Spidey Senses, and Why Autistic Kids Need Their Yoda

Yoda_Empire_Strikes_Back
Yoda, from The Empire Strikes Back*

I read a lot of fantasy.  Epic fantasy, urban fantasy, YA fantasy, sci-fi, vampires, werewolves, wizards, fae, gargoyles, demons, angels you name it.  I still re-read Harry Potter in its entirety almost every year.  I spent a decade of my life immersed in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, starting as a teen, and ending as a mom of 3.  I was reading George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones series before it was a thing.  Years before.  I actually recommended it to a nerdy type friend who I thought would enjoy it in 2005.  He forgot my rec, and then 4 or 5 years later when the hype started he tried recommending it to me!  Pffft dude.  YOU may have discovered this series now that it’s a thing, but I was reading this back when it was fringe enough that when I had a question for the author I emailed him and he emailed me back the same night.  You know.  Cuz he wasn’t a legend yet and wasn’t receiving thousands of reader comments/questions per day.  So yeah, I pride myself on being a serious fantasy reader.

One of my favorite fantasy templates is the Special Snowflake.  This is a story about a very special individual, usually unique even among other supernaturals, and often raised apart from the supernatural community, mistakenly believing themself to be a regular human.  As this person’s abilities emerge, they must learn to control them and discover their destiny.

What does this have to do with autism?  Spidey senses.  Whenever I get into a good vampire book I think to myself that in real life vampires would be autistic.  Or, SPD at the very least.  You know what happens when you have supernaturally heightened senses?  The world drives you nuts.  Everything is too loud, forcing you to hum or rock back and forth to drown out the noise.  You get lost in visual details and lose the bigger picture.  The perfume your teacher thinks is barely perceptible makes you gag every time she leans over your chair, not because the scent is unpleasant but because you can smell it too much.  Your clothes feel like sandpaper rubbing you raw.  It’s all too much.  You need strategies to reduce the stimulation so you can cope and function.  Some fantasy books are clever enough to realize this and it is part of the story.  The protagonist is overwhelmed and can’t control their heightened senses and supernatural abilities.  At this point in the story a mentor often emerges.  This is another supernatural individual who guides our protagonist through these terrifying changes.  They can do this because they know what it feels like.

I’ve been thinking how great it’d be if our autistic kids got to have someone like that in their lives.  I chose Yoda for the picture and title because, let’s face it, you probably wouldn’t have known who I was talking about if I used a reference from one of my favorite books.  🙂  But everyone knows Yoda.  When Luke Skywalker needed a mentor to train him in the force he found Master Yoda.  Our kids need their Yoda.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if, when kids were diagnosed, along with all the therapists and specialists they are referred to they were also assigned an autistic adult mentor?  Someone with a similar sensory profile.  Because my examples were all about hypersensitivities, but there are lots of kids, like my son, who also have some serious hyposensitivities.   Kids that are always looking for more input because they can’t feel enough.   I would love to have someone in my son’s life who knew first hand what it felt like to be him.  Someone who could give us and him ideas for coping strategies, and safe ways to meet his sensory needs.  Someone who could help him discover his strengths and the best ways to play to them.  How awesome would that be?

*image is a screenshot from the movie The Empire Strikes Back.  This image belongs to Lucasfilm Ltd. and its usage here qualifies as fair use under U.S. copyright law

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