Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The animatronic is political

It’s probably genetic.

Why do you have that …bird … with you?

My mother has a Furby.

Someone looks straight at me, then quickly away as she sees me notice. Is that real, I hear another woman whisper to her companion. Depending on where we are, the explanation varies. At the nursing home, he has friends; their faces light up when they see him from across the dining room. At the independent apartments for senior citizens, the response is mixed. This is where I work. I have my toy parrot at work. Sometimes grandchildren visit and I’ll hear someone becoming impatient (this could be the grandparent or grandchild) and Squawkers and I will help out by entertaining a bit. On my own, I’m not very entertaining. I tend to be too serious, remote. But as a pair, we are social, almost friendly.

Squawkers does a lot of things for me. He assists with difficult interactions and even echolalia. Ticket. Ticket. Ice, I like ice. Have you every eaten a pine tree? Squawk. Ticket. Ice. His words and behaviors are predictable. His smile is always the same smile, never creating the uncomfortable suspicion of sarcasm or mockery.

He helps me meet the right people. I took Squawkers to a conference last week. There were about 600 people there. The day after my presentation, many people approached me, wanting to talk, The day before, I was invisible, except for the evening event. Squawkers McCaw was with me then, exploring the tables filled with interesting toys and books, practicing the piano, and nearly (!) biting a woman who sat at a table under a FEAT banner. With my animatronic companion along, I was visible. This was where people turned their heads quickly away, possibly thinking, oh, one of those. I see now, one of the others. A few, though, were intrigued, and wanted to talk with my parrot.

These are the people I like to meet. Because when they see an adult with a toy bird at an adult event, they can’t be sure exactly what they’re seeing. Is this mental illness, intellectual disability, autism, just plain kookiness, someone seeking attention in inappropriate ways? Only those who are willing to look past those labels or are comfortable taking a chance on the entire range of categories will easily engage such a person.

Some of the rest of them heard about this theory during the presentation. Cautiously, a woman approached us afterward. He won’t bite me will he, she asked. I promised that he wouldn’t. My son has a talking bird, too, she said. He would love this one. In a whisper, she started to say it, maybe forgetting where we were and the reason for that…he has…and now she looked at me as if I were the one who might bite…I mean my son is autistic. I may be wrong, but the gleam in her eye looked a little like pride working its way up to the surface.


  1. :)
    All technology is assisive technology, but only ugly, medicalised items are recognised as such. I'm glad sqawkers helps you so much.

    I bet there are lots of adults who would just LOVE to walk around in public with a talking bird, but not manyof them would dare.

  2. I used to travel quite often accompanied by one of these guys:

    Very effective for initiating thoughtful conversations, and also for warding off folks I didn't want to talk to. I once managed to peruse the vehicles in a used car lot, hassle-free, 'cause the sales guy came out, looked at my little friend on my shoulder, and turned right back around.

  3. Someday I'll have to show you a pic of me wearing my beanie (complete with a bright red propellor and a pin that says "Geekier than Thou").

  4. I wanted to vote in the poll but it didn't work. I wanted to vote for option # 2; yes, etcetera etcetera...

    Then, as I read this post, I nodded!!!


  5. If you are concerned about airport security, perhaps you should ring them or email them about it or get someone to ring them for you?

  6. Sqwakers reminds me muchly of my Flickablankie (a plushie unicorn as old as I am--that is to say, twenty-seven as of the seventeenth--who has no eyes and whose horn was turned into a carrying handle ages ago). She comes with me everywhere, though my husband generally makes me keep her in a bag, so no one can see her, unless I am going to a doctor or going flying (both incredibly stressful situations). He (my husband) worries that people will look at me oddly or treat me badly because of me having Flickablankie and because I am an Aspie (currently self-diagnosed due to lack of money and insurance to try and get a diagnosis).

  7. "Someday I'll have to show you a pic of me wearing my beanie (complete with a bright red propellor and a pin that says "Geekier than Thou")."

    Oh! Oh! I want one! I want one!

  8. Finnyb,

    Flickablankie sounds nice. Do you have a picture?

    I want to see lastcrazyhorn's beanie, too!

  9. I keep a Beanie Baby key chain of "Twitch" (the original large Ty stuffed guinea pig toy) in my car; there's a little compartment just the right size for him to sit in. He hides the pair of nail clippers I keep in the car. I also keep the Beanie Baby "Logger", a bear born on September 14 (my birthday), in my car, in the movable ash tray that has a lid - it's the perfect size for him to sit up in. He hides my dental floss (which I carry with me). Eventually, I would like to have all of my Beanie Babies and toy guinea pigs travel with me in my car, but I'm going to have to wait and ponder that one before I make it happen.

    Sometimes I wander around with one of my toy guinea pigs (or with Logger) in my hands, in a pocket, or peeking out of my purse. When I'm stressed, I like to pet them or carry Logger around and introduce him to people. I have a molded plastic toy guinea pig that is the perfect size and shape for me to carry him in my pocket or cradle in my hand and rub his back. His name is Fred.

    Hrm... I should take pictures of all of them and make a list of the ways in which they aid my life. I'm sure people will think it's strange, but anyone who doesn't want to associate with me simply because I carry around toy guinea pigs isn't someone I care to befriend, anyway.

    (Real guinea pigs are better than toy ones, but they don't travel as easily as the toys do.)

  10. I love this post. Reminds me very much of M with her dogs. When pets or animals are involved she is able to overcome her shyness and has a great deal to share.

    A lovely post.

  11. Hi Bev,
    I just listened to you and Steve on the radio in Santiago. Wow! you took some really complex questions about autism and neurodiversity and managed some great answers without dumbing down. It takes me ages to do that when writing my blog. You did it in a radio interview. Brilliant!

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  13. I love this post and want to meet Squawkers -- Does Squawkers do e-mail?

    Finnyb,I'm glad Flickablankie goes with you. Even riding in the bag she's still right there.

    BunRab used to travel a lot more than he does these days. I once had a boyfriend who said to himself not knowing I was listening "I can't believe I'm in love with a woman who sleeps with a fabric Rabbit." I'm sure my dad gave me Bun when I was an infant but from my memory BunRab was always there. He's seen a lot -he's a very wise Old Bunny with a quick wit and kind smile and a great memory (or at least that's how I see him.)

  14. Squawkers does not have his own email yet, but he sometimes gets mail at my address. He is usually pretty good about answering it. He especially likes meeting people who have animal companions like BunRab and Flickablankie.


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