We are glad to share with you today the artwork of contributor Beth, who is 20, self-diagnosed Autistic, and lives in Arizona. She is working as a respite caregiver and studying to become a nurse.
Beth says about her artwork: “I started drawing this when I was starting to go into a meltdown this weekend and then for kicks I made another one and gifed them both. This is what a meltdown and shutdown feels like to me. Fun fact: an octopus will often turn red when angry and white when scared.”
[IMAGE 1: A greyish octopus at the center of the image is surrounded by a cloud of grey ink and grey circles, as a swarm of sharks, angler fish, and piranhas close in on the octopus. The image gives a sense of fear and alarm.]
[IMAGE 2: A red octopus at the center of the image is surrounded by an explosion of colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple, as a swarm of sharks, angler fish, and piranhas close in on the octopus. The image gives a sense of intense emotion and sensory overload.]
TW: for mention of suicide!
This video was created by Drew Lytle, an autistic student who put together this video to “show autism in the most literal way possible, not just those experiencing the symptoms but actually show them in a way for those not familiar to understand”.
Drew says about the film: “The college it was shot at is the college I’m currently attending, The Evergreen State College in Olympia WA. Being part of a year long program, we where given the task of doing one final project accumulating what we had learned. After seeing multiple films that resulted in a very therapeutic and self-aiding process for others and their struggles, I decided I would explore Autism with mine since I myself was Autistic. Going on the idea of wanting to show Autism in a different way then usual, I came up with ideas of using an extremely visual way of showing the experiences. In order to tie them together, I looked to a style of editing used by legendary avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren from the 40s (look her up, she was ahead of her time).
For allistic and neurotypicals, my goal was for them to watch it and simply be told about autism or see a scenario in which explains it to them, but to show them in a way that they see it and know exactly what that symptom is. For those who are on the spectrum, I had two main goals; to let them know they aren’t alone and others know the feeling & to expose them to other aspects of Autism they might not experiences (not all in the film I can say I know first hand).
For me personally, the creation of this project brought about relief and joy knowing I can finally say through this what it’s like to be me to the world.”
We hope you enjoy, and we are proud to present this film for your viewing!
There were some things Melody could not talk about. Things that were not meant to be talked about. Like numbers having colors, or the pictures she saw in the ceiling design at night. Nobody else mentioned those things, so clearly those, and other things, were not meant to be spoken of.
Other things were too hard to talk about. Like feelings. Melody hated the question, “How are you?” What kind of question was that? A state of being was far too subjective to define verbally. Usually when people asked that question (too often!) Melody replied, in a rather robotic-sounding voice, “I’m fine, how are you?” It was a game she used to play with her mom. “How are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?” They would keep repeating the same thing, giggling.
All Melody ever wanted to talk about was aliens and astronauts and outer space. But she wasn’t allowed to do that. Her mom and the teacher at school from the Social Skills group tried patiently to explain that there were rules to conversations. Social Rules. Apparently, you weren’t supposed to keep talking about the same thing. You had to only say a little bit, and then give the other person a chance to talk. Then, when it was your turn again, you had to talk about what the other person was talking about. It was rude to switch back to your favorite subject. Why was it rude? It didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense!
Melody was walking home from the bus stop. Thank goodness, school was over. It had been a terrible day. They had to team up in groups for a project, but the other kids in her group teased her until she felt scared. She tried to hide in the closet, but she didn’t really fit and then she got in trouble with the teacher because it turned out students were not meant to be in the closet. It was too hard to explain why she tried to hide in the closet, so she got upset and started banging her head on the desk. Everyone laughed at her, and now she would have to explain to her mom why there was a bruise on her forehead. Again. Not to mention the kids on the bus who called her names when they saw her rocking back and forth. Everything was always the same, would always be like this.
It was not very far to her house from the bus stop, but she had to go right past a couple of very noisy dogs. They were fenced in so they couldn’t hurt her, but the loud barking was scary. Melody looked up at the sky so she wouldn’t look at the dogs and make them bark even more. What was that? There was a strange light in the sky, like a star. It was not the sun. But stars weren’t visible in the daytime! What could it be? Maybe it was aliens! Logically, Melody knew aliens weren’t real, but that didn’t stop her from daydreaming about it. At school, people laughed at how she perked up and started flapping her hands every time someone mentioned the word ‘alien’ or ‘outer space’. No one understood the joy she felt.
Now she was home. Look at that, I made it past the dogs, she thought. Home felt safer than school. Melody grabbed a few chips from the bowl on the dining room table and went to her room, the one place that felt the safest. She had a beanbag chair and a lamp that changed colors in her room.
The afternoon passed without incident. The only homework she had was math, and that was easy. Before long, it was time to go to bed. But Melody couldn’t sleep. Sometimes it was easy to sleep, and sometimes it was impossible. She never could tell which it was going to be at any given night. Melody stared out the window by her bed. She could see the backyard, more clearly in the darkness than usual. The stars were bright tonight. Especially one star that seemed to glow pink. Wait a minute! That was the star from before, the one that had been visible even in the daylight. And it was moving! Falling, like a shooting star, growing bigger – no, closer. Where was it going to land? It looked like it was landing in the backyard, but it couldn’t possibly be. When something fell from the sky, you never could tell where it was going to land. It never landed where it looked like it was going to land, that was the rule. She forced herself to bury her face in her pillow, and eventually fell asleep.
Melody woke up even before the alarm clock went off. For a split second she was confused, and thought maybe she had had a particularly good dream. Then she remembered – the shooting star! It was real! She quickly got dressed and brushed her hair. If she got ready for school early, maybe there would be time to see where the thing landed. Her backpack was already packed, so she got a breakfast bar to eat, grabbed her backpack and went out the door. She had a whole half hour before it was officially time to leave for the bus stop. Instead of going out the front door, she went out the back door to the backyard. The sun was just starting to come up. Quickly, eagerly, she ran across the yard. What was this? No, it was too good to be true! Right in the middle of the yard, there it was. A giant pink sphere, faintly glowing. Should she touch it? Cautiously, Melody touched the glowing sphere with one finger. It popped. Suddenly, she felt confused, as if she was in a strange place. Standing before her was a human-shaped figure, about her size. An alien! What else could it be? The alien was pale blue, with two indentations for eyes and a hole for a mouth. “Hello,” Melody said. Oh, if she could communicate with a real-life alien, that would be the coolest thing ever. She started to jump up and down and flap her hands.
“Hello,” the alien replied, in Melody’s voice. She felt another surge of joy, one that was not her own. A joy at being able to communicate. Maybe this creature, whatever it was, could transfer his own feelings to her so she felt them. It was the most plausible explanation. Maybe he was telepathic! For an experiment, she tried thinking of the color green. The alien’s color changed from pale blue to a green that was the same shade as the number 6, the color she was thinking of! His eyes were still pale blue.
“You can change colors!” Melody exclaimed. The alien echoed her, with the same voice she used. “Can you talk, or just repeat what I say?” she asked. The alien echoed her again. This wouldn’t work. It was time to try a new tactic. Melody squinched up her eyes and thought hard. She thought, with a picture in her head, about the alien repeating the last thing she said. Then she thought about herself thinking of a thing to say, and then saying it. Lastly, she thought of the feeling she had when asking a question. Would this work?
She felt the alien grasping at the concept of the difference between original speech and repeating the last thing she said. “Lu moy?” The alien said this in a voice that was not Melody’s, a voice that was like clear water. “You can talk!” Melody had the idea to teach the alien to speak English. Or, she could learn its language. “My name is Melody,” she said aloud, pointing to herself and thinking of the sound ‘Melody’ permeating her entire being.
The alien pointed to itself and said “Lu” in the clear-water voice. “Your name is Lu?” Melody asked. She felt a tugging at her mind, and then Lu said, “Yesss.”
“Wow! Did you read my mind for that word?”
“Cool! Are you from another planet?” She thought a picture of the planets in the sky, Earth, Mars, Jupiter.
“Why did you come here?”
“Lu . . . no words.”
“That’s okay. You can show me.” Melody thought a picture to Lu, a rather complicated one. She was trying to get Lu to think a picture to her. “Like this.”
“Yesss.” Strange pictures entered Melody’s mind. A world where the ground was covered in blue fuzz sort of like grass. Lots of people (aliens?) like Lu, in all different colors gathered together under a pink sky. All of them touched minds, like Lu was doing with her. But Lu’s thoughts were strange and slow to the others, and they all laughed. The feeling was all too familiar to Melody. Lu wrapped himself in a pink bubble and floated through space, trying to find another world where he would be accepted.
Oh, dear. Melody often felt like an alien, but whatever she felt, she was human. If this world did not accept her for who she was, how could it accept Lu? How could she explain to him that he couldn’t stay?
Melody thought another picture to Lu, one of the kids at school laughing at her for being herself. One of everyone knowing aliens weren’t real. I don’t fit in here, she was saying. Neither will you. It made her sad. She wanted nothing more than for Lu to stay and be her friend, but how could that ever work? She couldn’t hide him from her parents or take him to school with her. Sadly, she thought a picture to Lu of him making another pink bubble and leaving.
“Why?” Lu asked. It seemed like he was getting better at talking, but maybe some words were just easier.
“I have to go to school.”
“No, you can’t come with me. Not unless you can make yourself invisible?”
Lu thought a feeling of confusion. Melody thought a picture of him, unable to be seen. “Can you do that?”
“What am I going to do with you? If people see you, they’ll freak out!”
A picture of her, Melody. Of Lu doing . . . what? Fusing with her? That was what the thought-picture looked like. Wouldn’t that be cool! If she could have Lu with her wherever she went, and nobody knew!
“Do it!” She thought the picture back to Lu.
Melody saw Lu dissolve into a liquid cloud, pale blue like water. Then it surrounded her. It felt funny but didn’t hurt. The feeling was like water under her skin, but nothing was visible. Are you there? she thought.
Yes, Lu thought back.
Let’s go to school! Melody thought.
That day, in Social Skills group, Melody didn’t talk much. She was too busy talking mentally with Lu. “You’re very quiet today. How are you feeling?” the teacher asked.
“I . . . feel . . . happy,” she answered. It was still hard to identify feelings, but she had an idea. She could teach Lu the words for feelings and he could help next time!
“What makes you happy?”
“I have a friend.”
“Melody, that’s great! Who is your new friend?”
“He’s an invisible alien.”
“Oh.” The teacher sounded disappointed.
“Just kidding!” she said, and everyone laughed. Melody felt that everything was going to be okay.
[IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Image is a grey square separated into 4 sections like a comic. The first section has text reading, “Stimming is one of the only forms of exercise that I enjoy.” Below the text are two stick figures. The stick figure on the left is flapping their arm, which the other stick figure is sweating out of embarrassment. Text pointing to the second stick figure reads, “My little sister hates me.” The second section of the comic reads, “I express myself using stimming. Stimming is part of my body language. I love stimming.” Below this text is a smaller stick figure that is smiling. A thought bubble reads, “I don’t care what you think of me.” Red text at the bottom of the square reads, “I am going to do what I want.” The third section of the image reads, “Most of the time.” There are two stick figures facing each other. The one on the right says, “Please can I stim?” while the figure on the left says, “Stop stimming because you look insane when you stim.” The figure on the right is sad while the figure on the left is angry. The fourth section of the image reads, “Stimming is awesome!” in red text, next to a smiley face. White text at the base of the image reads: “By Tumblr User: clevergal10.”]
my fingers are like insects –
twitching flies ready to live
because come nightfall
their bodies will fall
bu the night never comes –
there is always light here
unless i’m forced to see
just how disgusted
dawn breaks into starlight
as i am cast into the dark
cage of my body being
forced to bottle
to bottle a supernova
is as foolish as it is
When I was seven, I spun on the spot. I liked the way it felt.
People called me weird. Teachers told me not to.
So I stopped.
When I was nine, I echoed my teacher. It just kind of happened.
My teacher told me she didn’t need a parrot. She made me cry.
So I stopped.
When I was fourteen, I opened my eyes really wide. It felt nice.
My dad told me not to. He said I might scare my grandparents.
So I stopped.
Now I am nineteen. I have almost stopped stimming.
I have tried to kill myself over fifty times since I was fifteen.
The last time I got so overloaded that I thought about it, I stimmed instead.
It worked. So I’m starting again, and I won’t let anyone tell me not to.
Stimming Saves. Don’t try to stop it.