short. You can ask questions of your students as to what they learn in the course of these feline interactions, as well as what AM learns — if anything. The last question about cat gender is answered by: knowing something obvious about large yellow cats; then how a small-medium cat is addressed by another, and how Aspie Mouse gets treated by a small “house cat-sized” cat.

Chapter I Questions for Thought or Discussion:

I 1: Aspie Mouse finds out about the pandemic when his sister E-flat visits him.

  1. How did you react when you first heard about the pandemic? How did you react when everything got shut down in March of 2020?
  2. How did your world change when the shutdown came? How long did you believe the changes would last?
  3. How did you cope as the pandemic dragged on past a year before things returned to something familiar? How long did it take for you to “go back” to before the pandemic? Or have you made permanent changes in your life even now?
  4. How did Aspie Mouse react to the pandemic? How much did he seem to be concerned for others?
  5. How did AM’s sister E-flat respond to the pandemic? How did that differ from AM’s response?
  6. Why was AM so upset at the response of other rodents and birds where E-flat was volunteering?
  7. What activities that you really cared about got interrupted by the pandemic? Did you get back to them?

I 2: Aspie Mouse first visits bats — fellow rodents.

  1. As in Chapter H, Aspie Mouse’s visit with the bats is like talking to peers. What about the bats make AM uncomfortable? What about AM makes the bats uncomfortable? What does the interaction remind you about in your own life?
  2. What did AM not seem to understand about how they spoke to each other and to him? Do you have situations where others laugh AT you (at your expense) because you don’t understand the underlying meaning of idioms (expressions that mean more than the words)?
  3. Why was AM Mouse glad to get out of the bat house? What did it remind him of?

I 3: Aspie Mouse’s next interaction was with monkeys.

  1. How did AM’s decision to try a “shortcut” work out in the end?
  2. What did AM appreciate about the monkeys?
  3. What did AM not appreciate about the monkeys?
  4. Is your experience with play especially, but also with friendships in general, more like AM (more 1-to-1) or more like the monkeys (more often “part of a group”)?
  5. Does AM’s interaction with the monkeys remind you of any interactions with other people in your life? In your experience, do you identify more with the monkeys or more with Aspie Mouse?

I 4: Aspie Mouse’s whole reason for joining E-flat going to the zoo was to “play with the cats.” So he gets to the cat quadrangle and has a variety of experiences.

  1. What happens with the large cats that makes AM decide that when it comes to playing with cats, bigger isn’t necessarily better? In what situations in your life have “bigger” or “getting more” not worked out? When have they worked out?
  2. If you have a problem getting jokes that “play on words” (double meanings, puns, etc.), see if you can discover the “double meaning” of the phrase “… playing with me” that AM complains about when he visits the ocelot on Page I-11.
  3. How many of the cats Aspie Mouse meets in the Cat (Feline) Quadrangle can be identified by gender/ sex? Which one(s), which gender(s) and how do you know?

I 9: At the end of Ch. I, there’s an interaction between Aspie Mouse and his sister E-flat that addresses a key “complaint” those without Autism often have of those who are Autistic: that “Aspie’s” don’t have good manners, such as in greeting people and saying goodbye to them (also see end of Ch. B & Ch. G).

a. Should E-flat bring this up with Aspie Mouse as her brother? Is this something anyone’s complained about with you? Have you brought it up with anyone else?

b. E-flat says AM doesn’t reply “appropriately” when they split because he is absorbed in his thoughts — already on to the next thing before finishing goodbye rituals. Does she have a point? Do you or someone you know immediately switch to thinking about/ doing other things when someone’s ready to leave?

c. If you agree this is something that separates you from others in some of your interpersonal relationships, what techniques might you use to maintain your connection better?

d. What do you think of AM’s “confusion” in the very last panel — how E-flat could complain about his lack of showing manners due to self-absorbed thoughts when they are departing, yet she claims to have been so busy with her volunteering that she “forgot” to give him crucial information that could completely change his life from that point on? Is this “… the pot calling the kettle black”?

I 10: The “rumors” E-flat reveals to AM on the last page create new possibilities for him if true.

a. What are the reasons AM changed where he lived that may no longer be valid, given what’s happened at his new home (per Chapter H)?

b. What are the reasons AM changed where he lived that may no longer be valid, given what E-flat told him?

c. What are reasons, if any, for AM to remain in his new home despite what’s happened and what’s rumored to have happened?

d. What do you think Aspie Mouse will do based on E-flat’s new information?

e. (When) have you made a decision that seemed to be a good one, but then information you got later made you question that decision? Were you able to “go back”?

f. Do you find making decisions easy, a bit of a challenge, or quite difficult? Once you make a decision, do you let things go as to how they turn out or do you second-guess yourself a lot?

g. Are you better at making decisions or solving problems? Do you think other people with Autism are likely to answer that question in a similar way or would they vary like everyone else?

I 11: As in prior chapters, here is a list of common Autism traits, followed by three questions related to them — with more explanation for the traits and three questions vs. two (more like Ch. A) vs. Ch’s B-H:

  1. No eye contact: varies in degree. Makes others uncomfortable and judge you’re not paying attention, listening to them or caring about them. Over-staring instead can lead to accusations of harassment.
  2. Sensory sensitivity: loud or persistent noises, fluorescent or flickering lights, specific smells, touch (clothing comfort/ discomfort; avoiding or craving others’ touch).
  3. Voice Volume, Repetition & Variability: speaking in a monotone, saying the same things over and over OR overly loud, overly dramatic, keeps talking & talking and asks a lot of questions or never does.
  4. Stimming: rocking back & forth or side-to-side, flapping of arms/ hands, rolling balls in pocket, cutting oneself, public touching of private parts.
  5. Anxiety (fear): during or thinking about social situations — don’t understand what others expect. Typical responses (also to shame): fight (do or say something hurtful); flight (run away/ retreat to cellphone, bedroom, imagination) or freeze (body’s still here, but “frozen,”). Depression is extreme freeze, self-shame.
  6. Over-sensitivity: older term for anxiety/ shame feelings and responses. Leads to over-reaction or no visible reaction. Either response attracts bullies. No reaction is mistaken as not caring.
  7. Pattern-seeking: Aspie’s seek patterns everywhere, often finding them where others don’t. Can be numbers, lines of computer code, grammar & spelling, subtle ripples in water, etc. Problem: putting people in “boxes.” Benefit: can lead to careers in computers, engineering, inventing & the arts.
  8. (Obsessive) Special Interest(s): Favored activities that Aspies focus on to the exclusion of all else when they can. Can lead to rewarding careers. Can also drive others crazy. Hard to transition to an important activity.
  9. Love routine/ dislike change: Aspies thrive with daily routines; frees their minds to focus on unusual problems, etc. Hard time with transitions and disruption of the routine. Aspies aren’t seen as “flexible.”
  10. Lack of Social Understanding: Aspie’s stand too close or too far away from others, interrupt others’ speaking without waiting for a pause, are considered “rude” for not noticing lines, blocking access to food. Accused of being “selfish” when they don’t react as “expected,” yet just don’t know the rules.
  11. Can’t remember names or faces, read body language etc.: Considered self-centered not obeying non-verbal signals. No, just bewildered by unwritten rules that they can’t “read.”
  12. Not Showing or Over-showing Feelings: Some Aspies may not experience certain feelings, or they may, but not understand or ignore them. A larger group of Aspies don’t SHOW their feelings, inside they’re feeling so much they are “frozen” and can’t show it — much to the frustration of others who think they “don’t care.” Other Aspie’s show extreme reaction to feelings and accused of “acting.”
  13. Don’t Understand Jokes: Common for those who take everything someone else says at face value. They don’t “get” irony, satire, etc. Maybe easily fooled and made the butt of jokes they don’t get. Other Aspies LOVE jokes — especially word puns! Positive: a high level of honesty. Aspies tell the truth, both good & bad!
  14. Difficulty getting & keeping friends, relationships & jobs: Most Aspies don’t “court” or interview well. They say too much, too little, or unexpected (rude) things — makes others feel uncomfortable.
  15. Difficulty feeling safe: Aspies feel “unsafe” a lot (anxiety) — not understanding social “rules,” make their own safety priorities. This often causes trouble with parents, partners or friends, angry with an Aspie’s “wrong” safety priority.
  16. Sharing one’s diagnosis: Aspies worry about when or with whom to admit having Autism. Safety issue!

a. Which of these characteristics can you identify that Aspie Mouse or another Autistic character exhibits in this chapter — either negative or positive?

b. Which animals in this chapter display Autistic traits? Explain. Which may have one or more other possible human diagnoses of “difference”?

c. DIFFERENT FROM OTHER CHAPTERS: For the 16 characteristics listed above, for those you have, how many POSITIVE aspects of it can you find in yourself? In other Aspie’s you know?

One comment

  1. Woohoo! Aspie Mouse is such a well-defined character. It’s like you know him or something. đŸ˜€
    Love the illustration on the bottom of I4.


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