Ch. C: There Goes the Smartest Cat that Ever Lived (first posted 10/31/19; fully revised & re-posted 10/31/21; final for print in process, mid-2023)

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 5-1/2″ x 8″ size of a printed graphic novel; also space was added around individual panels (unless part of a numbered sequence) & lettering was more consistently sized.

It’s now being tweaked one last time in late 2022/ early 2023. No new pages are added, but –as with the two prior chapters (A & B) — each panel’s content, plus notes & questions now focus more directly on the 27 common characteristics of Autism introduced in the revised preface (Chapter Pre-A). Existing dialogue is modified, and new “thought balloons” are added to show more of Autistic characters’ thought processes and choices. It will be easier for readers to fill in Chapter C’s Question #1 chart (if desired) to link the thoughts and behaviors of the chapter’s Autistic characters to these 27 Autism traits. By going ahead with a late decision to break the Adventures into three Volumes (A-D, E-H, I-L), notes and questions for Chapters C and those following will appear in the print versions after all, but in the back of each volume, not after each chapter’s panels as it’s done in the blog.

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 than Aspie Mouse — antisocial personality disorder — her behavior is truly dangerous to others. By contrast, those with Autism are more often the victims, not the perpetrators, of bullying and other upsetting behaviors. 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. He likes that it has a cat and no other mice, while minimizing the concerns about his safety (a common Autistic blind spot) voiced by a mouse now living next door who survived Brilli’s onslaught. 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 — maybe even being helpful — long after the reader knows better), 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 last 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 being called “hero” — first appears on the bottom of Page 12, 40% into this 30-page chapter. This delay lets readers get to know the human family sharing space with Aspie Mouse for five chapters (B-G) — more than half of this graphic novel. It also shows how the home is “prepared” for Aspie Mouse’s arrival by a cruel killing cat.

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 — that neighbor and the boy Bobby — are identified as Autistic. The cat Brilli has a very different mental health challenge — antisocial personality disorder — which shows up by her cruelty in how she systematically eliminates the mice who used to live in that house. Aspie Mouse — fresh from graduating from the mouse “MIT” — moves in, pleased 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 mice who escaped Brilli and and now lives next door. #83 will continue to befriend and pursue Aspie Mouse as a potential mate throughout Chapters C-G.

Once in the house, Aspie Mouse decides to play with the cat (of course), which is a greater challenge than with any cat he’s met before. Brilli is similarly challenged by Aspie Mouse, as the one mouse she seems unable to catch and kill or even chase out of the house. After escaping many of the cat’s attempts to catch and kill him, Aspie Mouse continues to believe the cat might still be playing — even after he’s “rescued” by another Autistic character while the human family is at church. After making one more failed attempt to catch Aspie Mouse, Brilli is sent to a unique animal circus.

Bobby (the human household boy) and Aspie Mouse figure out they can read each others’ minds to some degree. Brilli can read both their minds perfectly, but she’s disgusted — and a bit afraid — when she sees that the boy bonds better with Aspie Mouse than with her! Eventually, Bobby and Aspie Mouse realize they can read Brilli’s feelings/ emotions, as well as each others’ feelings/ emotions. This puzzles them, as they each struggle to understand their own feelings/ emotions.

Thought reading” is a literary device that asks the reader to suspend their skepticism of its existence. It’s introduced in this chapter and then used selectively by certain characters in subsequent chapters. After all, as in all animal fiction, suspension of belief is necessary, in order to have animals talk, think and use technology (a cell phone becomes a “floortop computer”) like humans! And they have human mental health challenges such as Autism and Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Note that in Chapter A (and H), thought reading is not the reason Aspie Mouse understands Prof. Gonzalez’s speech; it’s a more straight-forward reason — NOT a literary device. Aspie Mouse usually only “thought reads” when he comes into contact with another character who thought reads a lot. While the boy Bobby may be the exception — Bobby isn’t a regular thought reader either — they’re so connected (“on the same wave length”) that it’s no surprise they “get” each other, at least somewhat. Thought reading is especially useful for the cat character KK, introduced in Ch. F, given her multiple disabilities, including deafness.

You might consider thought reading as something Neurotypicals would have as hard a time understanding as those with ASD often have in understanding non-verbal communication and reading between the lines of what is said. And what about people who seem to have extra-sensory perception that most people don’t, including: predicting the future; having dreams that come true later; an ability to track down lost people or objects or even communicate with the dead. Many people with such apparent powers often stay quiet– afraid of being called “witches” or worse — by those who lack such powers (the author’s hand is up) and (a) either have trouble believing that others do, (b) or if they do have such abilities, they’re a menace to society that must be silenced!

Brilli’s killing of mice: I (the author) seek reader input as to how much of Brilli’s “enjoying killing/ torturing mice” on pages C 6-9 to show. Would it cause problems for parents, teachers, librarians, etc. — and particularly sensitive kids (with or without Autism)? I’ve made the mice being killed anonymous: they don’t speak or scream, and they aren’t personalized; and when they get “bashed,” there’s no visible blood or gore, though blood is mentioned. Isn’t this in the spirit of comics and cartoons from the 1950’s and ’60’s? Maybe, though the author heard a radio interview on NPR where a former Warner Brothers creator noted that all the violence committed by Sylvester, Wiley Coyote, etc. were self-inflicted, which made it OK. On the other hand, aren’t cats well-known as serial killers? It’s estimated four billion birds a year are killed in the U.S. by domestic house cats. And the way they “play with mice” — isn’t it torture?

Brilli’s killing style may not even be what most upset readers. My teenage son is far more bothered by scenes of Aspie Mouse sucking milk (a) from his own Momma (Ch. B) and (b) a feline mother (Ch. I). Is that surprising in a society where viewing violence is tolerated even for younger children, while intimacy of any sort is not — and what’s more intimate than a baby sucking on their mother’s breast? Until I hear otherwise, I’ll leave in the warning about pages C6-9 for those who’d rather skip over Brilli getting rid of mice while using being a chef and devotee of Shakespeare and other “literature” to justify her brutal methods.

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? This work has several positive female characters — human, feline and rodent. 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. On the other hand, the exterminator in Chapter D is a villainous white male human!

Brilli has Antisocial Personality Disorder. She is NOT Autistic! This is important! Yes, Brilli has a “differently wired brain,” including some traits that are Autistic folks also have, such as anxiety, sensory sensitivity and a limited display of emotions. Her anxiety (a widespread feeling many folks have) is about getting caught. Unlike most folks with Autism, she has good understanding of social rules — same with the exterminator, Mr. Kaputin, in Chapter D — she just doesn’t follow those she finds inconvenient.

While those with Autism have trouble taking another’s point of view, they usually empathize with others’ pain (whether they show it on the outside or not). Those with APD don’t care about others’ point of view, except how they can take advantage of them. Brilli and Mr. Kaputin have no feelings for the creatures they torture/ kill. Another big difference: those with Autism normally suffer from low self-esteem, even when they are successful; whereas Sociopaths/ Psychopaths usually believe they’re great gifts to the world, and don’t understand why others don’t agree.

Brilli’s Antisocial Personality Disorder is a Cluster B personality disorder. There are two types of APD: Sociopath and Psychopath. It’s really not all that important which type either Brilli (Ch. C) or Mr. Kaputin (Ch. D) is. Saying someone is “going Psycho” is catchier than saying they have an Antisocial Personality Disorder, but we’re not doing a clinical diagnosis here. If you’re interested in the differences, I recommend an online resource, “How sociopaths are different from psychopaths” by Marcia Purse;, updated 6.15.2020.

Other Cluster B PD’s (personality disorders) are borderline p.d., histrionic p.d. and narcissistic p.d. Autocratic politicians and strong-men are often accused of having “extreme Narcissism.” Asking a class to look at current or recent world and national leaders and ask what mental health challenges they might have could make for a lively discussion, but therapists are strongly discouraged from diagnosing anyone who isn’t their patient.

A key difference between those with Type B Personality Disorders and those with Social Pragmatic Differences (Disorders) — such as Autism, ADHD, OCD, Bi-polar and PTSD — is that those with type B personality disorders are quite often dangerous to society; whereas those with Social Pragmatic Differences rarely behave violently or vengefully toward others. Yes, Autistic folks may have tantrums, but only in some instances are they directed at another person. And yes, those with ASD also often have violent and cruel thoughts. But they aren’t as likely to act on those thoughts as those with APD. Autistic folks are more often the victims — not the perpetrators — of bullying and other cruelty. Can someone with Autism do something horrific, even a mass shooting? Yes, but that’s rare! Few with Autism mean to hurt others; however, their poor perspective-taking may end up hurting others, especially when they respond to anxiety with “fight,” as has happened in certain situations for the author — see the “anxiety” discussion that follows. Hurting others is rarely intentional — unless the Autistic person judges oneself as having been “betrayed.”

So, about “Anxiety” (#5 of the 27 traits of ASD in this work) — introduced in more detail in Chapter B. It’s the most widely reported “issue” for those with ASD (98% self-report it as an issue per Attwood, Been There, Done That …). Brilli may use mild anxiety to get her adrenaline up to focus on what she’s trying to do, but it’s more concern for how things looks and not getting caught, rather than feeling “stuck.”. Depression (simplistically described as “anger turned inward”) is even rarer among those with Type B personality disorders, but all too common among their victims, including those with Autism. Those Type B’s are about ACTION!

Anxiety, depression & meltdowns are all lumped together as ASD trait #5 on purpose. Each could be its own trait, but they’re so tightly linked. Meltdowns occur in response to anxiety, that special form of fear (as per Chapter B) that is often paralyzing. A meltdown is like, or a form of, a tantrum. But while a tantrum can be willful (Brilli as a Sociopath might stage one to get her way), a meltdown just happens — it’s out of the control of the one who has it!

Meltdowns are common among those with Autism. Meltdowns occur as a response to anxiety, a special form of fear (as per Chapter B) that’s usually based on some memories of the past that intrude on what’s expected in the future, even if no threatening person, animal or weather event is present — it’s usually all in one’s mind. Meltdowns come in the same four forms as fear/ anxiety: “fight” (the most easily identified form of fear, anxiety or meltdown), “flight” (physically moving away from others or turning one’s attention to something else); “freeze” (one’s body is still here as if paying attention, but the mind has gone away/ shut down); & “fawning” (“I won’t even know I have an angry bone in my body if I act all apologetic & deferential). The first three of these forms of fear or anxiety are also the different types of meltdowns, again per Tony Attwood’s Been There, Done That …. For the purposes of this work, “fawning” will be ignored, because it’s a stretch to conceive of a fawning meltdown! Meltdowns result from an overloaded executive function as a result of anxiety. That’s why the fight response is more likely to turn into a meltdown in those with ASD than for others having anxiety — the brain’s executive function is far likelier to overload.

While fight” meltdowns can be major loud events — especially among ASD youth — only a minority of those with Autism engage in destructive acts against other people, animals or inanimate objects (the latter being the most common, as with Bobby as described by his father on page C-3). However, “fight” or active responses directed at oneself are common. They include clenching teeth, banging one’s head on a pillow or wall, cutting oneself or other self-harm activities. There are also “fight” actions that don’t physically hurt anyone, but gain attention by being verbally disruptive, such as yelling, cursing, and saying nasty things; they can also be silent but expressed in words by sending impulsive letters, texts, emails, etc. In all cases, they’re delivered without considering the impact on the one receiving it. This author’s own biggest problem is having had “fight” meltdowns in which I use my words to cause such chaos that the result is I hurt myself the most — losing jobs, relationships, etc.

Freeze is the most common response to anxiety by those with ASD, much more than fight. However, the average person — even if they are Autistic — don’t realize that freezing is a form of meltdown! Generally, Brilli and others with Type B Personality Disorders don’t tend to freeze; they act! And as was said previously, they don’t have meltdowns (which just happen) — if they have tantrums (mostly Sociopaths), they are likely intentional. Freeze is probably also the safest response — certainly safer than “fight,” — yet it also causes trouble: (1) because it can leave one defenseless (as we see on page C-24, one of the rare instances when Aspie Mouse freezes from fear); and (2) observers misinterpret the freezing as either not caring or an inability to act (ironic, because in a true life or death crisis, that same person may be the least “frozen”). I still remember a time when my son jumped out of the car to get to a playground before I could park, and almost got hit; the driver berated me for being a bad father, said he was an off-duty cop and would take down my license, and seemed most upset I just sat there; only later did I realize I’d “frozen.”

The flight response, when the whole body escapes, may also not look like a meltdown to most observers, unless the one who runs away is confronted or “caught.” Then, the runaway may either freeze or, like a cornered rat, decide they have no choice but to fight. Typical flight responses include escaping — to the basement when visiting family or when family or friends visits their home — and/ or to one’s cell phone or computer, or even driving away (leaving any passengers brought stranded) from a family event or other function. It may also include not replying to phone calls or emails (in 12-step programs, it’s referred to as the “500 pound telephone,” meaning it’s judged too heavy to lift to request help). I recall so many times when I’d be done with dinner when visitors were over, or I was at someone else’s home (even in recent years at my in-laws’) and felt a desperate need to leave the table and lie down in another room, read something, or check emails. My son asks if he can sit in the car and wait for us to be done: I understand that!

As in Chapter B, several personality traits are found in both Neurotypical and Neuro-divergent folks, including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, lack of trust — along with positive ones such as creative problem-solving. However, Autistic individuals usually have more of these traits, and the negative ones are more debilitating, due to an easily jammed up executive function — made worse by poor social understanding/ perspective-taking. For example, both Brilli and most characters with Autism engage in some degree of negative self-talk — best seen in the Vietnamese River Cat in Chapter I. The difference is Brilli will blame everyone else, thinking she deserves to have it better than anyone else, and seeks to take revenge on the world. Autistic individuals are more likely to blame themselves, and beat themselves up — seeing oneself as a “bad person.” Sometimes they may blame others, but mostly as a way to shift some of their low self-esteem onto others. Brilli, by contrast, believes she’s great, but others have given her a raw deal.

Another Autistic trait to bring up here is “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 the negative trait “poor at team work.” This team work struggle 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 taking care of himself. When Aspie Mouse covers his eyes and hopes either this is all a dream or Brilli will suddenly change her mind, it never occurs to him to ask for or hope for help from another living being — or 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 who are only too glad to help others — even without being asked. Human beings are social beings, even if those with Autism and those with other traits (males in the American West?) 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 among those with ASD, 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 probably both naive and foolish. To make nepotism less obvious, the rich and powerful often hire their best friend’s child, while their best friend will hire theirs! Former U.S. President George W. Bush’s was ridiculed as (a) “… the 4th straight generation of ‘self-made’ Bush men”; and (b) “… born on third base, yet he thought he’d hit a triple.”

I still don’t find it easy to imagine being a “team player”: I asked early reviewers of this chapter if they thought it OK for Aspie Mouse to show vulnerability and need help (from Bobby) — maybe just this once. Duh — of course! Even if he “stays in character” by not asking for that help, Aspie Mouse should be shown as being better off if he did! It would impress upon others with ASD that asking for help is a skill worth cultivating! I am learning to ask for and accept help from others directly, rather than “sideways, as in “Would you help with ____?” instead of “Gee, it would be nice if ____ happened.” Indirectly asking for help — more like hoping she’ll “get it” — drives my Neurotypical wife crazy!

By the way, being a “loner” is also common for those with Type B Personality Disorders (i.e. Brilli in this chapter), and Type B’s and those with ASD are probably loners due to “lack of trust,” the underlying intentions are very different: Type B’s are loners in order not to give away their less-than-honorable intentions; while those with ASD are loners because they just find it difficult to handle the “give and take” required to work with others. The “team work/ team player/ loner/ asking for help” topic group is key in understanding the struggles those with ASD face.

Use of ethnic names 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. I was fortunate to have an 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 due to my first name (not so common in my Jewish majority classes). It got uglier later, when teens intentionally “mispronounced” the O in Conty as “U” — made infinitely worse when I didn’t know what that meant until senior year of high school (Autistic naivete I guess!).

Names can be misleading — given increasing numbers of multi-racial/ multi-ethnic partnerships: I know of an excellent mixed race Asian-American violinist with the Scandinavian name of Swensen; also I know a woman with a Greek mother and features, but an obviously Irish name through her father; then there’s a half-Black NBA coach with an Italian surname; and a Jewish woman I know of Irish-Viennese ancestry, orphaned at an early age, 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 or seeking patterns? — a little of each, really!) to feel “safer” in the world — another trait that drives my wife crazy*! It’s important that I tread a fine line here, as at times I have also been known to delight in “reverse stereotyping” — that is, going against type!

Here’s how I chose the names for Chapter C’s humans. Fumio Nakamura: first name honors a 5th grade classmate; last name was that of a former newspaper deliverer. Castelluzo (Aspie Mouse’s new human family) is a composite of the last names of two long-time dear friends with Italian ancestry; 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 on the names I use — an admission of 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 had ethnic names, and portrayed by actors who themselves often adopted such names to soften their own ethnic origin.

*My wife loves me in spite of my negative ASD traits, loving my positive traits — ASD and otherwise. Good thing!

Now for notes specific to the plot and panels of Chapter C and the Questions that follow:

The initial interaction of the chapter between three of the Castelluzos and Mr. Nakamura offers this work’s first example of people (vs. animals) displaying Autistic behaviors and how others react to those traits. At the bottom of Page 3, Bobby gets frustrated because the elderly neighbor is willing to answer Bobby’s questions, whereas Mrs. Castelluzo judges the questions out of line (impertinent). It’s a common “misunderstanding” between those with ASD who talk a lot and/ or ask a lot of questions (which is a typical extroverted Autistic person’s “fight” response to anxiety) and the Neurotypicals who quickly tire of the interruptions and lose patience, roll their eyes, etc.

Brilli’s “compulsion” to do bad deeds, vs. merely think about doing them, is its own discussion subject. What is a compulsion? Why are most folks — regardless of their mental health profile — able to resist acting on those compulsions likely to get them in trouble, while others just aren’t? This author has no answers, but finds the topic fascinating! And Brilli’s thought at the top of Page 4, “… feels so good to see others suffer” is a thought that this author doubts would cross an Autistic person’s mind. Kill — maybe even conceive of torturing — someone who is a dictator or a bully, yes — in their thoughts. Yet most folks with ASD have suffered enough themselves, and don’t want that result for people they actually know, even enemies/ bullies. Or am I wrong? Note how several of the subsets of Question C-4 address this. Feedback would be welcomed on this topic.

At the bottom of page C-11, left panel, Mr. Castelluzo 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. See the discussion above in the notes as to how meltdowns relate to anxiety, and why Type B Personality types like Brilli may also “act out,” but rarely have meltdowns.

While meltdowns are common among those with Autism, only a minority of those with Autism — even when engaging in a “fight” response — act destructively to other people or animals. They’re more likely to smash inanimate objects, as Bobby sometimes does. More often, a “fight” or active response is directed at oneself. That may include clenching teeth, banging one’s head on a pillow or wall, cutting oneself or other self-harm activities. They may also engage in “fight” actions that don’t physically hurt anyone, but cause psychological damage by being verbally disruptive — such as yelling, cursing, and saying nasty things; they can also do damage by sending impulsive letters, texts, emails, etc. In all cases, they’re sent during an anxiety attack, without considering the impact on who receives it.

Much of Question C-5 addresses which parent is more sympathetic vs. more suspicious of Bobby as the possible creator of the cooked, etc. mice. A possible direction for discussion or thought might be which parent is more likely to share Autistic traits with Bobby — and whether that “sharing” might make a parent more — or even less — sympathetic than the other parent. I as author didn’t intentionally make either parent Autistic.

Questions C 6-5 & 6 address 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 stereotypical “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 Chapter E, the other mother, Cheryl Jean, is very attuned to her Neurodiverse child (Desiree/ Deedee); we only get a glimpse of the other father.

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 give him insulin?” Even these many years later, Mrs. Castelluzo’s denial, and Mr. Castelluzo’s begrudging tolerance of Bobby’s diagnosis (plus 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 they’re doing what’s 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 Aspie Mouse 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 — Aspie Mouse has convinced himself most cats want to play. That’s why he 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 Aspie Mouse realize that at least THIS cat means him harm? Maybe, maybe not! Isn’t he trying to convince himself that Brilli is still playing when Bobby pulls Brilli away after Aspie Mouse is cornered and closes his eyes? So maybe Aspie Mouse, as much as he likes Bobby, may not share Bobby’s convictions about Brilli’s motives, perhaps because his attempt to convince himself Brilli was “playing” somehow worked.

Or maybe Aspie Mouse is afraid, but is acting in the opposite way to avoid freezing. He talks, talks, talks, with what seems like bravado or arrogance! Maybe that’s his way of coping with his anxiety. I (the author) knows this paradox: all too well: I’d often blurt out things, or be sarcastic — or ask an insane number of questions — to lower my anxiety in some scary social situations. On the other hand, I’d usually freeze (or flee) in the face of anger — whether the anger was directed at me or not. Autism is a condition of opposites, with little middle ground, so often things swing all one way or all the other.

A third explanation for Aspie Mouse’s behavior when he saw Brilli outside his hole — consistent with an ASD diagnosis — is that fight, flight & freeze occur when past events are triggered, but may NOT occur when faced with an actual emergency — especially a novel (unfamiliar) one. In my life, an actual life-or-death emergency has made me focus and problem-solve rationally — not panic as most Neurotypicals might! I once survived -18 degrees F actual temperature with an overheating car and a broken key in the steering column at 2 AM by saying to myself: “I could actually freeze to death, so Step 1, Step 2 … .” As with Aspie Mouse’s rescue by Bobby, luck was with me: my passenger had the other key to the car. I didn’t test my luck by driving the 4 miles back home alone: instead I slept (poorly) in this friend’s cold unfinished basement until daytime.

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 back then didn’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. Many more will be introduced in Chapter I (“At the Zoo During a Pandemic”).

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 discussing this topic until then.

27 Common Autism Characteristics and related traits, followed by possible questions after reading Chapter C:

  1. No eye contact
  2. 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
  3. Self-Regulation: Speech: voice volume, repetition & variability; amount (see #6)
  4. Self-Regulation: Stimming – flapping, swaying, repetitive body/ hand movements/ head banging; use “fidgets”
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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”
  8. 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.
  9. Pattern-seeking/ solving problems in unique ways: why they’re inventors, good at “detail oriented” jobs; creative, intuitive. Sometimes forget other people dislike being put in “boxes.”
  10. Special Interest(s) can pay off having unique expertise for work/ hobby. Great for self-esteem, relaxing, lowering anxiety. Hard to “re-direct” once engaged in one (see #16)
  11. Independent thinkers/ most inventors; no/ weak peer influence/ expectations. Also a need to work independently as a colleague, not in a team structure. Needs trusting boss!
  12. Persistence once fully engaged; terrifying level of energy; not easily re-directed (see #16).
  13. Self-entertaining: If access to special interests, never bored; needs no playmate.
  14. Rule follower: conscientious once buys in; then helps enforce rules, offers improvements.
  15. Honesty, innocence, naivete: unusually truthful, will even tell on oneself. Positive side of “lack of social understanding” (see #8). Leads to trust, yet too good to be true? One “withhold” is for masking (see #21).
  16. Love routine/ dislike change and transitions: helps in self-regulation; holds on; loyal, slow to adjust, won’t jump ship.
  17. Unaware of impact of actions on others (adds to friction from #8): so invite feedback, don’t explain yourself.
  18. More logical than emotional: Makes for discomfort – Aspie of feelings; others for Aspie not expressing them.
  19. Emotionally delayed: emotional age 2/3-3/4 of chronological. Catch up slowly. Good to delay intimacy (honor your own clock).
  20. Low self-esteem: Stop self-blame! Give counter-messages: your unique strengths & you’re not at fault.
  21. Lack of trust, all feels unsafe: others’ trust/ safety priorities puzzling, why is my “feels right” labeled “unacceptable?” No! Unexpected! Often practice masking to try to “fit in” (especially girls & women: social ostracism worse than for boys & men). Adopting others’ safety priorities helps “get along” and/or to “mask.”
  22. 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. Masking here is not admitting how one’s bothered.
  23. Can’t remember names (even faces), read body language – not priority, can be by choice.
  24. Disconnected from body, including health, personal hygiene, need to eat/ sleep/ use bathroom, place in “space,” prone to self-injury (intentional & not).
  25. 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.
  26. 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.
  27. 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).

Questions for Thought/ Discussion: Ch. C, “There Goes the Smartest Cat That Ever Lived”

C 1: Relating the 27 Common Characteristics of Autism (above) to characters in Chapter C:

  1. To track the Autism characteristics that Aspie Mouse displays in each chapter of these “Adventures,” you might want to use a spreadsheet such as the one below. Aspie Mouse is always listed as the first character for each chapter in the spreadsheet.
  2. More ambitious readers are invited to do the same for other Autistic characters — Bobby & Mr. Nakamura.
  3. Particularly devoted readers may use + and – signs to indicate when a particular Autistic trait is shown positively, negatively or some of each.
  4. Which Autistic trait(s) shown in this chapter do you identify with? Do you see each trait as more positive, more negative or roughly balanced? Insert a column for yourself!
  5. Which Autistic traits shown by characters in this chapter are not traits you have, whether you’re Autistic or not?

C 2: At the beginning of this chapter, Mrs. Castelluzo seems very upset with her son Bobby’s behavior, whereas the elderly neighbor who’s moving out seems more understanding.

  1. 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!
  2. Have you had a key parent, other relative, teacher, etc. who denied or still denies your Autism (that you have it if you do; or perhaps accepts it a little, but ignores how it really affects your life) as Mrs. Castelluzo seems to do with Bobby? 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?
  3. 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?
  4. At the bottom of page C-3, Bobby seems to purposely make his mother angry. Have you had a similar experience as Bobby when saying he wishes his mother would answer his questions the way Mr. Nakamura does? When have you or others you know (parent, sibling, classmate, etc.) gotten upset when you or someone else with Autism asks questions that don’t seem polite, or don’t concern the person asking the questions, or seem unnecessary to ask? Why do you think Mr. Nakamura answers Bobby’s questions despite his mother’s objections to Bobby asking?
  5. 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?
  6. 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 were treated differently than Japanese-Americans, even though Japan struck first, and yet the U.S. focused on fighting Nazi Germany first — with a greater commitment of troops, armaments, etc.?
  7. 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, visible disabilities, etc. because of your own difference?
  8. Mr. Castelluzo has a different point of view about Bobby than does Mrs. Castelluzo. 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 3: As we first meet the Castelluzo 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 his siblings — and in Ch. D for these same two children).

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. If you’re an only child, did you wish you had a brother or sister or both? How might life have been different?
  4. 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 4: Brilli the cat also has a “differently wired brain.” But unlike Autism, Brilli’s cold-hearted desire not to just kill mice, but torture them, indicates a Cluster B personality disorderAntisocial Personality Disorder, better known as Psychopathic/ Sociopathic traits.

  1. What core characteristic(s) of Autism does Brilli the cat NOT have? Hint: She uses her lack of this/ these trait(s) to take advantage of those with Autism, like both Bobby and Aspie Mouse, who have it/ them.
  2. 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 Castelluzo’s? What makes Brilli especially careful in Mr. Nakamura’s presence?
  3. Why do you think Brilli is afraid of Bobby, but not any of the other Castelluzos, even at the beginning of the chapter (assume that Brilli can’t foresee the future), considering that Bobby lacks social awareness?
  4. Have you met anyone like Brilli, in that they may try to be nice, but seem to have evil intentions? How have you managed how you are in their presence?
  5. Why is Brilli genuinely puzzled that the Castelluzos don’t appreciate the “gifts” of mice “treats” she’s made?
  6. Humans and animals like cats and dogs kill other animals for food — and sometimes even for recreation (for example, human deer hunters; cats & dogs in homes that don’t eat their kill) — but what makes Brilli’s statement that she “… can’t stop. Just feels good to see others suffer” (bottom of page C-4) very different?
  7. 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?
  8. How clear are you that someone who likes seeing or hearing about someone suffering is DIFFERENT from someone who acts upon such thoughts by causing suffering?
  9. Many people have compulsions (per the questions above) that they have trouble not acting upon. What compulsions have you had that have caused trouble? How have you controlled those compulsions (if you have)?
  10. 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 the person saying these things does not act on such a fantasy?
  11. When you say things that make other people uncomfortable — like sharing thoughts others find unpleasant — you may damage your relationship with them. You may also cause trouble for you, even if they’re “legal” to say. Have you examples from your own life? As the one saying such things? As the one hearing them? Both?

C 5: After Brilli’s arrival, the Castelluzo family’s dynamics shift after she captures all the mice. We also finally meet Mr. Tom Castelluzo, the dad. And we see that parents are not perfect: even a parent aware of the child’s Autism may have “blind spots.”

  1. How does each parent show disrespect for Bobby’s Autism in the words each uses, starting on page C-10?
  2. Where does each parent show understanding — even respect — for Bobby’s Autism with their words (again, starting on page C-10)?
  3. Which parent is primarily convinced Bobby is the one who tortured the mice? Is it the same parent as the one who seems more upset about what happened to the mice? Why was that parent more upset? What are the justifications offered for that parent’s point of view about Bobby? Why might that parent be less likely to believe Bobby than the other parent?
  4. 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?
  5. What are the strengths Mr. Castelluzo has as a parent of someone with ASD? What are his blind spots? What are the strengths of Mrs. Castelluzo as a parent of someone with ASD? What are her blind spots?
  6. 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?
  7. 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”?
  8. 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?
  9. 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 6: At the bottom of page C-11, left panel, Mr. Castelluzo 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 from anxiety 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 — because their “executive function” is more easily overloaded.

  1. Have you had a meltdown that resulted 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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)?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. 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?
  8. What strategies have you tried or might you try to prevent a “fight” meltdown from occurring when a situation arises likely to trigger one?
  9. 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)? How about “fawning,” when you try to appease the one who stirred you up and can’t even find any anger in yourself?

C 7: 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.

  1. 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?
  2. Identify which misunderstandings between #83 and Aspie Mouse seem to relate to AM’s Autistic traits. Name these traits.
  3. Can you identify with any of these misunderstandings from either mouse’s side? Which ones?
  4. What might have been ways Aspie Mouse could have enhanced his understanding of #83’s point of view? What might have been ways #83 could have improved her understanding of his point of view?
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. 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 he’s shown before — not understanding social “idioms” — in the prior chapter (B)? How often do you assume someone is talking about one thing, but later realize it’s about something else (per Question C 6-5)? Are you willing to ask questions to clarify the meaning, or do you generally not ask? If not, why not?
  8. #83 is the second female mouse (Toe/ Hashtag the other in Ch. B) 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?
  9. Can you relate to having confusion about your own feelings for someone who’s been romantically attracted to you? … or about your own feelings for someone whom 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?
  10. 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?
  11. 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 Aspie Mouse, 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 8: Aspie Mouse and Brilli have their first and second interactions on pp. C 18 to C 22.

  1. 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)?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. What events occur that allow Aspie Mouse to continue to believe that Brilli is playing with him, and even trying to be helpful?
  5. 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?
  6. 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 9: The third interaction between Aspie Mouse and Brilli is the climax scene of the chapter.

  1. 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?)
  2. When Aspie Mouse closes & covers his eyes, hoping somehow Brilli will go away or let him 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?
  3. After Brilli is removed from the basement after the “smoke out,” do you think Aspie Mouse 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?
  4. 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?
  5. When Aspie Mouse realizes he can read Bobby’s feelings or mood, and get the gist of what Bobby’s saying, how much does that change Aspie Mouse’s belief in Brilli’s motivations towards him (playing vs. killing)? Does any shift in his belief about Brilli’s motives seem to affect his belief about the “play” motivation of other cats?
  6. 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 Aspie Mouse 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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. 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 read backwards). How many of the others do you “get”? How curious are you to learn about the ones you don’t “get”?
  7. 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.
  8. 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.


  1. Chris, your blog will soon be added to our Actually Autistic Blogs List ( Please click on the “How do you want your blog listed?” link at the top of that site to customize your blog’s description on the list (or to decline).
    Thank you.
    Judy (An Autism Observer)


  2. Wait 2 days till Chapter C complete is put up! List if possible: Adventures of Aspie Mouse: A Graphic Novel in progress, 10 chapters planned, 4 done, new art planned. Mouse with HFA survives by doing the “unexpected.” Tweens & teens on the Autism Spectrum.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I generally update once a week, usually on Thursday or Friday. Would you like me to add your blog later this week, or next?

    Thanks. Unless you request otherwise, your blog will be described as:

    Adventures of Aspie Mouse: A Graphic Novel in progress for Autistic tweens & teens; Autistic mouse survives by doing the “unexpected.”; 2019-2019

    If you want to customize your blog’s description further, please click here. Thanks.


  4. I’m in accord with your description and putting it up on Thursday/ Friday — EXCEPT it looks like you’re only going to Chapter C, or even just its first page, instead of going to the website itself. The blogs are “chapters.” Thanks, Chris


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