When Chapter C was revised from 24 pages to its present 30-page length — two years to the day after it was first posted on this blog — it became the last chapter to get the same updated format every other chapter already had: page dimensions altered to better fit when reduced to the typical printed graphic novel 5-1/2″ x 8″ size; space given around individual panels (unless part of a numbered sequence) & more consistently sized lettering.
Now it’s being revised one last time in the late summer of 2022. No new pages are being added, but as with the previous chapters (A & B) — after Ch. Pre-A [the Preface] refocused on 27 common characteristics of Autism — existing dialogue is being modified, and new “thought balloons” are being added; this shows more of the thought processes and what’s behind choices Autistic characters make. This in turn will make it easier for readers to fill in the chart of Question C.1 (every chapter has or will have a Question #1 tied to the 27 Autism traits).
Basic plot: A family of four humans is given a cat by an elderly neighbor who has Autism, because the neighbor is moving to assisted living. The cat has a different mental health challenge — antisocial personality disorder — which makes her behavior more dangerous to others, which is rarely true for Autistics — those with Autism are usually the victims, not the perpetrators, of bullying and other cruelty. The cat, Brilli, rids the house of mice, but does so in cruel ways. Aspie Mouse, fresh from graduating from the mouse “MIT,” moves in — liking that it has a cat and no other mice — disregarding the concerns from a surviving mouse, now living next door, about his safety. Once in, Aspie Mouse decides to play with the cat, which proves to be a greater challenge than with any cat he’s yet met. Brilli is also challenged more by Aspie Mouse than any other mouse she’s tried to catch and kill.
After escaping many of the cat’s attempts to catch and kill him (who continues to think the cat’s playing — even being helpful — perhaps even after the family goes to church on Sunday morning), Aspie Mouse almost gets caught by this ultimate “bully” — except another “Aspie” saves the day. Even after being “rescued,” Aspie Mouse still isn’t sure whether Brilli is all that mean — might she be playing after all? Brilli makes one more attempt to catch Aspie Mouse, but fails, after which she’s sent away to a strange circus. Bobby (the human household boy) and Aspie Mouse figure out they can read each others’ minds, at least to some degree. Brilli can read both Aspie Mouse’s & Bobby’s minds perfectly, but she’s disgusted that the boy bonds better with Aspie Mouse than with her, while both Aspie Mouse & Bobby get better at reading Brilli’s mind, or at least her feelings, as the chapter progresses.
Notes for Chapter C, “There Goes the Smartest Cat That Ever Lived“
As with Chapter B, Chapter C is entirely new for these Adventures. What’s unusual is that our hero, Aspie Mouse — who rejects any claim to that title of “hero” — does not appear until the bottom of Page 12, 40% of the way into this 30-page chapter. This delay allows readers a chance to get to know the human family which will be sharing space with Aspie Mouse for five chapters (B-G) — more than half the graphic novel. Also, it gives readers insight into how the home is “prepared” for Aspie Mouse’s arrival — specifically, how horrid a new cat in the house, Brilli, systematically eliminates all other mice from the house by torture before Aspie Mouse gets there.
Basic plot: A family of four humans (the Castelluzo’s) is given a cat by an elderly neighbor (Fumio Nakamura), because the neighbor is moving to assisted living. Two of the humans, the neighbor and the son Bobby, are identified as Autistic. The cat Brilli has a different mental health challenge — antisocial personality disorder — which shows up when she rids the house of mice — yet in really cruel ways. Aspie Mouse, fresh from graduating from the mouse “MIT,” moves in — liking that it has a cat and (now) no other mice. He disregards the concerns for our hero’s safety expressed by a Neurotypical mouse, #83, one of the few who escaped Brilli and is now living next door. #83 will continue to befriend and pursue Aspie Mouse throughout Chapters C-G.
Once in the house, Aspie Mouse decides to play with the cat (of course), which proves to be a greater challenge than with any cat he’s met before. Brilli is similarly challenged by Aspie Mouse, the one mouse she seems unable to catch and kill or even chase out of the house. Even after escaping many of the cat’s attempts to catch (and kill) him, Aspie Mouse continues to think the cat might still be playing — and even being helpful — even after he’s almost caught by this ultimate “bully” after the human family goes to church on Sunday morning. Then, after being “rescued” by another Autistic character, Aspie Mouse still seems willing to give Brilli the benefit of the doubt — that she isn’t really that mean — so might she be playing after all? Brilli makes one more attempt to catch Aspie Mouse, but fails — resulting in Brilli being sent away to a strange animal circus.
Bobby (the human household boy) and Aspie Mouse figure out they can read each others’ minds, at least to some degree. Brilli can read both their minds perfectly. While they struggle to “thought read” Brilli’s words, Bobby and Aspie Mouse eventually find they can read her feelings/ emotions, as well as each others’ feelings/ emotions, yet they still struggle to understand their own feelings/ emotions. Brilli is disgusted — and a bit afraid — when she realizes that the boy bonds better with Aspie Mouse than with her!
“Thought reading” — introduced in this chapter and then used selectively by certain characters in subsequent chapters — is just a literary device various characters possess to help move the story along in a good way. It’s no different from other fictional devices where readers are asked to suspend their beliefs about what’s possible, especially in animal fiction. These other literary devices requiring belief suspensions used in these Adventures include mice, cats, etc. who: read and write, speak intelligently with each other, and (with effort) grasp some human speech and writing; use a cell phone as a desktop — er, floortop — computer; improve upon complex human inventions; and have mental health challenges such as Autism!
The author purposely uses this device — thought reading — selectively. In Chapter A (and H), it’s purposely not the reason Aspie Mouse understands Prof. Gonzalez’s speech; that’s for a different reason. Note that Aspie Mouse usually only “thought reads” when he comes into contact with another character who thought reads a lot. While the boy Bobby is an exception — they aren’t regular thought readers, yet learn to understand each other — their ability to read each other’s thoughts is incomplete. Thought reading is especially useful for the cat character KK introduced in Ch. F, given her multiple disabilities, including deafness. If you have (or are) a reader still skeptical about accepting thought reading, try this: given the difficulty many Aspies have in understanding expected social behaviors, isn’t Neurotypical non-verbal communication in our day-to-day world — including the ability to read between the lines of what is said — often as mysterious to many Aspies as thought reading would be to most folks?
Originally, I (the author) asked for reader input as to whether showing the cat character Brilli “enjoying killing/ torturing mice” on pages C6-9 would cause problems for parents, teachers, librarians, etc., particularly of very sensitive kids (with or without Autism),the pages C.6-9, where Brilli the cat tortures mice while ridding the house of them. I’ve made these pages easy to skip over. Now, though I’ve made sure the mice being killed are more anonymous: they don’t speak, scream or otherwise be personalized; and when they get “bashed,” there’s no visible blood or gore (though blood is mentioned) — in the spirit of comics and cartoons from the 1950’s and ’60’s. And of course, cats as serial killers — I’ve heard as many as one billion birds a year may be killed in the U.S. by domestic housecats — has always been the way of the world.
Yet I’m not sure this is the part of the work that will upset most readers. My teenage son is far more bothered by the scenes of Aspie Mouse sucking milk from his own Momma (Ch. B), and a feline mother (Ch. I). In a way, it’s not surprising in a society where violence is tolerated even for younger children, but intimacy of any sort (and what’s more intimate than a baby sucking on their mother’s breast?) is another matter entirely. Input would still be helpful! For now, I’ll just leave the warning for those who’d rather not watch Brilli methodically exterminate the home’s mice in the name of being a chef and a lover of Shakespeare and other “literature.”
Other questions for readers and their guides: Do you approve of how this chapter presents Brilli the cat as a character? Is making Brilli female a good idea? Note that there are several positive female characters — human, feline and rodent — introduced throughout this work. In particular, KK — a very different cat, and a true counter-weight to Brilli — is introduced in Ch. F, and then appears together with Brilli during the graphic novel’s most climactic scene near the end of Chapter G.
Brilli is NOT Autistic! It’s important to make that point clear! Brilli is a combination psychopath/ sociopath, the two subsets of Anti-Social Disorders within what are known as Type B Personality Disorders. Other Type B PD’s (personality disorders) are borderline p.d., histrionic p.d. and narcissistic p.d. (dictatorially-inclined politicians and strong-men are usually pointed to as having “extreme narcissism, which can make for an interesting class discussion given recent world and national leaderships)! What’s the difference between a Psychopath and a Sociopath? Psychopaths pretend to care how others feel but don’t; display cold-hearted behavior; don’t notice others’ distress; have fake, shallow relationships; maintain normal life as cover for criminal activity; fail to form genuine emotional attachments; they may love others — in their own way . Sociopaths make it clear they don’t care what others feel; are hot-headed, impulsive with fits of rage; know what they do is wrong but rationalize it; can’t maintain regular work & family life; can form emotional attachments with great difficulty. Brilli is probably neither fully psychopath nor fully sociopath, but a combination. (Source of above: “How sociopaths are different from psychopaths” by Marcia Purse; verywellmind.com, updated 6.15.2020)
Type B Personality Disorders are quite distinct from Social Pragmatic Differences (Disorders) such as Autism, ADHD, OCD, Bi-polar and PTSD! Those with Type B personality disorders have mental health challenges that are often dangerous to society, whereas those with Autism rarely behave violently or vengefully– even though violent and cruel thoughts are common. It’s much more likely that those with Autism are the victims — not the perpetrators — of bullying and other cruelty. So yes, Brilli may share a couple of traits common to those with Autism, such as difficulty taking another person’s perspective, but it’s different: Aspies may empathize with another’s pain, while a psychopath doesn’t; on the other hand, the psycho/ sociopath usually finds it easy to figure out what another expects in the way of behavior — while the Aspie is clueless — but then uses that information to purposely cause distress. Few Aspies mean to hurt others; their poor perspective-taking may lead to that, but it’s not intentional.
Several autistic traits are shared with other mental health profiles — including Neurotypicals — but Autistic individuals have many more of these traits, with those related to lack of social understanding/ perspective-taking being most prominent. For example, both Brilli and most characters with Autism engage in negative self-talk, such as the Vietnamese River Cat in Chapter I. The difference is Brilli will blame everyone else, think she deserves to have it better than anyone else, and seek to take revenge on the world. By contrast, Autistic individuals are more likely to blame themselves, and beat themselves up — seeing themself as a “bad person.”
Another trait found widely among all types of people in our stress-inducing society is Anxiety —- and its darker companion, Depression. The notes for Ch. B say much more about Anxiety. The point is that Brilli is so overwhelmingly Psycho/ Socio-pathic at her core, that any Autism trait she possesses is incidental/ coincidental. So she may feel anxiety about what she wants to do — but is far more concerned about how it looks, not getting caught, etc. Depression is rare among those with Type B personality disorders!
One more Autistic trait worth discussing here because of how it shows up in Ch. C: “works well independently” (Trait #12), also known as being a “loner.” As noted in Ch. Pre-A, and then again in Ch. B’s notes, it’s the other side of what’s seen as a negative trait: “poor at team work.” This team work difficulty shows up regularly in this work — in Ch’s. B, C, F, G, H & I at a minimum. However, Ch. C is the only chapter where another character “rescues” Aspie Mouse, as opposed to Aspie Mouse being “in charge” of the team. To illustrate how weak a team player I, the author, have been most of my life, I initially asked for feedback from readers and caregivers if in this one instance, it was OK if Aspie Mouse could show vulnerability and that he needed help. Duh! Of course he should! He probably should show it in more places (though he does get it from K.K. in Ch’s. F & G)! This is a message I have been working hard to give myself — permission, or even insistence, that I ask for and accept help from others, whether that’s feedback or actual physical assistance in fixing computer problems, moving furniture and planning family events!
Notice when Aspie Mouse covers his eyes and hopes this is all a dream, or Brilli the cat suddenly changes her mind, etc., it never occurs to him to ask for or hope for help from another living being — or even God. This is a key dilemma in the lives of those with Autism: not realizing the benefits of asking for and getting help from others. This is true even for Autistic folks only too glad to help others, even sometimes without being asked. Human beings are social beings, even if those with Autism prefer being “rugged individualists.”
Early on, I (the author) hated group projects in Social Studies in Elementary School; I could never imagine studying in a group; and I’ve struggled in small groups my whole life (which is apparently quite common, again per Been There, Done That… by Tony Attwood). I never wanted “help” from anyone; I wanted to “make it on my own.” I was so proud to be the only one I knew to buy my first house without needing down payment help from family. Only later in life did I realize most families give their progeny whatever advantages they can, so my resistance was foolish in hindsight. For example, the rich and powerful will often have their best friend hire their child, and in turn, they’ll hire their best friend’s child, so the nepotism isn’t so obvious! Two things said about former U.S. President George W. Bush reveal this version of family “help”: (a) “He was the 4th straight generation of “self-made” Bush men”; (b) “He was born on third base, so he thought he hit a triple.” So yes, “team work” is indeed a topic worth class/ family discussion with readers!
Use of ethnic surnames in Ch. C: As noted in Ch. A (and Pre-A), I (the author) have thought long and hard in naming each human character. On the one hand, I dislike the practice of using “safe” Anglo-Saxon names — as was often done in television, movies and books as I grew up during the last millennium — in favor of reflecting the increasing diversity I experience today in America. But I’ve known that from my ethnically diverse childhood growing up in a Bronx Public Housing Project and attending schools where, in the words of my high school principal the year I was graduating, “This school is a third non-Hispanic white, a third Black, and a third everything else!” In the Bronx, the only people I knew with “WASP”-sounding names were Black! Teachers would have a hard time with pronunciations on the first day of school each year. On the other hand, using ethnic names invites stereotyping, and — as the author himself experienced — ridicule: I was called “Christopher Columbus” in early grades. It got uglier later, when teens intentionally “mispronounced” the O in Conty as “U” — made infinitely worse when I didn’t know what they meant by that until senior year of high school (Aspie naivete!).
I’m treading a fine line here, since I also resist “reverse stereotyping.” Also, names can be misleading — given increasing numbers of multi-racial/ multi-ethnic partnerships: I know an excellent mixed race Asian-American violinist with the Scandinavian name of Swensen; and a woman whose mother, who she looks like, is Greek, with an obviously Irish name; and a woman whose brother’s name at his Bar Mitzvah was Brian Michael Flannery! The risk for me — per Chapter B’s notes — is that I tend to put people in “boxes” (stereotype them) to feel “safer” in the world — drives my wife crazy! It’s important that I tread a fine line here, as I have also been known to delight in “reverse stereotyping.”
Anyway, here’s how I chose the names for Chapter C’s humans. Fumio Nakamura: first name honors a 5th grade classmate; last name was inspired by a newspaper deliverer. The Castelluzo family is a composite of the last names of two long-time dear friends whose Italian ancestry was 1/2 and 100% respectively; I considered using a real non-composite Italian name instead, but didn’t like the ones I tried. My last name, Conty, derives from my 1/4 Italian heritage (the “I” in Conti was changed to a “Y” to disguise its origin; I was first to be born with the Y). I welcome feedback with the names I use, admitting my own blind spots, and would consider changes in future versions. I just don’t want to go back to using those “safe” British Isles names, like those given to characters in films & TV shows by writers who themselves had ethnic names, and portrayed by actors who themselves often adopted British Isles names to soften their original ethnic names.
Now for notes specific to the plot and panels of Chapter C and the Questions that follow:
At the bottom of page C-11, left panel, Mr. Coppola notes that Bobby got so angry the prior night that he smashed something so hard it “left dents.” Question C-5 deals with “meltdowns” involving such violent physical action. While as noted above, meltdowns are common among those with Autism, only a minority of those with Autism respond with destructive acts like Bobby’s. Other “fight” or active responses include clenching teeth, banging one’s head on a pillow or wall, cutting oneself or other self-harm activities, yelling, and saying nasty things or sending letters and/ or emails without thinking of the impact they’ll have on the one receiving it. Meltdowns occur as a response to anxiety (a form of fear) in general, and come in at least three types: “fight” (as just described), “flight” (physically moving away from others) or “freeze” (the body is still here, but the mind has shut down). Meltdowns result from an overloaded executive function as a result of anxiety, which often shows as frustration (all of which can happen to lots of people, but are especially common for those with Autism).
Question C 6-5&6 addresses how naive many with Autism are about what others say and do. But it also asks about an Autistic trait that is usually an either/ or: asking questions when one’s anxiety rises due to feeling uncomfortable with instructions or how group situations are going. At one extreme, the talkative outgoing Aspies ask a LOT of questions to try to relieve their anxiety — often leading to eye-rolling by Neurotypicals annoyed by what to them appears to be “attention-seeking” behavior. The other half of Aspies — those who don’t say much — usually do the exact opposite: they don’t ask any questions, even if they’re confused about what they’re supposed to do; they fear attracting unwanted attention and labeled “stupid.” Do either Aspie Mouse or Bobby fit one camp or the other — or is it not clear? Should the author make it clearer in revision?
As for later events in the chapter, among the more interesting topics to consider is how Aspies’ tendency to “tattle” on others — the Aspies themselves see it as just being honest — contributes to either bullying or being shunned by the Neurotypical community. In this chapter, Bobby (the boy in the family) “tells” on his mother’s smoking. As Chapters C-G develop, the author attempts to show that the Coppola parents aren’t sterotypical “cardboard” figures with fixed personalities and opinions. However, to make the story interesting and offer some teachable moments, it’s generally true that the father is prone to believe that Bobby has Autism and believe what Bobby says — even while being frustrated about his lack of what he sees as “manliness”; while the mother remains convinced Bobby doesn’t have Autism — he’s just not listening enough or trying hard enough — even disputing their kids’ school system’s determination of an Autism Spectrum diagnosis (Chapter E). Mrs. Coppola really does try to be a good mother despite this denial, shows compassion when called for, and is particularly protective of her children’s physical health — especially her daughter Claire’s, as will become more apparent starting in Chapter F — even while she discounts mental health concerns.
In my (the author’s) own life, my mother got me into therapy in third grade (at a time when therapy itself was hardly known and “mental illness” greatly stigmatized), despite objections from her mother and sister (my grandmother and aunt) questioning the need, because “… he’s (I’m) so smart in school.” My mother’s response — overcoming her own un-diagnosed Asperger’s level Autism that usually kept her bottled up in silence (“unusually shy for an adult,” one of my early girlfriends said) — responded brilliantly, “Well, if he had diabetes, wouldn’t you want to give him insulin?” So Mrs. Coppola’s denial, and Mr. Coppola’s begrudging tolerance about Bobby’s diagnosis (and questioning his wife’s explanation for Claire’s physical symptoms in Chapters F & G) are still (unfortunately) not at all uncommon, even among caring parents who believe what they’re doing is best for their children.
Here’s a late-in-the-chapter mystery: why is Aspie Mouse still “taunting” Brilli the cat after Brilli escapes from what the family thinks is a locked room to then go after AM with glue traps? Shouldn’t AM be paralyzed with fear once he realizes Brilli isn’t playing with him — given the frequent Autistic response to anxiety is paralysis? While it’s true that nearly every cat isn’t playing with AM or any other mouse — at least not the way he believes they are — but rather are trying to kill him, except for a couple of unusual cats introduced in Chapters F and I — AM has convinced himself most cats want to play. That’s why AM doesn’t respond from fear with “fight,” “flight” or “freeze” as an Autistic mouse instinctively would. But after his close encounter with Brilli, doesn’t AM realize that at least THIS cat means him harm? Well, wasn’t AM trying to convince himself that Brilli was still playing when Bobby pulled Brilli away after AM was cornered and closed his eyes? So maybe AM, as much as he likes Bobby, may not share Bobby’s convictions about Brilli’s motives, because perhaps his attempt to convince himself Brilli was “playing” worked.
How about two other possible explanations? What could ALSO be true is that AM is afraid, but is acting in the opposite way vs. freezing: talking, talking, talking, with what seems like bravado or arrogance! That may just be AM’s way of coping with his anxiety in this situation. The author of this graphic novel knows this paradox: in his own life, he’d often blurt out things, or be sarcastic — or ask an insane number of questions — to lower his anxiety in some scary social situations, while freezing or fleeing in the face of anger — whether the anger was directed at him or not. Autism is a condition of opposites, with little middle ground, so often things swing all one way or all the other.
There is yet a third explanation for AM’s behavior when he saw Brilli outside his hole, consistent with an ASD diagnosis: many people with Autism — including this author — get anxious and frazzled a lot more with anxious thoughts for scenarios they “make up” in their ever-busy minds than when confronted with an actual emergency. During the latter, they (and I) suddenly can focus and problem-solve rationally in a way most Neurotypicals have trouble doing –vs. panicking! And the more life-and-death the situation, the more likely my problem-solver would come on line ahead of anyone else’s: I once survived -18 degrees F actual temperature with an overheating car and a broken key in the steering column at 2 AM by doing just that (“I could actually freeze to death, so Step 1, Step 2 …”).
The circus/ zoo Brilli lands in has a number of “signs” that are meant as satire/ parody of the concept of prey eating predators and the history of circuses. Question C 10-6 & 7 asks whether the reader understands these references and might be curious to learn more about the original that’s being parodied. The origin of the name of the “circus” is obvious, because it’s spelled out on the sign at the entrance: Munrabtp spells P. T. Barnum backwards. The most elusive reference is probably the sign that says “This way to the egress”: it’s a sign the real P. T. Barnum would put up to fool patrons into exiting the circus and having to pay another admission to get back in (egress meaning the same as exit, but most patrons wouldn’t know that). As for the “Roman cats” eating “Lion fish,” it’s really meant as a reversal of the historical reference to Romans feeding Christians to lions. As to why a chicken hawk might be reluctant to eat a living wolf fish, check out a picture of a wolf fish on the Internet — those teeth look really sharp! And “chewed-huahua” is of course a pun on the name Chihuahua. This is the first chapter in which exotic animals are introduced, inviting readers to research them. A lot more will be introduced in Chapter I (“At the Zoo During a Pandemic”), with similar invitations.
As for the last panel of the chapter, when Aspie Mouse withholds the whole truth to discourage #83 from moving back into “C” house: know that issues around Autism and truth/ lying not to hurt others’ feelings vs. for selfish ends are thoroughly explored in the next Chapter, D. You may want to hold off having in-depth discussions until then.
Questions for Thought/ Discussion: Ch. C, “There Goes the Smartest Cat That Ever Lived”
C 1: At the beginning of this chapter, Mrs. Coppola seems very upset with her son Bobby’s behavior, whereas the elderly neighbor who’s moving out seems more understanding.
- What does Mr. Nakamura (the neighbor) say is the reason he’s less concerned about Bobby’s “rude” behavior? If you’ve had problems with parents or teachers calling your behavior “rude” or “unacceptable,” have you also had someone in your life like Mr. Nakamura who is more understanding? Discuss!
- Have you had a key parent, other relative, teacher, etc. who was (or maybe still is) denying your Autism (that you have it if you do, or maybe accepts it a little, but ignores how it really affects your life) as Mrs. Coppola seems to be doing with Bobby’s? If so, what trouble has that caused you? If such person/ people at some point finally “got it,” how has that changed your relationship, and (if it has) how you feel about yourself? If not, how do you believe their understanding would affect you?
- Did you ignore your own Autism (if you have it) or that of a relative or friend (if you don’t yourself)? If yes, how did that affect you until you realized you or they have it?
- What Autistic traits does Mr. Nakamura show by his behavior, if any? What Autistic traits does Mr. Nakamura admit to having (now and/ or earlier in life) in what he says that you don’t see him doing?
- Mr. Nakamura talks about the “Nisei” (Japanese Americans): what happened to them (and him) in World War II. What do you know about the way Japanese Americans were treated during WWII? Why do you believe German-Americans weren’t sent to internment camps, as were Japanese-Americans, even though the U.S. concentrated on fighting Nazi Germany first, with a greater commitment of troops, armaments, etc.?
- What experience do you have with people who have Autism being treated differently because of their race, country of origin, immigrant status, religion or other visible difference? How have you treated such people differently (if you have)? If you have Autism or another related difference, do you have more or less sympathy/ empathy for others of different races, religions, etc. because of your own difference?
- Mr. Coppola has a different point of view about Bobby than does Mrs. Coppola. While each parent’s point of view will develop/ change in following chapters, what are the differences in this chapter, first prior to Aspie Mouse coming on the scene, and then afterwards? Have you seen this difference in understanding in your own parents, or parents of someone you know with Autism?
C 2: As we first meet the Coppola family as Mr. Nakamura gives them his cat Brilli, the brother Bobby & sister Claire seem to bother/ tease/ fight with each other a lot. (Similar questions are also found at the end of Ch. A — for Aspie Mouse — and Ch. D for these same two children).
- If you live or lived with one or more other children growing up, how do/ did you and they get along? Do you believe it was different from other siblings if one of you has Autism or a related condition and the other does not?
- Same situation (grew up with other kids, Autistic or not): Was there jealousy — complaints about fairness — about parents’ treatment about achievement, abilities, success, attention, and how rules were applied to you vs. them? Do/ did such complaints go both ways, or did you or another child complain a lot more, at least in your memory? Would the other child(ren) likely agree on who complained more?
- If you’re an only child, did you wish you had a brother or sister or both? How might life have been different?
- If you grew up with other kids at home, did you often wish you were an only child? How might life have been different?
C 3: Brilli the cat also has a “differently wired brain.” But unlike Autism, a “Social Pragmatic Difference” like ADHD, OCD and Bi-polar, Brilli’s cold-hearted desire not to just kill mice, but torture them, indicates a Cluster B personality disorder — Antisocial Personality Disorder, combining Psychopath & Sociopath traits. While Brilli and other Sociopaths — as well as those with other mental health diagnoses and even Neurotypicals — will exhibit some traits that are particularly common in those with Autism (such as anxiety, sensory sensitivity and limited display of emotions), they are NOT Autistic. Brilli has no feelings for those she tortures/ kills. Those with Autism often struggle to take another’s perspective, and half struggle to show their emotions, but they often also have empathy and have good intentions for the greater good. One big contrast: those with Autism usually have low self-esteem, even when they are successful; while that may be true for many other diagnoses, it is certainly not true for Sociopaths and Psychopaths, who generally believe they’re great gifts to the world, and don’t understand why others see them as otherwise. Also, when Aspies have meltdowns (see Q C-5 below), they just happen, they’re not calculated; for sociopaths, “tantrums” are often calculated.
- Why do you think Brilli is quiet and says nothing — trying not even to think anything — at the beginning of the chapter, when she’s being transferred from Mr. Nakamura to the Coppola’s?
- Why do you think Brilli is afraid of Bobby, but not any of the other Coppola’s, even at the beginning of the chapter (assume that Brilli can’t foresee the future)?
- Have you met anyone like Brilli, in that they may try to be nice, but seem to have evil intentions?
- What makes Brilli the cat afraid of what she does or think in the presence of Mr. Nakamura?
- Humans and animals like cats and dogs kill other animals for food — and sometimes even for recreation (cats & dogs in homes that don’t eat their kill; human hunters) — but what makes Brilli’s statement that she “… can’t stop. Just feels good to see others suffer” very different?
- How clear are you that Brilli is NOT mostly Autistic — even if she may have some Autistic traits? What’are key differences between her and someone with Autism?
- What would you do if you heard someone you knew say they liked seeing others suffer? What would you do if you heard someone you knew say they purposely did something to make one or more others suffer? What would you say if someone said they were planning to make someone suffer? How clear are you that someone who likes seeing or hearing about someone suffering is DIFFERENT from someone who acts upon that by causing suffering?
- How clear are you that thinking about, watching or hearing about causing death, mayhem, suffering, etc. are protected forms of “free speech,” no matter how horrible it may sound to someone else, as long as that person does not act on such a fantasy? How clear is it that saying things that make other people uncomfortable (such as sharing thoughts others find unpleasant) may damage your relationship with them, even if they’re “legal” to say?
C 4: After Brilli’s arrival, the Coppola family’s dynamics shift after she captures all the mice. We also finally meet Mr. Tom Coppola, the dad. And we see that parents are not perfect, as even parents who seem to understand a child’s Autism may have “blind spots.”
- How does each parent show disrespect for Bobby’s Autism in the words each uses, starting on Page 10?
- Where does each parent show understanding — even respect — for Bobby’s Autism with their words (again, starting on page 10)?
- Which parent is primarily convinced Bobby is the one who tortured the mice? What are the justifications offered for that point of view? Why do you think that parent is less likely to believe Bobby vs. the other parent?
- Which parent is primarily convinced Bobby is NOT guilty of torturing the mice? What are the justifications offered for that point of view? Why do you think that parent is more likely to believe Bobby vs. the other parent?
- What are the strengths Mr. Coppola has as a parent of someone with ASD? What are his blind spots? What are the strengths of Mrs. Coppola as a parent of someone with ASD? What are her blind spots?
- Do you relate to Bobby? In what ways? Do you relate to Claire? In what ways? Do you identify with either parent? In what ways?
- When have you been accused of doing something you didn’t do? How did you respond? What ended up happening? If the parent or teacher found out you really didn’t do it, how did they “make amends”?
- When have your fantasies led to a negative behavior affecting yourself? Affecting others? What happened as a result of one affecting others? How do you handle disturbing fantasies — or don’t you have any?
- What are the biggest “blind spots” you see in one or more parents (and/ or teachers, counselors, etc.) concerning whatever “differences” you may have? How have you tried to get others to see their blind spots? Did it work? What blind spots might you have concerning your own or others’ Autism and/ or other “differences”?
C 5: At the bottom of page C-11, left panel, Mr. Coppola notes that Bobby got so angry the night before that he smashed something so hard it “left dents.” This is one type of “fight” or active Meltdown, the result of not being able to handle frustration due to “overloaded circuits” in the brain. There are other “fight” meltdown types, as well as “flight” and “freeze” meltdowns that may occur for other people, but are particularly common for those with Autism.
- Have you had a meltdown that results in hitting something or someone, or throwing something at a wall or even at a person with such force that destruction resulted as Bobby apparently did (bottom left, p. 11)? How does that make you feel when you do it? What have you noticed about how others react to it? What are the consequences for you afterwards?
- If this isn’t a way you behave during an act-out or “fight” meltdown, how have you reacted when someone else you know responds this way? How has that made you feel? What do you do to protect yourself? To protect the other person? To protect property? Does it make you more or less likely to be a friend to that person & why?
- In what other ways have you responded to frustration in “fight” (showing visible behavior) during a meltdown situation? Self-hurting (cutting, banging one’s head or hand against a wall)? “Just” yelling or crying? Keep it all stuffed inside (freeze)?
- What usually triggers a frustration meltdown — being denied something; not being believed; losing something you can’t find; non-cooperating inanimate objects (such as a computer or cellphone); something else?
- How well do you notice that the initial response during a meltdown of any type is FEAR — a type of fear called anxiety? Look back and see if you can see that your responding with anger comes second, as a way to cover up or not be seen as having anxiety?
- How have others reacted to how you act during a frustration meltdown? What has it cost you? As with Question 2, what’s the impact of how you react on others?
- Are most frustration meltdowns often directed at yourself (such as when you can’t find something) or to others? What are the usual consequences to yourself? To others?
- What strategies have you tried or might you try to prevent a “fight” meltdown from occurring when a situation arises likely to trigger one?
- Can you think of instances when your response to anxiety was “flight” (leaving the room) or “freeze” (body’s still here but mind “freezes up” so few words come out and little or no emotion is shown)?
C 6: Aspie Mouse finally appears on the bottom of page 12, the latest he appears in any chapter. He immediately has a dialogue with another mouse, #83, a female.
- Why do think the author waited so long before bringing Aspie Mouse into this chapter? Were you bored while he wasn’t there? Did his not being there so long frustrate you? If so, how?
- Identify which misunderstandings between #83 and Aspie Mouse seem to relate to AM’s Autistic traits. Name these traits.
- Can you identify with any of these misunderstandings from either mouse’s side? Which ones?
- What might have been ways AM could have enhanced his understanding of #83’s point of view? What might have been ways #83 could have improved her understanding of AM’s point of view?
- How good are you at listening to others? What does it take for you to listen well? How can you make listening work even better than what you usually do?
- There are a number of popular references, idioms and puns/ jokes used during Aspie Mouse’s discussion with #83. Do you “get” these right away, or do you have trouble understanding what’s meant by: “I’ve heard of staying at the ‘Y,’ but not the ‘N’ or the ‘C?'” “I’m hoping you and I can help re-squeakulate the ‘N’ house again!” “… unless your idea of ‘play’ is Russian Roulette with six full chambers …” “Suit yourself, Skygazer!” “… since it’s become tomorrow, … it’s already too late!” How do you feel when you don’t understand a reference that others around you all seem to get — if that happens?
- When Aspie Mouse says “… as far as Russian Roulette, I don’t gamble.” he shows a misunderstanding of #83’s intention. How is this a continuation of a sometime Aspie trait AM has shown before — especially in the prior chapter (B)? How often do you assume someone is talking about one thing, but wonder if it’s something else (per Question C 5-5)? Are you willing to ask questions to clarify the meaning, or do you generally not ask? If not, why?
- #83 is the second female mouse (Toe/ Hashtag the other) who complains about becoming a “widow” due to AM’s “special interest” in playing with cats. What do you believe is going on in both these female mice’s minds that prompted these comments? Why is Aspie Mouse confused about these comments — especially from #83?
- Can you relate to having confusion about your own feelings for someone who’s been romantically attracted to you? … about your own feelings for someone who you found attractive in a romantic way? What do you struggle with most concerning feelings of attraction to another or another’s attraction to you in a romantic way?
- Why do you believe Aspie Mouse is so willing to overlook #83’s warning about Brilli the cat? How have you gotten in trouble for ignoring a warning from someone you trust? Or have you never ignored such a warning? Why do you think you responded as you did?
- What do you think of Aspie Mouse’s willingness to “welcome all feedback” as a way to (a) learn the impact his lack of awareness of “expected” social skills has on others, so he can decide which behaviors he may wish to work on changing to improve a valued relationship; (b) while not taking others’ comments personally/ as personal attacks on his worthiness to be who he is — believing such negative comments about him (different from what’s useful: how AM’s behavior affects whoever is giving the feedback) are really not about AM, but about the individual making those judgmental comments? Have you ever “listened for the impact, not the judgments?” Might you consider trying it if you haven’t? Do you think those who develop AM’s attitude of welcoming feedback on how their behavior affects others, but see personal attacks as the “attacker’s problem,” feel better about themselves (good self-esteem) than do those who take in insults personally?
C 7: Aspie Mouse and Brilli have their first and second interactions on pp. C 18 to C 22.
- What common Autistic traits help Aspie Mouse get the better of Brilli the cat during these two interactions in the basement (pp. C 18-C 19)?
- Despite being very intelligent, and showing evidence that she learns from her mistakes, Brilli keeps making bad decisions that result in failed attempts to get and kill Aspie Mouse. What “blind spots” in her personality do you believe contribute to these bad decisions?
- What common Autistic traits shown by Aspie Mouse are misunderstood by Brilli — which makes her even angrier than she’d otherwise be in just failing to catch AM?
- What events occur that allow Aspie Mouse to continue to believe that Brilli is playing with him, and even trying to be helpful?
- What parts of Brilli’s frustration do you identify with? When have you been stopped from doing something you really wanted to do by circumstances you didn’t understand?
- How much do you identify with Aspie Mouse’s naivete concerning Brilli’s intentions? When have you thought someone was being kind and/ or caring, only to find out later they intended to hurt you or make jokes at your expense? Or when have you had the opposite experience: you thought someone was out to make fun of you or hurt you, only to learn they genuinely thought they were being helpful?
C 8: The third interaction between Aspie Mouse and Brilli is the climax scene of the chapter.
- Why is it not a good idea for Mrs. Coppola to burn a candle at home on Sunday morning? (This has nothing to do with Autism, except that those with Autism often don’t have the same safety needs in the same order that other people do; could this be because those with Autism think the whole world feels unsafe?)
- When Aspie Mouse closes & covers his eyes, hoping somehow Brilli will go away or let AM just be “it,” he’s engaging in wishful thinking. Do you believe this is a common Autism trait, or unrelated to Autism? When have you (if you have) engaged in wishful thinking? How did it turn out?
- After Brilli is removed from the basement after the “smoke out,” do you think AM still thinks Brilli might be playing as he seems to say? Why or why not? Have you been in a situation where you or someone else thought what was happening was “play,” while you or another didn’t think it was? How did it turn out? What can prevent such misunderstandings?
- What Autistic trait or traits resulted in Bobby not going to church with the rest of the family? When have you done something that resulted in you not doing what the rest of your family was doing? How did you feel about being “left out” — or were you glad not to go?
- When AM realizes he can read Bobby’s feelings or mood, and get the gist of what Bobby’s saying, how much does that change AM’s belief in Brilli’s motivations towards him (playing vs. killing)? Does any shift in AM’s belief about Brilli’s motives seem to affect his belief about the “play” motivation of other cats?
- When have you found it difficult to give up a strongly held belief you’ve had for a long time, even in the face of evidence it’s likely not true? Have you made an “exception” — as AM apparently is doing for Brilli — to keep that original belief going?
C 10: After the rest of the family returns home from church, things shift as the chapter begins to wind up.
- What do Bobby’s parents first believe happened while they were gone when they smell smoke? What caused the dad to change his opinion? What caused the mom to change her opinion?
- Would you call what Bobby said about his mom smoking “snitching/ tattling” or just telling the truth? Who do you side with in this situation? Which are you more likely to do: keep quiet about another’s secret or risk being labeled a “snitch/ tattler” by your peers or others for “telling” on them?
- Knowing that “freezing” in the face of anxiety is so common among those with Autism, why do you think Aspie Mouse did NOT freeze when he saw that the cat was not kept in one of the bedrooms, but was right outside his mouse hole? Do you think his “running commentary” on the situation with the cat — knowing she could read his mind — was being created from confidence or from anxiety? What evidence do you have?
- A few times in this chapter, especially late, Bobby is using a “fidget.” Why do you think he uses one, and when? Do you have a need for a fidget at times? If yes, under what circumstances usually?
- Has something you found on the Internet ever been seen as helpful in solving a family problem as Bobby finds near the end of this chapter? When have you found something on the Internet you thought your family or friends would be interested in, only to find they were mostly annoyed? What may account for such a different opinion?
- In the first panel on the last page (Brilli at his new circus sideshow-type “home”), there are a number of “sight gags” intended to be humorous. One is spelled out (that Munrabtp is P. T. Barnum shown backwards). How many of the others do you “get”? How curious are you to learn about the ones you don’t “get”?
- A fun project might be to explore what the Internet or library has to say about some of the exotic animals introduced at Brilli’s circus home, such as the lion fish and the wolf fish — to explain why a (chicken) hawk might be reluctant to tangle with a live wolf fish.
- When AM meets #83 after Brilli leaves, he answers her questions in a way that is misleading. Do you consider what he does to be lying to her? Can you relate to why he chooses to do so, while also admitting it’s hard for him to do so? What might you have done in a similar situation? If different from what Aspie Mouse does, why? The next chapter (D) has a lot more to explore around truth and lying.
C 11: Per Question A 7: a list of 27 Autism Characteristics, followed by four questions related to them:
- No eye contact
- Sensory sensitivity: noise, certain lights, smells, touch/ textures, foods, hunger/ bathroom needs; physical space (stand too close/ far from others; need escape); creative, passionate re art, music, touch
- Self-Regulation: Speech: voice volume, repetition & variability; amount (see #6)
- Self-Regulation: Stimming – flapping, swaying, repetitive body/ hand movements/ head banging; use “fidgets”
- Anxiety (fear) & Overwhelm. Executive Function closes up > Meltdown: fight, flight or freeze. #1 barrier to ASD good mental health. Key: lower anxiety — yoga, meditation, count to 10, positive self-talk.
- All-or-None Thinking & Behavior: Say too much/ ask too many questions or say/ ask nothing; flat affect or too dramatic; not show or over-express feelings (see #7); avoid people or obsessed w/ some; loves/ overuses puns or humorless; substance abuser or teetotaler — extremes, no gray. Learn to sit in discomfort, seek middle.
- Difficulty identifying feelings; then not show or over-express them. Mistake not showing for not feeling & over-showing for “acting/ exaggerating.” Learn core feelings (mad, glad, sad, scared) & “not about me”
- Lack of Social Understanding, of others’ expectations (unaware). Ask for rules, put in writing and study as if taking school test. The core trait that drives the Adventures of Aspie Mouse: why his choices makes one laugh.
- Pattern-seeking/ solving problems in unique ways: why they’re inventors, good at “detail oriented” jobs; creative, intuitive.
- Special Interest(s) can pay off having unique expertise for work/ hobby. Great for self-esteem, relaxing, lowering anxiety.
- Independent thinkers/ most inventors; no/ weak peer influence/ expectations.
- Work well independently once focused, trained, boss “gets”/ in right environment
- Self-entertaining: If access to special interests, never bored; need no playmate.
- Rule follower: conscientious once buys in; then help enforce, offer improvements.
- Honesty, innocence, naivete: unusually truthful, will even tell on oneself. Positive side of “lack of social understanding” (see #8).
- Love routine/ dislike change and transitions: helps in self-regulation; holds on; loyal, slow to adjust, won’t jump ship.
- Unaware of impact of actions on others (adds to friction from #8): so invite feedback, don’t explain yourself.
- More logical than emotional: Makes for discomfort – Aspie of feelings; others for Aspie not expressing them.
- Emotionally delayed: emotional age 2/3-3/4 of chronological. Catch up slowly. Good to delay intimacy (honor your own clock).
- Low self-esteem: Stop self-blame! Give counter-messages: your unique strengths & you’re not at fault.
- Lack of trust, all feels unsafe: others’ trust/ safety priorities puzzling, why is my “feels right” labeled “unacceptable?” No! Unexpected! Choose your own safety priorities or those of others in household.
- Over-sensitivity > what’s said/ happens: over-reacts or no visible reaction (cares, can’t show it). Don’t take personally, let it go, Laugh about it vs. taking too seriously.
- Can’t remember names (even faces), read body language – not priority, can be by choice.
- Disconnected from body, including health, personal hygiene, need to eat/ sleep/ use bathroom, place in “space,” prone to self-injury (intentional & not).
- Extreme thoughts swirl inside mind, unrestrained by social norms; if spoken often leads to trouble, even if you’d never act upon the more scary thoughts. Challenge negative self-talk with positives and dismissal.
- Depression, suicidal thoughts, acts: anxiety & depression treated w/ same meds (body can’t tell difference); from low self-esteem, bad self-talk, sense of hopelessness. Get help, especially Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
- Hard to get & keep friends, jobs & relationships: to overcome, must work to lessen own & others’ discomfort. Listen! Show interest in others’ lives, passions & get feedback on your impact on them (see #17).
a. Which of these characteristics can you identify that Aspie Mouse or another Autistic rodent or human character exhibits in this chapter? How about a non-autistic character? Repeating a characteristic already answered in the chapter-specific questions above is optional.
b. Do you find examples in this chapter of cats or other non-human/ non-rodent animals acting Autistic? If yes, how?
c. Which of these traits shown by a character in this chapter can you identify with? Repeating if already answered in specific questions above is optional.
d. Which Aspie characteristics shown in this chapter aren’t traits you have?