Code: A Woman with Aspergers, Empathy, and Poetic Responseby Leah Kelley, 30daysofautism.wordpress.com
January 16th 2013
Dear H: for those of us to whom words
sometimes do not easily run, saunter, or even
amble: we speak in code. We think in code. We
construct our languages painstakingly
like little Tolkiens, separated by time, distance, and space:
but the Hobbits and the Elves ain’t got
nothing on us. We have the dexterity
of pictures, objects, or even
moving film to send messages to world,
or even to our own selves. Like
ladybugs made of burnished cinnabar
inlaid with little obsidian gems, loud like volcanoes,
each careful crafted by a God hand
and set loose to fly away home: these
little three-dimensional living hieroglyphics
exist so that your neighbor Mrs. L
can hold her place in time and never collapse
or fold up inside forgetful darkness. Or like
little goldfish that represent your great grandmother
in your dialect: I see them, made of amber,
or made out of mother-of-pearl and then
lacquered in the gold resin usually reserved for
rebuilding the broken bodies of cracked-apart
teacups. And after the repairs, those teacups
are bequeathed with a new set of gilt, gleaming veins
in their skins.
I have heard some say that we are broken.
Busted up toys.
Dolls that do not speak when their strings are pulled
or even worse, that wax loquacious like
caffeinated rivers preaching single-subject gospels
to the world. Little toy cars that only drive
to a single destination. Action figures content to
line up their weapons according to size and function
when no one is looking. But no one ever looked closely
to see the veins of gold in our skins
that hold us together: I found mine when I was
thirty-four years old. And you, you are a
superconductor, transmitting plans for mechanical arms
made from K’nex and Lego iPod holders
from brain to fingers, manifesting
solid creations from invisibility. Just like
I manifest poems from the unseen code books
in my brain.
It is at best, ignorance, or at worst, arrogance,
to assume that a language unknown
or unable to be decoded
communicates or means nothing.
Maybe you have heard of the Navajo code talkers
of World War II: their modified dialect of code
was so sophisticated that even a captured Navajo soldier
who didn’t know the code told his interrogators
that the transmissions he heard sounded like
nonsense. Your symbols, my moving picture poems,
and the language of every other autistic,
are electrified with all kinds of color, and so
I offer a toast to you, my young friend:
let us keep speaking in code as long
as we walk this Earth. Our languages are not mistakes,
or broken syllables, or to be dismissed as mere
unintelligible nonsense. They simply need our translations
to be understood.
© 2012. Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved. (Reprinted with permission)
This poem, originally published at Raven’s Wing Poetry, was inspired by a post at Thirty Days of Autism in which the author speaks of empathy and how her son uses physical objects to represent people in his life who have passed away, so that he may remember them. Because the nature of autism and how it manifests can be so specific to each person, it made me think of how each of us can have our own codes — or languages, if you will — to express ourselves. The post struck me so much that I felt the need to write this poem. ~ Nicole
H and I are both honoured by your poem, Code. I read it to him tonight. He thought it was beautiful and gave you a rather unpoetic14-year-old thumbs-up and the full-faced squinty smile that silently speaks his pride and appreciation. He stood taller at the final lines… and was clearly moved to feel so understood, and further, he was amazed at the mystery that you understood him with such depth.
Thank you for this…
for reaching out…
for making the connection…
and for your gift of words that resonate so powerfully…
I will carry this with me…
as will H
this generous gift…
of text illuminated with soul and heart and treasured gold
I’m glad to hear that I was able to reach out to H and you in a meaningful way. I am a semi-regular reader (and lurker) at 30 Days of Autism, and a while back the post about ladybugs and grief stuck in my mind. I knew I wanted to honor his empathy and emotional intelligence with a poem, since the misconception still abounds that we autistics do not have it. Also, what stood out in particular to me was your description of how H uses symbols to represent people he wishes to remember. I believe that each of us has a unique language and lexicon in how we communicate and transmit ideas to ourselves and the world. I tend to think in pictures and moving film, and have unique associations of songs with people or short phrases with concepts (for example, “computer mind and glass shatter heart” to represent what Asperger’s is like for me). Thirdly, I read the post “Inventiveness and Visual/Spacial Thinking” and was happy to read the descriptions of his inventiveness, and some of that informed my poem as well. I was pretty industrious as a child and am gladdened when I observe that in a child or teenager.
Meaning by the speaker and understanding by the receiver are two different things — but it is always a good thing when the two connect. I’m glad this connection was made. H is fortunate to have you as a parent and advocate. I grew up knowing I was “different” and not knowing why. It wasn’t until age 34 that I received my Asperger diagnosis and I spent a lot of time muddling through things myself before then — and as a child and teenager, I found myself wondering what I was doing “wrong”, why I was being bullied, and wondering how I could understand human behavior and overcome my social ineptness. At 36, it is still a journey of self-discovery and I know it will be this way as long as I live — and I welcome such discovery, as is evident that H does through your postings.
In our journeys, it is my hope and prayer that we and others continue to raise awareness and promote understanding of autism. Best of wishes to you.
I really must confess – that I tear up each time I read Nicole’s poem and our letters to one another. The support that has been offered to me and to H from amazing autistic adults in the autism community has changed me to my core. My child is embraced and welcomed for who he is in the moment. This lovely exchange between Nicole and myself – is just one example of the incredible sensitivity and care that have been extended toward me and my family.
Thank you so much Nicole… for reaching out… for making the connection… and for your gift of words that resonate so powerfully…
Please also note: Nicole’s beautiful poem and our correspondence are reprinted here with her permission. I encourage you to check out more of her writing and perspectives on her sites: A Woman with Aspergers and/or Raven’s Wing Poetry.
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