Ch. F: Klumsy Kat, But Only When Anxious (Started 7/20; Posted Complete 1/28/21; minor notes, Q updates 10/21)

Klumsy Kat is a female cat with multiple disabilities/ differences, which actually increases her lovability to everyone in the Coppola home (even the mom, albeit briefly) — especially Aspie Mouse, who requested her presence. Unlike other cats, KK (as she’s best known) delights to play with Aspie Mouse, and in return, gets AM’s help to reduce anxiety and thus her clumsiness. A key theme in the chapter is how others — even Aspie Mouse — initially see KK’s disabilities more clearly than her gifts and smarts.

Originally conceived as a short chapter with no villain (like Chapter E, 16 pages), Ch. F ends up a more typical 24-page length, due to adding a 9-page sub-plot in which AM & KK become joint “heroes” by driving out rats who’ve invaded #83’s house (still “vacant” of humans since Mr. Nakamura moved out early in Chapter C). However, Claire Coppola’s apparent allergic reaction to KK, plus the damage caused by KK’s “play,” leads the mom to insist KK must go — much to everyone else’s dismay.

First 2 pages were posted in July, 2020; 6 more pages were posted 1/12/2021. When pages 9-20 (12 pp.) were posted (1/23/21), it was completed as of 1/28/2021. Only minor tweaks have been posted since; however a few chapter pages will also need some minor corrections before final publication.

Notes for Chapter F, “Klumsy Kat, But Only When Anxious”

Klumsy Kat as a character was originally created around the same time as Stupid Mouse (Aspie Mouse’s forebear) when the Author of this Graphic Novel was 12 years old. But while Klumsy Kat often appeared in issues of Stupid Mouse in separate one-page stories — and was one of three cats featured in separate comic book specials called “The Cats” — she (ex-he) was involved in one story at most with Stupid Mouse.

To bring back this character, Klumsy Kat, but make her more 3-dimensional and truly unique this time, KK (nickname used most often) is the only cat in this graphic novel who likes playing with AM in a non-aggressive way, instead of wanting to kill him. Besides changing from a “he” to a “she,” KK’s former “stupid look” of one eye up, one eye down (which is what Aspie Mouse’s predecessor Stupid Mouse also had) was replaced by having one “lazy eye” to help explain coordination issues; then she’s made deaf, as all-white cats usually are (the original Klumsy Kat also was all-white). And this time her front paws were de-clawed — an all too-often procedure done to keep cats from scratching the furniture — usually with bad psychological and even physical problems resulting for the cat — and spayed (unable to have kittens). Finally, she also has Autism, which helps explain her “unexpected” behavior of not wanting to kill mice or birds, as well as her strong empathy for and affinity with Aspie Mouse. Also, like Brilli, the cat in Chapter C, KK compensates for being deaf by being really good at communicating telepathically — via thoughts — with other beings receptive to reading her thoughts.

Despite her apparent compatibility with the Coppola family — and even becoming a hero in helping Aspie Mouse rid #83’s house (the still unoccupied-by-humans ex-Nakamura house) of invading rats — Klumsy Kat ends up in trouble, even though all she is doing with Aspie Mouse is playing games like tag and hide-and-seek. When KK gets anxious, she causes upheaval: breaking things, interrupting meal preparation etc. Anxiety leading to upheaval is quite widespread in society, but especially pervasive for those with Autism. This is where Aspie Mouse comes in: he helps KK find ways to reduce her anxiety, which reduces her clumsiness. #83 & AM then come up with a better name while keeping her KK initials: Kind Kat!

Here are the four major “scenes” that follow KK’s introduction to AM:

  1. While teaching KK tag, Claire hits KK with a broom (thinking KK has bad intent for AM), which gets KK flustered, so she tumbles downstairs to the basement and breaks window glass;
  2. While finally being the “chased” in tag, KK slides on some oil on the floor, causing a pan of lasagna to land all over her, really upsetting Gloria (the mom). Not KK’s fault, but … ;
  3. #83 comes over to ask for AM’s help in ridding her house next door of rats that are trying to displace the mice; AM brings KK over and the rats decide they’ll find another house instead; this “scene” is the most complex in the chapter (complete with a “false improv play”), a sub-plot that runs 9+ pages.
  4. While playing a new game (for KK) – hide and seek – KK hides behind a rickety cabinet with fancy fragile dishes and figurines; it tips over, much breaks, and Gloria (the mom) gets super-angry

On the chapter’s last page — when Gloria Coppola believes she’s discovered that Claire is allergic to cats — or at least to Klumsy Kat — she now believes she has a “good reason” — besides KK’s destructive behavior — to get rid of KK (now “Kind Kat”), much to the dismay of Aspie Mouse — and everyone else in the house! Thus the chapter ends sadly: KK is “sent away” by the mom while everyone else is at school or work. The real explanation for Claire’s sneezing is partially hinted at by Tom Coppola (the dad), but not finally revealed/ verified by AM’s sister E (re-introduced as E-flat, now an adult in the next chapter) until the very last page of Chapter I. What E-flat says sets up anticipation for AM & KK to reunite again in the next graphic novel, The Further Adventures of Aspie Mouse (Chapters J ff.).

Questions for Thought/ Discussion: Ch. F, ” Klumsy Kat, But Only When Anxious “

F 1: On the first page of this chapter, several different “body language” postures and cues are shown.

a. How good are you in interpreting other people’s facial features and body language?

b. What’s unusual about the way Bobby and Aspie Mouse are sitting in the first panel? What do you think it means?

c. In separate panels, Bobby and AM each fold their arms in front of their chest. Does it mean the same thing for both of them? What does it mean? Do you ever fold your arms in front of your chest? If yes, what does it mean when you do it?

d. Aspie Mouse nods up and down (we know that means yes), but also spins around “in circles” after Bobby draws a picture of a cat. Do you agree that AM spinning around in circles means for AM what Bobby says it would mean for him — “positive excitement?” Do you sometimes spin around in circles? If yes, what does it mean for you?

d. In the last panel on Page 1, Mrs. Coppola puts her hand on her forehead. What do you think it means for her? Do you sometimes slap your forehead? What does it mean for you?

F 2: Klumsy Kat is introduced right away as having “multiple disabilities” — hearing and eyesight issues, plus having been de-clawed. There’s little dispute these are “disabilities” (or disorders). On the other hand, people with Autism often dispute having their brain function described that way, vs. as “differences.”

a.  Why do you think Mrs. Coppola is particularly afraid of letting Klumsy Kat (KK) go outside? What might happen to KK outside? Do you think Mrs. Coppola is being overly protective? Do you believe her fears about KK getting hurt more about KK or more about what others will think about her (Gloria Coppola)?

b. How much do you think KK’s “differences/ disabilities” vs. other cats matter in how positively Claire and AM in particular react initially to KK? Or is it mostly her “character” apart from her “differences”?

c. What concerns would you have about KK if she met up with a fiercer cat (such as Brilli in Ch. C or the ASPCA cat in Ch. D? In Ch. G, you’ll see just such a meetup.

d.  What is your position as to whether — or to what extent — Autism is a difference? a disorder? a disability?

F 3: As the chapter moves along, KK gets frustrated with how others (humans, rodents, other cats) focus so much on her “multiple conditions/ disabilities” that they — even Aspie Mouse — seem to overlook her gifts, including how smart she is.

a. Does KK’s frustration with how her gifts, including intelligence and an ability to read at least some others’ thoughts seem to be overlooked by everyone seem real to you? Why do you think even Aspie Mouse, who has his own “challenges,” does not always give KK’s gifts full credit?

a. Do you have “multiple challenges” that is, one or more conditions besides Autism that society treats as a disorder or disability? If yes, how do these/ does this other condition(s) increase your difficulties in dealing with the non-Autistic world? What positives do you have from this/ these additional condition(s)?

b. Continuing from (a), if you have “multiple challenges” that are obvious or labeled disabilities, do you have the same issue as KK — that others see your challenges way better than they see your strengths? Do you sometimes do the same to yourself?

c. Whether or not you have multiple “disabilities/ challenges” or not (whether you are Autistic or not), do you believe you have overlooked some, most or even all the strengths someone with multiple “disabilities/ challenges” has (especially if some are “visible/ obvious”)? If so, is it because you notice their disabilities/ challenges so much? What else might be going on with you if that’s true? If you have looked past such people’s strengths, are you interested in changing that? What might you do to prevent doing so as often in the future?

d. If you have both “visible” challenges (race, disfigured face, conditions such as blindness, deafness, using a wheelchair, speech impediment) and “invisible” challenges (Autism, AD(H)D, depression, anxiety, heart condition, etc.), which do you find easier for others without obvious challenges to look past or overlook? Which do others seem to get “stuck” on? Which get more sympathy from adults and/ or others your age (visible or less visible?), and which don’t seem to be treated with as much sympathy or empathy?

e. A big fear KK expresses (bottom left panel, page 3) is that because of her disabilities and her values (not wanting to kill mice), she might be either “sent away” or “put to sleep” (killed by a vet). Is this a fear that you can relate to, if you have multiple challenges? If you attend a residential school, what do you believe about your parents’ decision to send you there (how much do you believe it was out of love or to “get back some time for themselves?”

f. What do you think of KK’s willingness to be positive about life, the future and especially other beings (as she says on the top of page 3, no one is “all evil) — and why she says she’s this way? Even at the very end of the chapter, notice her belief she’ll soon see Aspie Mouse again — it happens to be true, but it didn’t look likely, did it?

g. What’s the difference between sympathy and empathy? Which do you offer to others, if either? Which do you prefer to receive from others? Why might it matter?

F 4. In the bottom panel of page 19, KK says Aspie Mouse is her first real friend.

a. Are you surprised or not surprised KK says that?

b. What’s your own experience with making friends? Do you remember who your “first real friend” was? Or haven’t you had one yet to whom you’d give that level of significance?

c. Is it easy or hard for you to make friends? Do you have a lot of friends, a few, one or none? What is the difference in your mind between a friend and an acquaintance?

d. How often do you feel lonely when you aren’t with friends? Do you sometimes feel lonely when you ARE with friends? Do you prefer being alone, 1-on-1, or in a group? Or does it depend — and if so, what does it depend upon?

e. What do you think stops you from making or keeping friendships, if anything? What makes it easier?

f. Do you have siblings (brother/ sister/ cousin) who are like friends? If your sibling(s) is/are different from you in terms of having Autism or not, or in how severe it is, do you think that makes the relationship more or less close than it otherwise might be?

(Note, the prior chapter, E, also addresses friendships, as does Chapter H in a different way).

F 5: Some common fears that many children have are brought out in this chapter, only they happen mostly to animals, not people.

a. When the rats invade #83’s house, did you have no reaction (it’s just another story twist), a small reaction (feeling sorry for #83, concern for Aspie Mouse or KK doing OK), or a very strong reaction? Have you ever had the experience of feeling “invaded” when someone moved into your home or stayed for a while (birth or adoption of a younger brother or sister; a cousin, uncle, aunt or grandparent moving in; a babysitter or nanny moving in or being there a lot during the day; someone new dating or moving in after a parent divorced, etc.)? If yes, how did it affect you?

b. At the end of the chapter, KK gets sent away after causing destruction while playing in the house. Have you ever caused damage while playing in the house — or a friend at your house, or you at a friend’s house? What were the consequences for you?

c. How did YOU feel when KK got sent away? Is there more than one feeling? How do you feel toward each of the following, from this list: anger, sadness, fear, shame, joy — toward KK; Aspie Mouse; Bobby; Claire, Tom (the dad), Gloria (the mom)?

d. Did you ever have the fear that your parents might send you away because they couldn’t manage you? Did your parents ever actually send you away to school, etc.? If yes, what was the reason given? What do you fear could be another reason?

e. Have you ever lost a pet that needed to be removed from the house for any reason? How did you feel when this happened? Was the reason explained well for you?

f. Do you love yourself? Do you believe your parents and other relatives love you? Do you believe love is unconditional (you are loved no matter what you do) or conditional (you are loved IF you behave in certain ways)? How do you love others — unconditionally or conditionally?

g. At the very bottom right of the last panel, Aspie Mouse is having trouble knowing how he feels. What do you think he’s really feeling after KK is sent away? Do you have trouble identifying any of your feelings — anger, sadness, fear, shame, joy?

F 6: Tom and Gloria Coppola have disagreed on how to raise their kids/ deal with pets for the past four chapters, but the differences are especially obvious in this chapter.

a. Do your parents or guardians seem to be “on the same page” with how to treat your Autism or other issues/ differences? Or do they disagree? How do you feel about the situation either way? Do your parents seem to agree or disagree on other issues also, such as politics, money, vacations, etc.?

b. If your parents are separated or divorced, what have you been told as to why? Are you satisfied with the explanation? If they live apart, do they agree on how to treat you (and any other kids), or does either parent say bad things about the other parent? If so, what do you believe is true?

c. The mom (Gloria) in this graphic novel is the one who denies or minimizes the value of medical tests and treatments, especially for mental health issues, whereas Tom (the dad) is more open to being curious/ getting tests, getting therapy, etc. Does this seem to “go against what you expect” (in your experience, is the mom more willing to get tests and treatments vs. the dad), or not?

d. Following from c: in your family, if there is a disagreement, which parent seems more against testing or possibly expensive treatments/ solutions? Which parent’s opinion do you more often side with, and why? If your parents agree, are they pro-testing and treatment or both mostly against? How does that make you feel?

F 7: Per Question A 7: a list of common Autism traits, followed by two questions related to them:

  1. No eye contact
  2. Sensory sensitivity: noise, certain lights, smells & touch
  3. Voice Volume, Repetition & Variability
  4. Stimming (repetitive body or hand movements)
  5. Anxiety (fear) in social situations
  6. Executive Function easily overwhelmed > meltdown responses of fight, flight or freeze
  7. Over-sensitivity: over-reaction or no visible reaction (mistaken as not caring)
  8. Love routine/ dislike change and transitions
  9. Pattern-seeking/ solving problems in unique ways
  10. Special Interest(s) that can lead to unique expertise
  11. Lack of Social Understanding
  12. Honesty, innocence, naivete
  13. Can’t remember names or faces, read body language etc.
  14. Not Showing or Over-showing Feelings
  15. Extreme thoughts swirl around inside, unrestrained by social norms.
  16. Talk too much/ ask too many questions or avoid attention (silence, don’t ask Q’s)
  17. Difficulty getting & keeping friends, relationships & jobs
  18. Difficulty feeling safe, really trusting others
  19. Don’t Understand Jokes or Overdo “Puns”
  20. Sharing one’s diagnosis — should I or not? When & where?

a. Which of these characteristics can you identify that Aspie Mouse or another Autistic rodent or human character exhibits in this chapter — either negative or positive? How about a non-autistic character? Feel free to skip any characteristic already answered in chapter-specific questions above.

b. Do you find examples in this chapter of cats or other non-rodent animals acting Autistic? If yes, how?

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