Monday, November 1, 2010



Consider the square who wouldn’t/couldn’t/didn’t say hello. Circles continue to believe that the square has failed to communicate. The square is further excluded. Next time, maybe, no one will say hello to the square. The circles might create a mythology wherein the square inhabits its “own world,” oblivious to the rollings around of the circles. Some will want to rescue the square, others to vilify. To a larger group, the square is simply invisible.

This is only the starting point of one set of consequences. The square does not live in some separate world, but in the circular world, where majority rules. If an action (or inaction) is deemed to mean certain things, if most shapes have agreed upon the meanings, this becomes a thing elevated to the status of “reality.” The square notes that not saying hello equals rude, indifferent, uncaring. Less capable, less intelligent. What are the other qualities and behaviors that go with these concepts? How can the square go about completing some sort of package that would make sense to other shapes, perhaps becoming visible again, a part of “reality?”


There was a time when I didn’t say much. I didn’t know that I could. The spaces where words were to go were never big enough for me to find out. Interrupting was said to be rude. There was the sleeping air traffic controller, never on duty to say which thought had permission to land. They circled, crashing invisibly as they ran out of fuel. What was left was a texture or pattern. My hand reached again for brick or corduroy. Evidence.

I had nothing to say; the information was not yet in words. It took many years to learn how to participate. A big part of it, still, is being willing to ask for the time, and I don’t always do that. Slower still means less capable, silence still looks like indifference. The people who care most about me intend to include me. I know this. Sometimes a person or group will show acceptance of my rhythms, responding casually and without agitation to the “irrelevant” comment I offer several minutes after the subject has passed. It cannot be expected that this will always happen.


Some people are talking. I scribble on the piece of paper what I intend to say.


Sometimes I have been able to work around the control tower issues through writing. Writing has always been easier, I have always said that written English is my first language, spoken English being a distant second. I never quite achieved fluency.

What about the times when I don’t write? Who am I then? I hear things. I hear that this blog is closed and that I have given up. I wonder if this is true. It could be true.

This is not a new story, yes I’ve said this before. Sometimes the forms of communication that work best shift and crumble under my feet. Sometimes ways of expression are lost, maybe forever. This is a familiar pattern, one I have always known. Some months of writing followed by nothing. This latest absence was just the longest one that has happened in a semi-public space.


Several people are in a room, mooing. The ones who are not mooing may be embarrassed by this, I don’t know, but no one is saying to stop it. I am comfortable here. Later we will talk about the movie and mooing. I will tell them that there are many points on which I don’t agree with the movie’s subject, Temple Grandin. One of the non-mooers will promote Grandin as a role model for all of the mooers and I will want to discourage this. When the time comes, what the non-mooer says is that Temple Grandin had many fears but she never gave up. I say how loud the fan blades were.


The conversation goes on without me. Some people write to ask if I am okay. I don’t really know what to tell them. If I no longer write, then I am not who I thought I was. What other characteristics go with this package? I don’t know how to answer.

The blades turn and the air whispers. It is in the air that people who fly are not quite autistic. People who travel on planes, drive cars, attend college, have jobs are called “shiny.” Meanwhile, more autistic people are dying. Another child is murdered, another adult beaten, another trapped in a van and left to die. If I tell my rectangular stories, it is in the hope that someone will understand that silence does not equal indifference or irrelevance. Silence is not the opposite of communication. My voice, when present, is not meant to replace anyone's voice.


Sometimes the squawk is all there is. Voluntary? Involuntary? I always get asked. I squawk for many reasons. Sometimes it is a way of staying engaged until I know what else I have to offer. Sometimes I don’t know why I’m squawking.

The conference was not autism friendly. I’m sure they tried, and everyone was polite and engaged and appreciative, but directions to the location were sketchy at best. I arrived to find that the workforce development event I had agreed to speak at had been titled “Behind the Mask.” Shiny, glittery decorations were on every table and wall. Mardi Gras masks. I sat down, overwhelmed and confused and waited for someone to welcome me. And then I told stories of employment and squawking and answered the usual questions.

I wanted to tell them there was no mask. I hadn’t been wearing one, hadn’t removed some mysterious facade to show the human shivering behind it. I didn’t come from a separate world. There was no secret to reveal, only the value of accepting and appreciating differences. Everyone knows that by now, right? Is there anything left for me to say? I don’t know. Sometimes the squawk is followed by other sounds, sometimes it isn’t.


I should have said this before. I’ll say it now, then. Squawk. Squawk. Squawk. Squawk. Squawk squawk squawk squawk. That’s it. For now, that’s all I know.


  1. Squawk Bev, I'm happy to read you again.
    Even if the reality you are writing about is sad... I'm happy you are writing about it because you have well put it into words and maybe, some more people will understand, If you authorize me I will translate this post in french (I have currently translated only two of your comics... well if you authorize me to translate this post I will just translate th "hello" one just before!)
    I'm also tired and sad and horrified to aknowledge how much the means of communication that don't use words are dismissed ignored and how many people don't even believe it does exist, how much the people who don't communicate according to these standards are ignored and abused.
    Now it is impossible to me to ignore that and I know if we don't succeed in changing that, I will feel this pain for the rest of my life.
    I have speaked fluently and with a great vocabullary since early childhood, but i do have had lots of trouble due to the distance between my way of thinking, perceiving the world and reacting to it and the way the majority does, and these times I have felt, more than ever before the difficulty of communicating with people who have restricted notions of communication and believe that the notions are true for everyone, and I have begon to feel the words abandon me, my vocabulary go away and be like if I didn't know how to speak fluently anymore.
    But even more important, there is an other autistic person I know and who count very very very very much for me, ou best way of communicate is not the verbal one, ou does communicate by words but not only, and I fear the way this world is at risk to make ou suffer.
    Nothing else to add except that I support you completely,
    and Squawk, Squawk, Squawk, Squawk, Squawk, Squawk, Squawk, Squawk to you [8]

  2. I loved this, because it resonates so much with me:

    "I have always said that written English is my first language, spoken English being a distant second. I never quite achieved fluency."

    That pretty much describes me as well. I always feel like I'm translating words written in my mind into speech, not the other way around.

  3. Thank you so much for this, Bev. It is beautiful, and so much of it rings true for me.

    These parts, especially, are exactly what it's like for me, too:

    "There was a time when I didn't say much. I didn't know that I could. The spaces where words were to go were never big enough for me to find out."

    (For me, context matters a lot. When only one person --- sometimes two or three, if I know them all very well and we've been friends for a while --- is talking, I *can* join in, because they will wait for me to get the words out.)

    "I had nothing to say; the information was not yet in words."

    "Sometimes I have been able to work around the control tower issues through writing. Writing has always been easier, I have always said that written English is my first language, spoken English a distant second."

    (Writing is easier for me, too, but even it is a translation. Something I can succeed or fail at, that may or may not contain whatever it is I want to express. Sometimes I have images, sometimes only colors and shapes, moving and changing. If I'm writing, I can let them slowly solidify into language, but if I'm speaking and trying to capture one of these pre-linguistic thoughts, most often it will melt away into incoherent nothingness, and I'll be left with a sense that something is missing from the conversation, something I can almost grasp, but not enough that I can say anything beyond "No," "Wait," or a kind of grunt or sigh.

    ... ooh, I think I just found what I'm going to write for Autistics Speaking Day.

    Thank you, Bev, for the inspiration!

  4. Thank you. I read this and I am crying, but I don't what else to say, except that this meant a lot to me.

  5. There was the sleeping air traffic controller, never on duty to say which thought had permission to land.

    I will remember this.

    Thanks for the powerful essay.

  6. Thank you for a beautiful and powerful post. You are a gifted writer and your imagination and perceptive powers are great.

    Your post reminds me to give time and space to my child (he is not autistic, but he clearly needs the time and space to respond and I don't always remember to give it, and sometimes I get upset when he won't answer my yes/no question... This helps me understand him).

    Thank you.

  7. Your post resonated with me, every part of it, but especially about the masks.

  8. Thank you so much for your post and it meant a lot to me. No matter what you decide to do, you will always be important to me, and I will never judge you for posting or not posting.

    This was an extremely powerful post and I'm happy that you were part of this day, because you said some things that were both painful and important to hear.

  9. I'm happy to read this powerful post. Thank you Bev. It brought tears to my eyes.

    I thought of the not-posting period as a regular sort of silence after a big outpouring. Sometimes there are simply not words. Sometimes there are a lot. :::shrugs:::

    Ms. M

  10. I love reading your posts; they are poetry in prose (and well worth the wait).

  11. Good to hear a squawk again.

    You communicate far better than I ever can.

  12. Good to see you posting, Bev


    Squawk Squawk Squawk Squawk Squawk Squawk Squawk Squawk


  13. Thank you for sharing this. I just read it and haven't integrated its meaning yet, but I know there will be something that resonates with me when it finally trickles into my brain.

    Squawks and tailwags,

  14. "I have always said that written English is my first language, spoken English being a distant second. I never quite achieved fluency."

    Like so many others, this really resonates with me. I've missed your writing.

  15. Dang, Ma'am! I am glad to see you posting again, 'specially after some of my favorite autie blogs have "gone dark."

  16. Funny, about the aviation metaphors. Did you know that the colloquial term for a pilot's complaint to the mechanic about a malfunction in the airplane is a "squawk?"

    As in, "Squawk! I can't fly properly! Fix this!"

    WV: tersio. Sounds vaguely like Spanish infantry of the 16th century.

  17. Too many talk, not enough listen.

    Thanks for reminding us, Bev.


  18. "Squawk?"
    Good to be reading you again!
    (I'm still slowly catching up from the explosion of activity around November 1...)

  19. Thank you for putting these thoughts into writing. On or off the spectrum, we need to be exchanging ideas with each other, in order to learn how to share this society, instead of the majority defining a normal, and penalizing anyone who doesn't fit it. The world would be better if everyone was given a chance to participate as fully as they'd like to.

  20. God I don't know why I stopped reading this.

  21. I know this is totally unrelated to any of the content of this blog (and the content is awesome and very well written) but I'd just like to say, you're very pretty (as well as very intelligent and an excellent writer)

  22. I really like how you reminds me of how I think. I'm sorry people have been so horrible. Thank you for know we mean well, even if we don't really know what we are talking about.

  23. Well this is my first time in three years of posting this site and alwys leave a Anonymous comment but I will realveled by may name. My mane is Meg and this is my list time posting my comments in this site. I am moving on because I want nothing to do with the Autistic/Auitsm community because it is so bad and it is wearing me down. Also the ND and the Curebies communities are also wearing me down by fighting like cats and dogs and I also don’t want to spned my time and engery watching and reading their augurments and nether one of them have interest of helping with people on the autism spectrum but fighting and they don’t care. I don’t wont to be a part of any both sides whatsoever. I am autistic and my life in not all about autism because there are more life is more focus than autism. I hope you the best and stay strong.

  24. Those circles would be happier if they remembered themselves and asked for the space and time needed to be who they are. This would rock their boats, and that's scary, so they don't. They happen to be able to move through the world without notice much of the time, but that doesn't mean there aren't things about them that others would label in an unloving way or in a way that sent the message that they and/or their behavior/personality/whatever was unacceptable. I am really a square who has managed to make herself small enough to fit inside a circle. Maybe we all are. I am working on not doing that anymore.

    In gratitude for beautiful writing and honesty -


  25. Hello Bev.

    Your post is beautifully written. I guess that could be the upside of having written English as first language!

    I love the control tower metaphor.

    Do you write fiction?*

    Writing is my first language too, however not in English.

    I recognise the 'muteness' issue from when I was young and hardly ever spoke. I simply did not have anything to say to others, and when I did say something they would generally not understand what I meant. So why talk?

    I find that talking can be very meaningful now. I guess that it ultimately comes down the quality of one's relationships. Since I did not have any relationships in my youth, communication was always superficial, chatty and not meaningful, because it was always with strangers who didn't really care, grasp what I meant or know me as a whole person. So... why talk.

    I still think that random chit-chat is heavily overrated and typically annoying, and silence is unfairly judged as 'nothingness' while it is in fact an important and meaningful part of communication.

    In a piece of music, you don't just play all the tones at once, that would just be a noise. Silence is the factor that allows the brain to perceive, absorb and process the pattern of the music, so you can find it beautiful. Same with conversations... No silence = just verbal clutter.

    *If you reply I won't see it for some time, because my comment tracking software can't follow the blogspot platform.

  26. You bring us with you. I am grateful.


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