The first brand new chapter for this volume (no prior version of this chapter existed for Aspie Mouse’s forebear), Ch. B explains Aspie Mouse’s origins: we meet his mother and four siblings; he leaves home — though not on his own terms; finds the mouse version of MIT (university), where he gets his current name, impresses everyone with his abilities, and graduates with a “Mouster’s” degree — ready to find his place in the world, armed with new maturity and tools (literal & figurative).
Starting at 10 pages in 2019, Chapter B expanded to 12 in 2020, and then to 26 pages in 2021. During that last expansion, additional material was added to the early section of Aspie Mouse’s interactions with his mom and siblings; but mostly, more details were given about each of his class periods at the Mouse “MIT.”
In early 2022, Chapter Pre-A (Preface) was refocused on 27 common characteristics of Autism, and how they fit the behaviors of Aspie Mouse and other Autistic characters in this graphic novel. The emphasis is on the positive sides of these traits. In response, the nine “action” chapters A-I are being tweaked one last time prior to initial formal publication, without adding pages. Instead, existing dialogue is modified — and new “thought balloons” are added — to better show the thought processes and choices Autistic characters make. The reader then better understands these characters’ combination of Autistic traits and how (if) they’ve made changes to improve their interactions with the non-Autistic world.
Chapter A has completed this process, is now fully final, and therefore is at the top of the blog. Next is Chapter B’s turn. If you follow this chapter’s development toward “final” status, you’ll likely see changes in the notes and questions that aren’t reflected in the panels yet. That’s due to some ongoing technical glitches at Aspie Mouse Adventures Central.
Notes for Chapter B, “Leaving the Nest for ‘M.I.T.‘”
The first brand new chapter for this volume (no prior version of this chapter existed for Aspie Mouse’s forebear), Ch. B explains Aspie Mouse’s origins: we meet his mother and four siblings; he leaves home — though not on his own terms; finds the mouse version of MIT (university), where he gets his current name, impresses everyone with his abilities, and graduates with a “Mouster’s” degree — ready to find his place in the world, armed with new maturity and tools (literal & figurative).
In terms of sequence of events, Ch. B is really the FIRST chapter. It comes well before what’s shown in Ch. A (as explained in Ch. A’s notes). Only one line (“Oh boy! Two cats! Double fun!”) in Ch. B is directly borrowed from one of the comic books the author wrote for Aspie Mouse’s forebear decades ago. However, the context of that line — how two cats fail to capture him — and the general tone of Aspie Mouse’s character is unchanged — including his love of playing with cats.
Ch. B’s topic expansions — along with new thought balloons and revised dialogue referencing others of the 27 characteristics of Autism now featured in Ch. Pre-A — opens the door to asking more in-class and/ or end-of-chapter questions on such topics as living situation, family interactions (especially with siblings) and peer relationships (particularly at school). Note that Chapters A, C, G & H also deal with issues around moving to a new home, while peer relations (with other mice/ rodents) get additional in-depth consideration in Ch’s F, G, H & I.
This is also a great chapter to notice several more of Aspie Mouse’s Autism traits, for filling in the “chart” for Question B.1 (same exercise as A.1, but with Ch. B’s characters) based on the 27 (arbitrary) characteristics of Autism shown on Pre-A page 8 (and in the blog, below). For example, on pages B-6, B-8 & B-24, we see AM “flapping” when excited, a common Aspie behavior. Because he’s at a school where many of the students (and faculty) have Autism, nobody even comments on it! In situations with Neurotypical mice in subsequent chapters (especially Ch. H), it will not be overlooked. Other “social skills deficits” Aspie Mouse exhibits for the first time in this chapter include poor table manners, being a picky eater, resistance to change, trouble remembering others’ names, being emotionally “younger” than his peers, and as a genius with computers (not true for me, the author, who struggles with technology, but I’m so good with the English language that I’ll correct everyone else’s grammar and spelling!).
Another trait of Aspie Mouse first shown in this chapter is taking others’ words at face value, missing the irony, satire or hidden meaning: for example, it’s the first use of what becomes a running gag throughout the rest of this work: Aspie Mouse confusing “literally” with talking about literature.
By watching Aspie Mouse interact with instructors and peers in each of his seven courses, plus a couple of his school day lunches, we see evidence of a major concern most Aspies face (already referenced in Chapter A): how clueless Aspie Mouse can be as to what his “expected” behavior in social situations is; that is, he lacks social understanding and is unaware of the impact his behavior has on others.
Before getting to the positive traits of Autism shown by Aspie Mouse in this chapter, here are a few paragraphs on what Tony Attwood (in “Been There, Done That …” as previously referenced) says is the second most pervasive problem those with Autism wrestle with (second only to anxiety, per Ch. A’s notes): low self-esteem! Details on raising self-esteem in someone with Autism are beyond the scope of this work; whole books have been written on the subject. However, there’s one approach I (the author) especially likes, having done it myself, though it likely works better with adults than with adolescents or pre-teens.
Carl Jung (early 20th Century Psychologist, contemporary of Sigmund Freud), proposed the idea that we all carry a “shadow“: these are the parts of myself that are hidden from view (in my unconscious), especially from myself. My “shadow” reveals itself in my behaviors, especially when I engage in what Jung called “projection“: I get triggered by someone else’s behavior because it reminds me of a part of myself I’d rather not admit to having. It can be a positive trait: something I do well — such as kindness, generosity, solving math problems — but maybe while growing up, I was told “not to put on airs,” so I avoid admitting it. More often I project a negative trait onto others. For example, I’ll blame someone else for causing my own out-of-control behavioral meltdown, even though my response to the “trigger” is in my control and not in the other person’s: I could walk away, let it go, laugh it off, etc., even if internally I feel powerless to do so — and it’s especially difficult for those with Autism and other related Social Pragmatic Differences, because our executive function once again gets clogged, greatly reducing access to alternative resources. Even though I’m consciously blaming another for my meltdown — ignoring my “projection” — unconsciously I’ve taken a hit to my self-esteem, because: (a) I don’t make any friends by blaming others; and (b) all the while I’m blaming you, my inner critic inside is beating myself up for neither responding more calmly nor coming up with a witty, withering putdown comeback.
Even a positive projection leaves me with an unrealistic view of the world, because I’m putting a human being up on a pedestal. That’s why “It’s what you think, it’s not about me” is a useful internal response to anyone else’s projection onto me, a way to ground myself in reality. While it’s best not to “let in” others’ projections, if I can acquire a semi-permeable shield (“it’s not about me” repeated in my head as often as necessary), I can see what fits and take that in, while rejecting the rest. As is said in 12-step program rooms, “Others’ opinions of me are none of my business.”
What a lifetime of projecting one’s negative and positive traits onto others leads to is great difficulty treating others as peers or equals! I either put others down so I feel superior, or I put them on a pedestal and feel inferior. By “owning” my projections, and shielding myself from others’ projections, I’m more free to treat others on the same level — human, as I am, with both strengths and flaws. When don’t I need to use a “shield”? When what I’m sending, or what another person is sending is pure love — expressing how I’m feeling in the moment (about me, not about the other) directly from one human being to another, no agenda, and no judgments (“be a witness, not a judge” as Jung put it — took me 20 years to “get it”).
On the positive side of Autistic Traits shown in Chapter B: we see how inventive Aspie Mouse is (Trait #11 of the 27): he finds novel ways to solve problems that just don’t occur to others — often doing so in the moment in high pressure situations. What’s ironic is that many with Autism function best in actual physical emergencies — where they’re LESS likely to panic, but instead shift immediately to problem-solving mode — yet seem paralyzed and unable to make a decision when the issue isn’t a “life or death” crisis, but something that needs a decision, rather than solving a problem; or even a “crisis” invented in their own mind. That’s one reason people with Autism — especially if they also have ADD or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder/ Difference), as 3/4 of those with Autism do (again, source is “Been there …” by Attwood et al) — often make excellent EMT’s, first responders, Emergency Room Physicians and Nurses, Firefighters, Police, etc.
Another positive trait Aspie Mouse shares with a significant slice of those with Autism is generosity (not a specific one of 27 traits, but derives from #15 honesty, etc. & 7 difficulty identifying feelings). They are willing to give others the benefit of the doubt; they are often quicker with genuine praise, while avoiding false “buttering up.” The reason many with Autism end up being generous is that they identify with others with challenges who suffer from discrimination, etc. Aspies are generally more accepting of ethnic and racial minorities, of alternate lifestyles, etc. When growing up — even in Junior High School — I (the author) generally avoided mentioning or making fun of other kids who stuttered, had visible physical deformities, etc. I knew this was right to do, even though my “difference” showed up as over-sensitivity (Trait #22), leading to tantrums as late as 9th Grade. Those who are generous to others contradict the popular impression that everyone with Autism is “selfish.” What feeds the “selfishness” narrative is that acts of generosity usually occur when the Aspie is feeling calm; whereas when an Aspie is feeling really anxious, that generosity disappears, replaced by anxiety — the trait ranked #1 in how common or pervasive it is in causing problems in the life of those with Autism.*
Anxiety (Trait #5 of the 27 in Pre-A) is not unique to the Autism community: I (the author) believe anxiety is so dominant in modern American society — and exploited by advertisers, the clergy and politicians — that a book on “The Anxious Society and What to Do About It” is long overdue. Besides self-reporting anxiety as their most universal problem, those with Autism often say it lingers longer — for many, it’s always present, even if it’s not crippling most of the time — and that it seems to spike more quickly, more often and more overwhelmingly than is observed for other personality types who are also anxious a lot.*
Why anxiety’s effects are more likely to block executive function for someone with Autism than for others is that those with Autism have smaller brain space devoted to executive function, so it’s gummed up more easily! Note that most of the questions that follow these notes — certainly from Question Set B.4 on — relate to anxiety in one way or another.
Anxiety is mentioned so prominently in this graphic novel because I, the author, have spent much of my life getting in trouble from the consequences of acting impulsively, as a result of suddenly elevated anxiety — though usually I’m not aware when that occurs. It leads to my behaviors described in the notes following Chapter A. For more on anxiety, see Ch. Pre-A, the Preface masquerading as a chapter, and Chapter A’s notes.
*Source: “Been There, Done That…” by Tony Attwood; See references.
Now for notes specific to the plot and panels of Chapter B and the Questions that follow:
Chapter B opens with Aspie Mouse being told by his Momma that he was acting childish (still sucking on her breast for milk), while his siblings had grown up and were finding their way in the world. Aspie Mouse likes things the way they are, and isn’t ready to “grow up.” So Momma decides to kick him out, after gathering his siblings to bid him goodbye. Question B.2 asks readers to relate Aspie Mouse’s situation with his family home growing up to their own home growing up, and then Question B.3 asks about the reader’s relationships with parents and siblings. Similar questions will be asked in the next two chapters (C & D) when Aspie Mouse moves in with a human family of two adults and two kids.
While as noted above, Question B.1 asks readers to use the 27 characteristics chart to identify all Autism traits shown in this chapter, Question B.4 focuses on Autistic traits of Aspie Mouse — and other Autistic characters introduced in this chapter — that aren’t shown in Chapter A. B-4/2,3,4 attempt to help readers deal with their own low self-esteem issues raised both vocally and to himself by Aspie Mouse. See notes above for more about self-esteem.
So Aspie Mouse leaves home, escapes a cat and stumbles onto the Mouse “MIT.” Question B.5 examines the give and take between Aspie Mouse and Headmouster Phil that results in his admission to the Insqueaktoot (or what the human students upstairs would call “the Institute.”) As noted above, Aspie Mouse tends to “take things at face value,” instead of realizing there may be a hidden deeper meaning beyond the words being said. That includes confusing “literally” with “literature” as noted earlier in this chapter’s notes — a gag that continues throughout this work. But it also addresses the shame those with Autism feel when they are laughed at for not understanding these deeper meanings of words.
I (author) remember being confused as a teenager when a bus driver said to a drunk man, “the NEXT bus will take you to New York,” and I asked in a panicky voice, “So this bus doesn’t go to New York?” and my trip companion pulled me aside and said, “Yes it does — for US — but not for him!” Then I got it — and felt embarrassed that I hadn’t realized what was going on — that man wouldn’t be allowed on a bus until he’d sobered up!
Once admitted to the Mouse MIT, Aspie Mouse gets acquainted with his fellow students, and, as their newest member, is asked to do a dangerous task: get the mice leftovers from a catered meal upstairs in the human university. And he’s asked to do so with three siblings — Tic, Tac and Toe. Question B.6 explores what is the most dangerous (and probably interesting) part of the chapter: how this task plays out as an example of teamwork, something those with Autism are usually poor at — preferring (per Trait #12 of the 27) working independently, or put another way, doing things oneself as a loner or lone wolf. Turns out that Toe — clearly the smartest of the siblings — particularly doesn’t like working with others, so she’s dubious about Aspie Mouse. Two related reasons, both Autistic in nature: (1) She has a dim view of teamwork, especially considering she’s often been forced to do so with her not-very-competent and often foolish brothers, Tic and Tac; (2) she lacks trust (Trait #21) of male mouse peers — especially those with Autism — again based on growing up with these same brothers. So the answer to Question B.6-2 is teamwork and trust — empathy might also fit, though Aspies usually have more empathy than most, even if they don’t trust those they have empathy for.
Since Aspie Mouse is male and Autistic, Toe initially doesn’t trust him either — she stereotypes him (bad side of Trait #9, pattern-seeking). Despite Hashtag constantly putting down Tic and Tac, they’ll both likely thrive in a different environment, one that fit their real special interests, especially once they get away from their frustrated sister — which they apparently do as this chapter proceeds. As this chapter develops, Toe — who becomes Hashtag — gains respect for Aspie Mouse. Even so, that lack of trust of other (Autistic) male mice returns in the form of fearing relationships, intimacy and even friendships: that anxiety/ fear of/ discomfort with intimacy (traits #18-19) prevents her from agreeing to become Aspie Mouse’s friend, even though she behaves as if she already is. Question B.9 picks up this dynamic later in this chapter. It’s a relationship worth exploring, if only to help an Autistic reader become better at perspective taking — both of Aspie Mouse and of Toe/ Hashtag. How they relate to each other (which continues in Chapter G) is not simple.
Question B.7 explores the peer relationship dynamics Aspie Mouse faces as he interacts with both fellow students and instructors in each of his courses — and at lunch.
The answer to Question B-8-5 is any variation of the message, “You wouldn’t be happy here”/ “You probably wouldn’t fit here,” or in the extreme, “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” All of which are unfair and can be quite hurtful, though that isn’t Toe/ Hashtag’s intent! I, this work’s author, heard “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” addressed to me by an insurance agent from the old upper class of Syracuse, a city much more laid-back than my native NYC. The agent was exasperated that, as insurance underwriter I’d turned down insuring one of his clients. It was my first job after college, and I laughed it off at the time. As a young primarily Northern European-descended cis-gendered Christian white male with an Ivy League pedigree, I figured I deserved to see what it felt like to be treated the way so many less fortunate than I were treated — unwanted, not for anything they did, but for a “group” they belonged to. I didn’t know then that Autism was what drove me to say so many undiplomatic things — but other things I said ultimately got me fired from two insurance companies in 2-1/2 years! Toe/ Hashtag isn’t saying this to AM out of prejudice or to hurt him, but out of genuine concern for him. Still, her opinions could have the effect of limiting AM’s choices — if he listens to her from love or respect for her, instead of what his heart tells him he should do. Yet in all likelihood, he’d come to the same conclusion as Hashtag in this situation, as she’s probably right.
I, the author, had a cousin who was pushed toward vocational high school because he wasn’t “smart enough” for an academic high school. He made a good living as a tool & die-maker, eventually starting his own business. His eldest son later became an accountant (a profession known for high intelligence scores), then Chief Financial Officer, then bought & ran a manufacturing business! In hindsight, I think the dad cousin was plenty smart, but probably had an undiagnosed learning disability!
The “You wouldn’t be happy here”/ “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” argument was (& is) used to discourage women & minorities from entering certain high-paying “white male” professions, or moving to certain towns or neighborhoods. Might it be at least part of the reason people diagnosed with falling on the Autism Spectrum average 70-80% unemployment/ underemployment rates? Or — as was true for me (the author) — is the unemployment more related to the way we act (including flapping, swaying, etc.) or speak (interrupting others often) without realizing we’re breaking some social taboo?
Back to when I, the author, had been recently transferred to Syracuse by my first post-college employer (insurance company), and I was looking for an apartment to rent. I was turned down as a tenant in a two-family house by the owners who lived downstairs. Why? Because I was a young single male — and therefore, in the view of the owners, likely to have loud drinking parties, which they wanted to avoid! Once again, I had to laugh, because I don’t drink, I had no friends in town, and I can count the number of parties I’ve given in my own home at any time in my life on one hand. It was just prejudice! Worked out better for me, as that apartment had the shortest bathtub I’d ever seen, and the one I ended up renting was in an old (if not well kept-up) mansion, in which I had the master bathroom, containing the largest bathtub I’ve ever seen! Even better, I had a fascinating next-door neighbor — who I’m now SURE was Autistic — who really enriched my life.
In terms of career choices for those with Autism, the quote given at the bottom of page 23, “Genius does what it must, and talent does what it can,” is one of the author’s favorites. Its source is a 19th Century English Politician, Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton. The author believes that, for someone with Autism, it’s particularly important to discover which “special interest” they have that is good enough to lead to a career, whether at genius or talent level. Seek your strongest special interest — the one that both gives you joy and which others have said you do better than anyone else they know — and seek an employer who needs that skill. Just have a bunch of “pretty good” interests instead? Do what you can to find somewhere that needs just your particular combination of skills (see the great job-seeking book, “What Color is Your Parachute?”), because you’re much more likely to be talented, rather than a genius like Einstein or Mozart.
My (the author’s) father frequently said, “Get a profession — law, medicine, college professor, engineer, etc. — and then pursue something like drama, writing, music as a sideline, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did with Sherlock Holmes. And if it succeeds, great. If not, — so you have something solid to fall back on.” Sounds great — if one is both ambitious and Neurotypical! But for me, it wasn’t good advice, because it took every ounce of energy I had to succeed in the business world, because while I had great results — provided I had a boss who could protect me from saying all the wrong things to the wrong people — it often took two years before my unorthodox methods finally showed results; by which time, in most jobs, I was already gone — fired! So while I discovered I did have a talent for helping authors write successful textbooks, I lay my cartooning aside for decades, which I now judge was a mistake.
From a career security standpoint, I regret not staying with that first textbook publisher, because as mad as the later bosses were with my impudent words, I was their most successful acquisitions editor. They enticed me to leave by eliminating the editorial “results” bonus, because I was the only editor profiting from it! I was an artisan, not destined (or even a good idea, as I learned the hard way) to be a manager of others. I had 11 years at that first publisher, four years at my next, 6-1/2 years at my third, before being fired after a merger by the same people who’d shown me the door 6-1/2 years earlier(!). At age 46, I never again had a paying full-time job or one with benefits that lasted more than 15 months. Now I know that losing jobs regularly is the all-too-common fate of so many with Autism — many others never find a “real” job at all!
Near the end of the chapter, the interaction between Toe/ Hashtag and Aspie Mouse shows a common issue in Autistic communication : misunderstanding based on conflicted feelings — often unidentified feelings. This is also addressed in Question B-10. The idea being proposed by the author — based both on the work of Carl Jung and of many self-help organizations — is that there are four core feelings: joy, sadness, anger and fear; and two key combinations in some viewpoints, or two separate feelings in others: love and shame. What often happens with Aspie’s — as we’ll see often in subsequent chapters — is that they get anxious (a form of fear); when they do, they turn inward, feel alone/ betrayed/ lack trust, etc., and are unable to be “objective” about what just “triggered” the anxiety, can’t stay present — and their executive function shuts down! This is what we see happen, especially for Toe/ Hashtag. But it’s also present for AM, because he can’t identify what that “sinking feeling” in his stomach is — likely more sadness than fear, but probably some of each. Helping readers identify their own feelings through the characters in this graphic novel is a goal of the author!
Stranger than fiction #1: On the last page of the chapter, Phil laments that when students graduate from the mouse MIT, they scatter without saying goodbye, hugging, etc. The basis of it: I, the author, was with a group of MIT alumni friends (though I didn’t go to MIT myself, I have more friends from there than from where I DID go to college) ending a celebration for an out-of-town friend’s visit. They just left, with no ceremony, no goodbye’s — much to the consternation of a Neurotypical woman present (she had abandonment issues); she couldn’t understand how they could just leave each other like that, when they might not see each other again for months or even years. The author later realized that many (maybe even most) Autistic people don’t see the need for long goodbyes. They’re glad to see their friends, and will be glad to see them again, but when it’s time to leave, they’re ready to move on to the next thing – alone! Get-togethers aren’t all that big a deal! And why bother taking the lead in organizing one? The irony is OTHER Aspie’s feel lonely a lot (I was an only child, so I would try to “collect” friends, and to some extent still do), so they invite the “ho hum” Aspies to an event, where the “ho hum” Aspies (like my son!) often act glad they were invited (but if not interested in the event, may say no — the friend may not be reason enough). Other places showing Aspie Mouse & others showing “ho-hum, OK, bye” behavior: Ch’s D, G, F & I. It’s addressed in Q B-11 (3 & 4)
Questions for Thought/ Discussion: Ch. B, “Leaving the Nest for ‘M.I.T.‘”
B 2: (Similar to Q. D2) Aspie Mouse likes where he lives, but Momma wants him out.
- What do you like about where you live? Dislike?
- When do you prefer being alone? When would prefer being around other people?
- Which specific person or people (if any) would you rather be around most or all the time — besides yourself? What makes you feel comfortable being around that person?
- Are you (or if still in school: Do you plan to be) living on your own — vs. staying with your parents (after you finish your schooling)? Which would your parents prefer that you do? If these wants are different, does it cause stress, and how do you handle or work through that stress?
- Do you judge your parents understand your needs in terms of having Autism? Or if you don’t have Autism, answer this question generally (do your parents understand what you need)? Do you think you have tools to explain who you are, if they initially didn’t “get” you?
- How did you react to AM’s mom literally “kicking him out” of the house? What feelings came up for you? What do you wish AM could do or would do instead of “taking it” — or are you glad for him, seeing how he ended up after being kicked out?
- Do you have pets at home? If more than one, do you have a favorite? Do pets respond well to you? Why do you think a pet may prefer one member of the household to another if that appears to be true?
B 3: (Similar to Q. D.3, referring to human siblings) Aspie Mouse lives with four siblings: brother D, & sisters B, C & E.
- If you live or lived with one or more other children growing up, especially if one or more are non-Autistic (Neurotypical), how do/ did you and they get along?
- Same situation as B.2-1 above (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? If you’re in a group to share these responses with, are you surprised to hear how the situation different from what you experienced was for those other(s) growing up?
- Did you experience comments like Mama Mouse makes to all five siblings — that she’s glad to get rid of them because they fight so much, etc. from your parents? If so, how has it affected you? If not, are you now grateful they didn’t? How might comments like that have a lasting effect on someone’s self-esteem (how they feel about themself)? What might be a better way for Mama Mouse to handle her frustrations other than insulting her newly “grown-up” offspring as to how they were as youngsters?
- (Will go into further depth with this subject in Question D 3, 2 chapters later, and again after Ch. H): How do you think Aspie Mouse feels when 3 of his 4 siblings call him “names” and say they’d rather he be gone? Has this been an issue between you and your siblings (if you have) and/ or schoolmates (name-calling)? How have you handled it?
- Do you believe sibling issues are different (better? worse? the same?) in homes where none of the children have Autism or other situation where some of their brains operate differently from most people’s?
B 4: In this chapter, Aspie Mouse first shows a number of Autistic traits in the first chapter chronologically (prior Ch. A is an out-of-place “preview” of half of Ch. H).
- Aspie Mouse has trouble remembering names, even with their initials on their chest, for both his sister E and “Head Mouster Phil.’ Is this a problem you have? Is that all the time or only at certain times? Do you mix people up or not recognize faces (often, seldom, never)? What ways do you try to make up for these, if problems? When someone can’t remember YOUR name, does it bother you? Do you think they don’t care about you?
- We see Aspie Mouse “flap” when he gets excited (3 times: can you locate which pages?). Is that a trait you have? How else might you physically show Autism in terms of movement (swaying back & forth, throwing head back, etc.). If you don’t have Autism, does this disturb you? If you do have Autism and don’t have this trait, does it disturb you? If you have Autism, does your OWN movement trait(s) bother you? Why do you think the others at the Mouse MIT don’t seem to comment on AM’s flapping?
- Aspie Mouse also has low self-esteem (doesn’t feel good about himself), based on how his mother and three siblings treat him when he’s leaving; AM admits to Head Mouster Phil that his family thought AM was a “moustake.” Can you relate to AM in your own life? Who’s told you, either obviously or by deeds if not words, that you aren’t “good enough” as you are? Has it made you a better person or made it harder for you to gain confidence? Or are you one of the lucky folks not to be “put down” by your parents? How can you counter “not good enough” messages in your head? (Also see B-3-3 & 4 & Question B-11).
- What do you think of the idea — popular with many adult “self-help programs” — that when other people complain about “who you are” — not how you behave (which is fair, especially if it focuses on how your behavior impacted them) — IT’S ABOUT THEM. Might it be something they don’t like about THEMSELVES, but they blame it on you because they don’t want to see it in themselves?
- (Continuing from 3): The result of being told “you ARE a mistake” is very damaging. What’s the key difference between believing that “I AM a mistake,” instead of “I MADE a mistake”? The shame coming from “I made a mistake” is appropriate; the shame that comes from “I am a mistake” is toxic/ deadly and NOT TRUE!
- Have you had something good happen — as when Aspie Mouse is admitted to “M.I.T.” — that shows you are very much wanted in this world and do something well? Whether you’ve had that experience or not, how may you overcome others’ negative opinions of you, or decide not to let them rule your life?
- Do you have a special interest that isn’t always appreciated by others who know you well, such as Aspie Mouse has in making language translation apps?
- Aspie Mouse is quite smart and rather good with spoken words, but has trouble reading letters, especially if they’re not being used in words, but just initials. Do you have any reading issues or word usage issues? Did you know they’re common for “Aspies”? What techniques do you use to make up for/ hide your confusion?
B 5: When Aspie Mouse stumbles into the “Rodent MIT,” he has to pass an admissions “test.”
- When Aspie Mouse tells Head Mouster Phil he likes to play with cats, why do you think Phil’s response is, “… you are strange enough, you might just belong here?” Have you ever found a place where people with Autism are actually preferred or in the majority? How did that work out for you? If you haven’t found such a place, would you like to find one?
- When Phil asks Aspie Mouse to recreate his human-rodent programming translation, he was astonished how quickly and how well Aspie Mouse did it. Do you have a special interest that when you show it to the right people gets an impressive and astonished response? If not, do you have some interest that you feel good enough about, that you believe helps your self-esteem and could eventually help your career prospects?
- Aspie Mouse takes Headmouster Phil’s words “I’m pulling your leg” literally, not seeing it as an idiomatic expression. Then, when told he’s being “too literal,” Aspie Mouse assumes Phil’s talking about him reading too much literature, a running “gag” throughout this work. When have you thought someone was saying something you took at “face value,” when they were just using an expression or idiom? What problems have occurred when/ if you didn’t recognize when someone was being ironic or just using an “expression”?
- In confessing he was “pulling AM’s leg,” Head Mouster Phil was covering up some shame. Do you ever “add” to the truth to cover up shame? Or do you just say nothing? Or do you just lie? How do you deal with shame? What works to combat your feelings of shame?
- Throughout the chapter, AM can’t keep the order straight of Head Mouster Phil’s name. Why do you think Headmouster Phil didn’t comment on that to Aspie Mouse?
B 6: Once admitted to “MIT,” Aspie Mouse is asked to be on the team to get dinner from “upstairs.”
- Toe/ Hashtag has a very negative attitude toward Aspie Mouse because he’s male. Why is she so negative toward male mice, from what we can tell? What helps her change her mind about Aspie Mouse?
- What are two of the 27 Autistic Characteristics that fit Toe/ Hashtag’s negative attitude toward Aspie Mouse? Hint: What aren’t those with Autism good at doing that she’s being asked to do with Aspie Mouse and her brothers? Another hint: What do you lack when you feel negative toward someone?
- Have you experienced someone who has a “prejudice” against you because of anything (race, gender, Autism, etc.) and were able to “overcome” that prejudice? If not, did you try or did you just avoid that person? Have you been prejudiced against someone else and changed your mind? Why or why not?
- Why do you think Aspie Mouse manages to stay alive despite believing cats make great playmates for him — at least in this chapter? Do you do anything “dangerous” that others seem more afraid for your safety more than you are?
- Aspie Mouse is “rewarded” for getting the food — but he said he’d rather have something else. Do you have very particular food preferences, as AM does, or do you eat pretty much everything? What do you think accounts for which ever way you are around food? What problems did you have being younger if you have particular food preferences? Have you become more open to foods you didn’t like when younger? How did that happen if it did?
B 7: Aspie Mouse needs to “catch up” with the other rostudents because he’s starting classes two weeks after the beginning. He seems to be doing pretty well.
- Have you been transferred to a different class, school or situation where you were starting from behind? How well did you handle it? What support did you get if so? Also if so, what support did you need that you didn’t get?
- Notice how for the first three morning classes, and the middle class in the afternoon (#6 of 7, “Pleasing Professors … Pellets,”) Aspie Mouse reacts sarcastically to the title of the course, who’s teaching it, the equipment being used in the lab, etc. Does he seem to realize — or care — that he’s offending these course instructors? Explain how AM sometimes overcomes the instructor’s anger over his “fun-making” — by “putting his money where his mouth is.”
- Have you gotten in trouble or gotten bad reactions from teachers or others — for what you said about a class? Are you then able to overcome your unfortunate comments by doing things that make up for your verbal goofs? Have you tried to correct a teacher in front of a class? If so, how did that go? Do you say things like these and then later feel shame? What’s a good way to reduce the shame?
- Have you tried to correct another student’s comments in class, before the teacher could or before being asked? If so, how did that go? Do you think you may have lost a friend or potential friend for saying something in a class or other group social situation that may have made that other person feel bad? What might be a better way for you to offer constructive correction to a teacher — or a fellow student — instead of speaking out in class or in front of everyone? Again, did this lead to shame?
- Did you anticipate how Aspie Mouse would “solve” the problems presented in the first two morning classes before he solved them? Is this kind of “out of the box” problem-solving something you’re good at? Did you anticipate how AM might try to make his “grab your own lunch” process easier before he did it?
- In what areas are you particularly good at solving problems that seem hard for other people, but not you? In what areas do you struggle solving problems that others seem to solve more easily? How do you react when you struggle at what others find easier to do?
- Another trait very often found in those with Autism is pattern-seeking — which can often lead to solving problems in unique ways. How does Aspie Mouse show unique pattern-seeking abilities in this chapter, especially in classes? How have you benefited from pattern-seeking behaviors in your life (if you have)?
- Pattern-seeking also has a negative side, especially when we to put people in boxes or categories based on race, national or regional background, gender, name, etc. What are examples of Autistic characters doing this in this chapter (about mice especially, but maybe also about people)? What are examples of non-Autistic characters doing this (because non-Autistic people have been doing this to other people for a long time)? How has trying to put people into categories caused problems in your life? What might you do to break this habit — especially with people? At least, what can you do to avoid offending others (how to keep your thoughts about this to yourself)? Why is it important NOT to put people in categories in today’s society?
B 8: Aspie Mouse also interacts with his peers in his classes and at lunch. Displaying bad table manners and lacking awareness of how his behavior affects other mice, AM ends up in some awkward situations.
- How does Aspie Mouse try to explain away his bad table manners? Why do other students seem willing to put up with his lack of table manners and eat with him anyway?
- Do you struggle understanding the importance of table manners, good hygiene (bathing, grooming, use of deodorant and breath mints) and other unwritten “rules” of conduct in social situations? Do you understand how it could affect the outcome of job interviews and retaining employment? Or are you glad your parents instilled good table manners, hygiene & other social norms into you, whether or not you saw the point of it at the time?
- Show examples in this chapter where Aspie Mouse’s positive Autistic traits help overcome the poor social skills he shows at lunch and in his classes.
- In his fifth class (first after lunch), Natalie “accuses” AM of “Malemousplaining” (for people, it’s called “mansplaining,” where men seem to assume women need them to explain something — without ever asking first. If you are male, do you have a tendency to over-explain things, especially to females? If you are female, do you have trouble with males who keep talking and not listen enough? Or do you see the opposite — women talking a lot more? If you identify as other than male or female — or you’re trans — what’s your experience with this issue?
- On the other hand, can you find an example in this chapter of a “role reversal” — in which a negative social trait often associated with males is shown by a female on the Autism Spectrum?
- Also in the fifth class (Inter-rodent Communication and Socialization), Aspie Mouse’s dialogue with “N” reveals many instances of the social “cluelessness” that AM really struggles with. How many can you identify? Besides his obvious “lack of social understanding,” what OTHER related Aspie traits does AM show in his responses to “N?”
- Which of Aspie Mouse’s difficulty with social understanding in his fifth course (ICS) can you identify with? Which of them are really obvious in others? What ways do you use to reduce or limit the number of times such misunderstandings occur?
B 9: Aspie Mouse has several interactions with Toe/ Hashtag in their shared last two classes of the day. In this and the next question (B-9), questions about their interactions will follow. We start with their 6th Period Class, “Pleasing Professors to Produce Pellets.”
- Why did Aspie Mouse originally sign up for this class — what did he think he’d be doing afterwards? Why did Hashtag sign up for this class? Who is disappointed and why? Who isn’t disappointed and why?
- Toe/ Hashtag says she thinks AM isn’t “grateful” enough. Why? AM disagrees. Why?
- How did you react when Aspie Mouse said he couldn’t be a lab mouse because he’s gray, whereas lab mice are all white? Does he have a point? Does his complaint remind you of anything in the human world?
- What reason(s) does Toe/ Hashtag give for why AM is not a suitable lab mouse, beyond any issue around color? What’s AM’s reaction?
- Summarize the final reason/ argument Toe/ Hashtag gives for discouraging AM for wanting to be a human lab mouse (on p. B-22 lower left panel, following “besides …”) in a simple sentence of 10 words or fewer (even better if as few as 5 words).
- Toe/ Hashtag is well-meaning when she discourages AM from becoming a “lab mouse.” But how might someone use the Question B-5 argument to discourage someone else from: buying a house or renting an apartment in a given neighborhood/ applying for a job or to go to a prestigious college/ high school, etc.?
- How might using this argument or story take attention away from or justify (make seem reasonable; help disguise) discomfort/ prejudice that the person in power has — about something superficial like race, gender, ethnicity, age or disability — about the applicant? Then how might the person in power use that argument to discourage an applicant (for the house, apartment, job) from moving forward?
- Have you experienced or known about such an argument used to discourage anyone in your or your family from moving forward in buying, renting, applying for a job or educational program? If you’re ever given that argument and (unlike AM) you believe it should be challenged, how might you do so?
B 10: Continuing with other Aspie Mouse/ Toe-Hashtag interactions toward the end of the chapter in their last class together — Mousatronic Floortop (Human Cell Phone) Programming Lab :
- Toe/ Hashtag claims she also has Autism, though unlike AM, she looks others in the eye, thus seems more socially connected. Autism often is harder to detect in females vs. males. Why do you think Autism in females may be harder to detect than in males?
- What trait(s) do you see in this chapter that show Toe/ Hashtag does indeed have Autism — if any?
- Aspie Mouse seems to overlook negative traits of others with Autism. Why do you think he does? How well do you overlook others’ negative traits? Why do you think you find that easy/ difficult to do? Do you find yourself comparing “how Autistic” you are versus others with Autism? Why is doing so either good or bad in your judgment?
- What common trait of many with Autism is Toe/ Hashtag not considering when she gets upset with AM for calling her “Toe” instead of “Hashtag?”
- What do you think of the quote Hashtag uses at the bottom of page B-23, “Genius does what it must; talent does what it can?”
B 11: The last interaction Aspie Mouse has with Toe/ Hashtag (pages 24-25) addresses the important issue of “miscommunication” between two people with Autism, when both are having strong feelings, but having trouble identifying those feelings.
- What feeling or feelings does Toe/ Hashtag likely have when Aspie Mouse asks her if she’s like to hang around? What do you think Toe/ Hashtag thinks AM means? How does that differ from what he wants?
- What feeling or feelings is AM feeling when he says he’s “confused” and thinks about why he’s confused?
- Can you identify with either character in this situation — or even both?
- What do you think would help make things clearer to either one of them?
- Have you had situations where you had feelings similar to either — and how did you handle it/ them? How do you wish you’d handled it/ them?
B 12: At the end of the chapter, the MIT “rostudents” graduate. (Also see Questions B3-2-5)
- Do you think either Aspie Mouse — or his family if they knew — would consider him a “moustake” (mistake) NOW after he finished tied for best student, even after a late start?
- Have you ever done something positive that’s changed others’ beliefs about you? Has that helped your self-esteem?
- What do you imagine Toe/ Hashtag thinks being tied for first place with AM? Do you think it will make a difference in how Toe/ Hashtag thinks of AM?
- When the students just “split” after the ceremonies are over — not bothering to say goodbye to the instructors or each other — is that how you are when you leave being with friends or at the end of a school year? Do you consider that behavior normal or unusual?
- Why does it matter — or NOT matter — whether you’ll see a friend or group again soon or not for a long time or maybe never again? Why do you think such behavior bothers folks without Autism?
- Do you tend to invite friends to events, play, etc.? Or do you wait until someone else does the inviting? If you wait, why do you not initiate contact?
- At the very end of the chapter, at graduation, Head Mouster Phil says, “We needed your innocence and ‘can do’ more than you needed us.” Why do you think he said that? What did he mean?
B 12: Per Question A 7: A list of 27 Autism Characteristics, followed by four questions related to them: Note: This question will be moved to become Q B.1 and altered as per Chapter A!
- 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. What examples of cats or other non-human/ non-rodent animals acting Autistic do you find in this chapter?
c. Which Autistic traits shown by a character in this chapter can you identify with? Optional to repeat or not those already given in answer to any other question above for this chapter.
d. Which Aspie characteristics shown in this chapter aren’t traits you have? (No need to repeat any mentioned answering this question for prior chapters.)