Aaron: Activist, Folklorist, Writer, Doctoral Student, and Proud Aspergian

Autism Unveiled Week 1

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age five in 1993 by one of the pioneering researchers of autism, B.J. Freeman, at UCLA Medical Center. My major obstacles have always been social, the ones that everyone calls “talking” or “manners.” I had to learn a great deal of behaviors to simply get by. I have developed from being too timid to approach the cashier at the market to—well, speaking, teaching, and storytelling for enjoyment. But it’s writing that has been my trusty go-to, for years and years, since about the age I was diagnosed. It has been my release for when I couldn’t orally articulate.

As you may expect, I’ve had my share of bullying; I know that’s a topic that resonates with many of us on the Spectrum. My idea for “The Child Who Shattered One Day” had been tumbling around in my brain for months. In my current doctoral program at the University of New Mexico, I specialize in the study of folklore (to be a tenured professor one day). So, I am interested in how autism may be discussed as a folkloric phenomenon. I have recently read a short article about the connection between our perceptions of autism and tales of changelings (Leask, Leask, & Silove, 2005). For my part, I thought about one of my personal favorite mythical figures: the golem. You will notice that the main character in my poem is very much like Frankenstein’s creature—vulnerable and stitched together and learning about the world and the people in it. Not dissimilar to a lot of us Autistics or Aspergians.

But of course, it’s really about the relationship between the boy and his devoted healer of a mother (yes, based on the mom I have been so lucky to have grown up with). I am currently working on a book of poetic tales to follow up “Child Who Shattered.” This summer, I will be the New Mexico recipient of the first annual Spark Award, in recognition for autism advocacy—in particular, for my Facebook page, A.S.P.I.E. But I could not have gotten to this point without my mom standing by me. She has always been the symbol of strength that makes me all the more confident when I feel like giving in. She has always told me that I am not a handicapped victim, that God put me here for a special purpose—that I could do anything I want.

Aaron at Jemez

The Child Who Shattered One Day
~by Aaron Kelly Anderson~

Not so long ago, a boy was born.
With tiny perforated lines between his limbs.
His mother had to cradle him
more gently
and with a few more kisses than usual
on the dot-dot-dots
across his neck,
around his shoulders,
and circling his knees.

The boy learned to step
and step again
and again,
but there was not a rhythm
or straight line to the gait.
He formed his Ws
his Os, his Rs, and his Ds
and pieced them together,
but the letters hung
unsteadily from each other
and were out of O-R-D-E-R
and soon plummeted
onto the carpet.

And most crucially of all,
he had a heart
that did beat like it should
and felt the little stabs
at twice the intensity
but it was only
a tiny, red, veiny mass
that bubbled
and had to bulge
through a glossy membrane.
When the boy peeked
out the front door,
he felt the cross-breezes
pluck his hair
and burn as he breathed
through his trembling nostrils.

And each time,
he felt his gangly arms
and shaky legs
and twitchy neck
twist a little more apart
at their seams.

But each time,
his mother had
a series of little harmonic notes
that she let
drip from her tongue
and that bounced and skipped
across the room
and dispelled the sizzles
and sparks and pokes and prods
of what she
and her son
only called, dubiously,
“the outside
with all the people.”

Soon enough,
the boy learned to ignore
the faulty stitching
that kept him whole.
He had enough words
and flair to his walk
to brave the “outside,”
the ocean of sizzles.
He thought it, anyway.
He told his mother,
“There’s too much to see
and think about.
Would you let me go to school?”

The mother’s brain
flipped and shook.
Her pupils dilated
for a rough half-second.
Though it was her constant fantasy
that her baby boy
would stun the masses
with a fiery oratory
or an extraordinary idea,
she could only
shrug at the thought
of leaving him
for a seven-hour shift
at that place a few blocks away.
It was not the company
of other “children,”
but a den
of unchained beasts.

But the day arrived,
and the boy’s mother
had a duty to adhere to—
the time had come
for the first school day.
The morning fare-thee-well
took a few minutes,
but the boy jumped out
with a jaunt.
Once the mother kept vigil
and then drove away,
the boy marched
straight ahead,
up the steps
and into the courtyard.
And immediately,
his untied tennis shoes
doubled in weight,
and each step felt
more and more
as if his feet
were welded
to the concrete.

He froze
near the very center of what had to be
and wheezed
along with the rivulets of sweat
and saw the fellow…
close in.

The boy
felt his seams
go slack.
His backpack
dropped and slammed
onto the ground,
and already
the other kids
with an off-kilter curve
to their lips.

The boy
could not budge
except for his fingers
pressing, squeezing
into his temples.
He buzzed and clickety-clicked
through his teeth.

And the boys
and girls
reached their hands
into the cavernous pockets
of their throats
and yanked out
their collections
of W-O-R-Ds,
but none like the boy
had ever seen.
The letters linked
in flawless patterns,
but were twisted
and deformed
and were a blend
of threadbare rope
and rusty barbed wire.

Each child,
each devilish trickster,
grabbed an edge
of their thorny whips
and attacked.
Each crack!
and snap!
and bang!
slapped a grisly wound
onto the boy’s pale skin.

The beasts
whipped and whipped
in no particular cadence
like a dissonant orchestra
and jeered at the boy
with each sling
in fierce battle cry.

And with the thousandth blow,
the boy’s seams gave way—
and he crashed
in shards
onto the concrete.
And the beasts
merely pranced away,

A few hours passed
before the boy’s scattered extremities
were discovered
in that shadowy,
whisper-infested courtyard.
The mother received
the usual script
of “so sorry about this”
over the phone.
The harmonious notes
in her throat
dove down
and dug and scratched
hiding places
in the pits of her belly.

Within seconds,
she was at that place
that courtyard of gray dust
and tiny winds
that sizzled when swallowed
and collected the limbs
of her little boy
strewn all over the concrete
and stored them
in her purse.
But not before
giving each one
that same gentle kiss.

The last to tuck away
was his heart,
and more timid
and more tightly packed
into its membrane
than ever.

She drove home
and limped into her bedroom
and cradled her purse
with her baby boy’s head
and arms and legs
and torso.
She wished,
as her breath failed for a moment,
that she could curse
each boy and girl
that tormented her son
with their bloody,

But the boy’s mother
was not a dark witch—
but a healer.

Working far into
the after-midnight
before keeling over
from gasping
and wheezing
and bone-crackling,
she stitched each limb
back in place
and sealed each one
with yet another
gentle kiss.

Her eyes fluttered open
and met with the gleaming
she thought
she may not have seen again.

The mother
and the boy,
all in one piece again,
leapt around
and cheered
and frolicked
for the rest of the day.

And when the boy
finally returned
to that place,
with the gray courtyard
and the rusty whips
hiding in the children’s bellies,
he did not flinch one
at the snaps
or the cracks
or the bangs.

His feet moved
in fine form.
His arms swung
in gentle rhythm.

And the mother
in all her fibers
the wind
would not burn her boy anymore.
And the boy knew the same.

And the tremor
in his voice
gained a pattern
and rhythm
and bum-de-bum-de-bum melody.

And his fingers
stopped from trembling,
his legs from rattling,
and his seams from tearing.

And the miniscule
broke through
its pristine membrane
and expanded
and leapt around.

The boy learned
how to make his
Ws and Os and Rs and Ds
and form strands
and become I-D-E-A-S.

The masses shared them.
and with coddling
and chiming.

You see,
the thing
that never needed stitching,
or to be held together
by a flimsy seam,
was the boy’s trademark grin.
And it’s still there today,
an essential part
of a durable, invulnerable whole.

(February 16, 2015)

Aaron Kelly Anderson, New Mexico

Aaron’s FB page is A.S.P.I.E. – Autism Spectrum Pride in Everything. Aaron is a Doctoral Student in Organization, Information, and Learning Sciences (OI&LS) and has a Master of Arts in English Literature from University of New Mexico. “My plan is to become a university professor of English/folklore one day soon. And of course, I’m going to write powerful books!” says Aaron.

Aaron Kelly Anderson is part of the six-week advocacy project Autism Unveiled Project culminating on World Autism Awareness Day, April 2, 2015.

6 replies on “Aaron: Activist, Folklorist, Writer, Doctoral Student, and Proud Aspergian”
  1. What a treasure of a poem. the story resonates for my son and me in so many ways, except that i am a mom who stitched myself together long ago…and my son is now in a school where difference is accepted and celebrated..finally!
    P.S. Fascinating approach to your studies! Glad you found your niche. Good luck!

  2. says: Ruth Franquet

    Loved the poem and the message of hope, love, strength and caring you conveyed in the poem. Thank you for sharing with us.

  3. says: Jane

    Thank you for this beautiful poem! It reminds me how deeply my daughter who is on the spectrum feels everything so deeply and sometimes needs that close connection only a mother and child have.

  4. says: Sean Kamperman

    Aaron: first off, thank you for sharing your poem. It moved me deeply. I am a fellow graduate student at Ohio State University, also studying English — rhetoric and composition, specifically. Your changeling narrative project sounds absolutely fascinating. I’m wondering, do you see any other parallels with our perceptions of autism in folklore/popular culture?

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