Ch. H: New House, New Cat, New “Nay”bors (Ch. A expanded, in context)

Chapter H repeats the material from Chapter A, puts it in context — between Chapters G & I where it was always intended to go — and adds a new sub-plot involving AM’s interaction with rodent peers, which doubles Chapter H’s length vs. A.

Notes for Chapter H, “New House, New Cat, New ‘Nay’bors

The pre-revision Chapter J (now A — and half of H) was the first chapter written after the author resurrected a decades-old comic character as the Autistic star of a new graphic novel. It was always meant to be a late chapter sequentially, as other planned chapters take place in a previous home. However, feedback from readers of this blog suggested that the early Chapter J made a better introductory chapter than those supposedly coming prior to it. Ch. J had more action and pictures relative to words vs. later written chapters and free of conscious “teachable moments.”

So the author made a late decision to move what was Ch. J — and then H — to the front as Chapter A. That caused a problem, however, for the careful sequence of chapters that made the overall work a graphic novel — starting from Aspie Mouse leaving his mother and siblings in Ch. B. To keep the chapter sequence intact — at least starting with Ch. B — the author decided to repeat Chapter A’s material, but put it in context (between Ch’s. G & I) in a new Chapter H. To maintain interest in reading Chapter H, a whole new sub-plot involving AM’s interaction with rodent peers was added — doubling Ch. H’s length vs. A.

If you’re keeping score, here’s how Ch. H differs from Ch. A: 11 new pages of material are added from the middle of page 3 (in both A & H) to the middle of what now becomes page 14 in Ch. H. Then, after four pages in common (pp. 4-7 in Ch. A; pp. 15-18 in Ch. H), an additional page 19 is inserted in Ch. H. Finally, after another four pages in common (pp. 6-9 plus part of p. 10 from the old Ch. J; now pp. 8-11 in Ch. A & pp. 20-23 in Ch. H), what was the final page (10) in Chapter J is now expanded to two pages in both A & H. The first of these two pages is the same (11 in Ch. A, 23 in Ch. H); the second page (12 in Ch. A, 24 in Ch. H) is slightly different in Ch. H vs. Ch. A.

When Aspie Mouse leaves his new home to seek an extension cord, he meets four mouse peers — they’re brown, he’s gray. So yes, there are racial overtones that can be explored. It’s worth noting that Psychological studies have verified that four young men (and perhaps young women as well; don’t know if that’s been studied) of any race are more likely to cause trouble than a smaller number, because each feels anonymous and not responsible for what the group does. So horrible acts of murder, rape, etc. can occur, even if individually or with one or two others, no man would commit them. Feeling more responsible and less anonymous, men’s individual conscience or fear of blame helps deter the same bad actions.

What Aspie Mouse says in the second left panel of page 4 is good advice — perhaps worth exploring. “Always ask. The worst they can say is no, and if they do, you’re no worse off than you were before. But they might say yes!” While what happened immediately after AM followed that advice in this chapter first seemed like a counter-example — there may be worse things that can happen besides a simple no — note that it turns out that by asking, AM DOES get a positive result eventually by asking the four brothers if they knew where he could find an extension cord — as one of the brothers helps him get one later!

One way to increase sensitivity and avoid missteps in communicating around “differences” — race, class, mental or physical ability, gender, etc. — is to use “oops” and “ouch.” Those aware of committing a micro-aggression/ slip-up around another’s “differences” are asked to say “oops!” To call attention to another‘s micro-aggression, one would say “ouch.” People with Autism are more likely than most both to suffer slights of ignorance on the part of others and unintentionally cause them for others. Agreeing to use “oops” and “ouch” consciously can help. Note that Question H 4f directly addresses “oops” and “ouch.” Good resources exist to raise awareness of unconscious acts of bias and perpetration, especially around race and gender, but they apply to Autism, etc. too. See end of the appendix.

As for dealing with bullies (another theme of the new material in Ch. H) — an unfortunately common experience for those on the Autism Spectrum — what Aspie Mouse essentially does is recommended by social workers: as the bystander,  AM acts instead of just standing there. He challenges the bully! Possible discussion topic: why standing up to the bully works in most situations. Even if the challenger loses to the bully, the bully is likely to leave the challenger alone afterwards for one of three reasons: (1) a bully likes an easy target (just like a burglar or a thief); someone willing to fight requires too much work, even if the bully wins; (2) a bully is likely to respect anyone willing to stand up and fight instead of just taking it; (3) a bully has low self-esteem — why else would anyone want to be a bully? — so bullies can be afraid that someone they think they can beat can actually beat the bully, either directly, or perhaps (as once happened for the author’s dad, who regularly had confrontations with bullies growing up in the 1920’s & ’30’s) the so-called victim will find a hold quite by accident that causes the bully such great pain that the bully has no choice but to concede.

At the end of the chapter — as in Chapter A — the issue of Spike’s fate after he “escapes” is not resolved. However, while the endings are slightly different in A & H — primarily to add some information in H to clinch the answer to Questions A 4 & H 2 — both endings do offer a more overt moral “lesson” than anything else in Chapter A. Why the author added this: being oblivious to others’ motives, needs and reactions to his behavior/ words has been his own biggest problem throughout life, but he only recently identified it as an Autism trait (with an assist from ADHD). Thus (abridged from Ch. A’s notes) …

… Both the author and Aspie Mouse in this chapter (and A) go along our/my merry way in interacting with another or others, assuming (oops) that we/ I have interpreted another’s or others’ motives, and sensitivities appropriately and have the others’ buy-in. Then all of a sudden (or so it seems) we/ I get reprimanded for being outrageous, insensitive, causing chaos & disruption, and are told we/ I can’t be trusted! That leads to shame and a desire to disappear/ drop into a hole/ move to a desert island, etc.!  These days, the author knows the key to “recovery” and regaining trust is to ASK FOR FEEDBACK ahead of time — not assuming others think the way I do (they rarely do). Has Aspie Mouse already learned this or does he just have less shame? The scenes with the four brown mouse brothers (only in H) also show this “lack of checking out what others are thinking or want” before speaking — with similar fractured results. Learn to ask questions of others before speaking one’s thoughts out loud to them — no matter how “urgent” the thoughts want to be expressed!

Questions H 1a & H 2 are both based on material from the first 2-1/2 pages of Chapter A (or H; same material), but reading the intervening six chapters through Ch. H helps answer them. The answer to Question H 2 (carried forward from Question A 4) should be fairly easily answered after reading Chapters A, B & H. The author will be glad to explain it to anyone who doesn’t get it (email c/o this blog). Spelling it out anywhere here would make it too easy (maybe it already is), as highly verbal Aspie’s are as likely to read these notes as the questions they’ve been assigned. The author suspects there will be many partially correct answers. The fully correct answer should include why AM can understand his current homeowner specifically and not other humans regardless of age, gender, occupation, etc. What’s unique about her voice that other voices from the same source/ location or whatever do not share?

The last couple of question sets have no correct answers, especially H 8. But why some people “jump to (incorrect) conclusions” while others don’t, can make for a lively discussion. So does asking why some folks with Autism constantly feel shame over the consequences of their “unexpected” behavior or words, while others learn from their actions and don’t repeat them, and still others just shrug and decide it’s just part of the package of having Autism. Self-shaming paralyzes: taking responsibility & moving on from outbursts get better results!

Questions for Thought/ Discussion: Ch H, “A New House, a New Cat

H 1: After enjoying his time with the Coppola’s, Aspie Mouse moves to a new home with a lady and a cat who sleeps a lot.

a. What does Aspie Mouse like about his new home vs. his old one? Dislike?

b. Have you ever moved to a new place during your life? (Or do you know someone who has — perhaps a friend who moved away, or a new friend who moved into your neighborhood?)

c. How did you feel before, during and after a move? How long did it take for you to consider the new place as “home” (or did you never accept the new place)? If you haven’t moved, did you ever wish you did?

d. Besides the home itself, how much impact on your experience in one house vs. another comes from the neighbors you have or had, the change in school (if that happened) and/ or other nearby facilities (parks, stores, etc.)? If you’ve not moved, how important are these to you in your like and/ or dislike of where you live?

e. What would you like to have in or nearby your own place (if you have/ ever will have/ want one) that you’ve not had in any home you’ve lived in?

H 2: If you’ve read Chapters B through H, can you now explain the mystery question asked in Chapter A as Question A 4: WHY is Aspie Mouse able to understand the speaking voice of his new lady home owner, but can’t understand any other human’s voice? That’s even true with Bobby — the boy with Autism in Ch’s C-G — yes, AM reads Bobby’s mind and vice-versa, but they don’t comprehend each others’ speech.

H 3: In communicating with the four brothers, Aspie Mouse makes assumptions that because they speak a common language, they’ll understand each other.

a. How many instances can you find where Aspie Mouse says things that are not advisable to say to a group of peers, that aren’t helping him making friends with these brothers?

b. How many of these things Aspie Mouse says to the brothers that don’t help him relate to them do you think are related to AM having Autism? How many could just as easily be said by someone without Autism? How many seem to be a result of AM not paying attention to differences between AM and the brothers, such as social class, race, being sensitive about certain things that don’t bother AM, etc.?

c. Think of one or more instances when someone has said things that hurt your feelings, and didn’t seem to have done so on purpose. Did you say something in response (perhaps in anger)? Did you ever explain the impact of their words on you (instead of just reacting from anger)? Was it the sort of thing you could see yourself saying to someone else?

d. How often have you said something where you hurt someone else’s feelings without meaning to? Did you realize it when you said it — vs. by the other person’s response — or some time after? What happened just before you said it — did you get anxious or more anxious than usual? What response did you get? Did any of them explain the impact of your words on them (vs. just getting angry, etc.)?

e. Continuing from d: once you realized what happened, did you feel shame, guilt or something else? How did you respond — shut down, get angry back, say “I’m sorry”? Have you or would you consider asking the other person to tell you the impact your words had on them — to help them heal and help you know their sensitivities better? If you would not ask for that “impact” feedback, what would stop you — fear/ anxiety; shame; something else?

f. Anxiety — fear that brings up memories of past events, trauma and/ or thoughts — is widespread in society today. It’s nearly a universal issue for those with Autism. Once anxious, rational parts of the brain shut down, and the anxious person reacts with fight (anger, maybe violence or a lot of words), flight (runs away) or freeze (body stays, but mind is stuck and voice is still). Identify situations in this chapter when Aspie Mouse seems to react from higher anxiety than usual. Identify situations where other characters in this chapter react from higher anxiety.

g. Continuing from f: How does anxiety affect you? Do you respond with fight, flight or freeze, something else or each at different times? What can you do or have you done to lower your own anxiety? (Given anxiety’s central role in Autistic people’s lives, other chapters also have anxiety-related questions.)

h. What are things Aspie Mouse said to the brothers that helped his cause with the brothers — vs. those that hurt per questions a & b? What about these helpful words assisted him to be better connected with the brothers?

i. In what ways do you communicate empathy and caring; where you talk WITH someone rather than talking AT someone? What practices could you develop to communicate this way more often? Do you actually feel empathy and caring in those moments? Do you show what you feel?

H 4: Aspie Mouse is gray with a round face and no whiskers on his nose. The brothers are brown and have a more angular face and whiskers under their noses. These “racial” differences seem to bother most of the brothers. (Note human racial issues are raised in Chapter E & Questions after.)

a. What role does “race” seem to play in Aspie Mouse’s communication issues with the brothers? Where is there sensitivity on that subject either by AM or one or more of the brothers?

b. What other “differences” besides appearance-related ones seem to cause these issues?

c. Where is there clear misunderstanding or outright prejudice expressed by AM or the brothers?

d. In the top right panel of page H14, Brother A-M says, “You have a great family … for gray mice,” as AM leaves for home. It is probably meant as a compliment, but why might AM have felt insulted? In the human world, if someone white said that about a person of color’s family, the person of color would likely get angry. Why? What could Brother A-M have said about AM’s family that would likely avoid the problem with what he said.

e. Continuing from d: When has someone said something to you that seemed intended as a compliment — perhaps about your Autism or another “difference” — but you reacted (either silently or verbally) that you didn’t take it as a compliment? When have you said something that came across as insensitive about another person’s “difference” when you meant well? When have you said something you didn’t think was insensitive at the time, but probably was?

f. Continuing from e: How might you tell another person about the impact of what the other may have meant as a compliment, but you felt an “ouch” — something didn’t sound right (also called “micro-aggression”) — in such a way to encourages you and they to get closer? Similarly, when you realize you meant to give another person a compliment related to a “difference,” but it didn’t come across that way, how might you repair any damage caused (“oops!”) to encourage you and they to reach greater understanding?

g. Aspie Mouse admits to having some particular reading difficulties, though overall he reads pretty well. Do you have reading difficulties? If so, do you think they’re related to Autism, or are they separate from it? If not — most of all if you read better than most people your age — do you think your well-above average abilities with words are related to the positive side of Autism, or unrelated to it?

H 5: The bully rat represents the bullying that many children, adolescents and even adults endure. Those with Autism are often bullied more than others, but it is a universal problem, especially in the school age years.

a. What feeling(s) did the appearance of the bully rat on page 8 bring up for you? Have you been bullied? When? For how long? What, if anything, finally got the bully out of your life?

b. If you’ve been bullied, how did you feel while you was happening? If you haven’t been bullied, but have witnessed bullying, how did it feel watching that? As a bystander, why did you or did you not intervene?

c. How was Aspie Mouse successful in confronting the bully rat — OTHER than winning the three contests? Who benefited most from that success?

d. Have you ever been a bully yourself? If so, why do you believe you became one? If not, were you ever tempted? What stopped you if you were tempted?

e. Why do you believe bullies do what they do? Do you believe bullies are happy with their lives? What do you believe are the most effective ways to get them to stop?

H 6: Chapter A — and the parts of Chapter H repeated from Chapter A — are older in concept than any of the rest of the chapters except Ch. D.

a. When Chapter H shifts from Aspie Mouse’s encounter with the four brothers and the bully rat back to his new home and his impatience with how much Spike the cat sleeps, what changes, if any, do you notice in AM’s personality and attitude from how he behaved with the other rodents?

b. After reading Chapters B-H, do the ways AM “plays” with Spike — biting Spike’s tail, applauding when his new home’s owner’s dishes and glasses get broken, causing a mess by throwing the refrigerator’s contents onto the floor — seem in character or out of character as to how he acts elsewhere — in terms of concern for damage caused, and noticing or ignoring others’ feelings, needs and motives?

c. Does AM’s behavior with Spike show a side of Autism you can relate to? Do you identify more with AM in the parts of this chapter where he interacts with Spike and his human, or do you identify more with Spike, or even with the human lady? Why?

d. Would you like to see AM behave more like he does in his new home in Ch’s A & H (with Spike & the new home’s owner) or more like he behaves in the rest of this volume (and even in the other parts of this chapter)? Why or why not?

e. Throughout this graphic novel so far, what behaviors of Aspie Mouse do you relate to in yourself — good, bad or neutral? Are there behaviors AM has that you wish you had, and love how he’s doing what you can’t/ won’t? Are there behaviors AM has that bother you? If so, why? Are there behaviors AM has that you are glad you don’t have? Why?

H 7: (Similar to Question A 6) When the lady homeowner tells Aspie Mouse about the impact he’s had on her life and Spike’s, Aspie Mouse shows shame, sadness and remorse.

a. Is Aspie Mouse’s situation — doing or saying things that seem fun or innocent to you, only to learn afterwards that your words and/ or behavior had a bad effect on others, that you’re “disruptive” — such that others have trouble trusting you as a friend or worker or family member– familiar to you? Have you done this a lot? Rarely? If not, do you know someone with Autism who behaves or speaks that way often enough that it annoys you?

b. When the situation from H 7a happens to you (if it does) — you’re seen as disruptive or making things worse — what feelings come up for you? If you don’t believe you do this, what feelings come up when someone else behaves in a disruptive way?

c. Does this sort of behavior — whether you’re the one doing it, victim of it or you witness it — cause you anxiety? Or increases anxiety that’s already there, if you know you’re usually anxious already? What happens to you when your anxiety increases — do you tend toward acting out angry? run away or feel like running away? freeze? Do you make good decisions when this happens or does it seem as if your “rational resources” seem to disappear?

d. Are you one of those for whom this pattern happens so often you live in terror not knowing when it will happen again? If not “in terror,” how would you describe what you feel?

e. Are you able to tell others that you do or say the things you do because you have Autism, and not because you are being mean or ignoring others’ feelings on purpose? If not, what stops you? If you tell others that, does it help? What else do others — and you — expect?

f. What changes in behavior have you tried to avoid having this happen again (either as the one who is disruptive or one who gets upset seeing it happen in another)? What strategies might you employ to make this behavior pattern less likely to repeat?

H 8: (At the very end of this chapter (and Chapter A), the homeowner and Aspie Mouse both seem to second-guess some of their decisions to some extent.

a. The homeowner wonders why she was immediately so harsh with Spike, given it was out of character for Spike to have done what he was punished for doing. Why do YOU think she was so quick to judge Spike negatively?

b. Have you been unjustly accused of something? Punished more harshly than the “crime” seemed to deserve? Why do you think whoever unjustly accused you might have done so? Has it ever been “made up”?

c. On the other hand, when have you gotten away with behavior that you believe you should have been punished for? What was that situation? Did you ever acknowledge your “guilt”?

d. Why do you think the homeowner lets Aspie Mouse stay — albeit with conditions — even after learning that AM was responsible for causing the mess and leading Spike to want to escape?

e. What do you think Aspie Mouse is likely to want to do now — if Spike comes home; and if Spike doesn’t come home, is either replaced with another cat or not replaced?

f. At the end of the chapter, what’s your primary feeling — mad, sad, glad, scared, or what? Who do you feel the most sympathy towards — Aspie Mouse? Spike? The homeowner? Why? Regardless of sympathy, which of these three do you identify with the most? Why?

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