ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the April 19, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] shiori_makiba and [personal profile] eseme. It also fills the "A Moment of Understanding / Clarity" square in my 4-19-16 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [livejournal.com profile] daisiesrockalot and [livejournal.com profile] ng_moonmoth. It belongs to the series An Army of One.

Warning: This poem contains some stressful elements regarding neurovariance and traumatic experiences. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"As Is"


Armelle struggled to put together
a new life on Sargasso Base.

She scrounged up a dresser,
table and chairs for her room.
She tried to be grateful when
Bottleneck came in with a cot
for her and a shipping crate
to use as a toddler bed.

Clothes proved more of
a challenge. There were
surplus uniforms, and things
made from uniform cloth,
but very little else.

There were no clothes for
children at all, so Armelle
went to Threads and asked
Shuttlecock if she could make
some clothes for Embry.

Shuttlecock actually managed
to find patterns for toddler clothes
in the files for military base supplies,
but they still looked like uniforms.

That was better than nothing,
but after the War in general and
the Massacre of Cascabel in particular,
Armelle really didn't want any more
reminders of the military in her life.

What made it all harder was that
she couldn't turn loose of Embry
for a minute, or else the girl would
start bouncing around, touching things,
knocking stuff down, or worst of all,
putting anything she could fit in her mouth.

It had been a battle just getting Embry
to stand still long enough for the MacroScan
to take her measurements earlier.

"How's this?" Shuttlecock asked,
holding out a tiny shirt and pants made
from blotchy gray-and-white cloth.

Armelle had to set Embry down
in order to hold up the garments
against her for a size estimate, and
of course, as soon as Embry's feet
touched the floor, she toddled around
in circles waving her hands and giggling.

"Stop that. Stand still so I can see
if your new clothes fit," said Armelle.
"Don't you want to try your nice outfit?"

Privately she thought it was ugly,
but beggars couldn't be choosers.

Besides, it was clear that Shuttlecock
was just getting started on making clothes,
especially with the newer materials, and
Armelle was afraid that complaints might
put her off the project entirely.

"No!" said Embry, which was
one of the few words she knew.

She wasn't much of a talker,
not like Lanji's son Dondo
had been before --

Armelle cut off the thought and
forced herself to concentrate
on the here and now.

"Be good, and we'll go for yogurt
after this," Armelle said to Embry.
She captured the girl's wayward hands
and held them to her sides. "Now just
stay like that for a minute while I
change your pants, and then
we'll see how the top fits."

"Don't do that," Shuttlecock said
in an odd, tight voice.

"What?" Armelle said, wrestling
with the whiny, squirming toddler.
"You said to try them on her."

"Not the clothes. Her hands.
You can't. Hold her like that,"
Shuttlecock said.

Armelle thought about Embry
running around loose on
the very not-child-proof base,
and had to fight down panic.

"If I let her go, she'll get into
just everything," Armelle said.
"It's too dangerous to let go, and
she still has to try on her new clothes
to see if they fit her well enough."

"You can't do that here!"
Shuttlecock said. Her hands
twitched, and then she grabbed
one with the other, her fingernails
digging in hard enough to bleed.
"This is my place. I don't have
to watch you hold her down and
hurt her. You can't do that here."

"I'm not hurting Embry," said Armelle.
"I'm trying to keep her from getting hurt
on this crazy mess of a station, and
make sure she has clothes to wear."

Shuttlecock burst into tears.

Armelle wanted to cry too,
but she didn't dare, because
whenever she did it was
too hard for her to stop.

Her whole family was dead
except for Embry and Bottleneck,
the station was drab and dull,
she didn't have any friends here,
and all the people were weird.

"Oh hey, what's the matter?"
Bottleneck said as he came in
with his arms full of packages.

"Hands," wailed Shuttlecock,
pointing to Armelle and Embry.

Armelle finally gave up and
let go of Embry, who promptly
ran around the room flapping
her arms like she was trying to fly.

"Oh, she's a flapper?" said Bottleneck.
He did that thing with his hands that
his parents always scolded him for.

Embry squealed and waved back,
standing on her toes like a baby bird.

"Yeah, so ... don't try to make Embry
stop doing this," said Bottleneck.
"That messes people up, and ...
some people here have a lot of
really awful memories about it."

"This place isn't designed for
children. She'll get hurt. She has
to learn to mind," said Armelle.

"She does, but that doesn't mean
stuffing her in a sack or messing
with her head," said Bottleneck.

"Why does she have to be
like this anyway?" Armelle said.

"Because you married me,"
Bottleneck said flatly. "What
did you think would happen
when we had kids? That
they'd all turn out like you?"

"I don't see why not," she said.
"Most people do. It's normal."

"You don't always get what you expect,"
said Bottleneck. "People are like --
like buying a used house. You get it
as is, not whatever you wish it was.
We're all good at some things, and
bad at others. Marrying me meant
you agreed to take me as is, and
I try to take you that way too."

Armelle wilted. He was all
she had left, and if he wouldn't
help her, then nobody would.

The first tear trickled down her cheek.

"Don't cry," he said urgently. "We'll
work it out. Somehow. We will."

Armelle sniffled. She was
so exhausted that nothing
seemed fixable anymore, and
she just wanted to lie down.

With Embry, though, Armelle
never got a moment's peace.

"I don't know how," Armelle said.

"Neither do I," said Bottleneck.
"This is new. All of us here grew up
somewhere else, with people who
mostly didn't understand us or what
we needed to be happy. So we're
starting from scratch, and Embry
gets to be part of that."

"She's lucky," Shuttlecock said
in a scratchy voice.

Embry had finally stopped
bouncing around and come back
to cling to her mother.

"I'm sorry," said Armelle. "I didn't mean
to do anything wrong. I don't know
what you people expect from me."

Shuttlecock gave a watery laugh.
"That's how I always felt too,
before I came here."

"All right, so we know what
that's like," Bottleneck said.
"How do we turn that into
a solution for Armelle now?"

"I never knew the rules,"
Shuttlecock said. "They hid."

"We haven't really set up
many rules yet," Bottleneck said.
"We ditched most of the military stuff
except for the safety protocols."

"Maybe start with those,"
Armelle said. "I'll need
to know them in order
to keep Embry safe."

"I can look up a list of
safety rules," he replied.

"Don't stare," Shuttlecock said.

"What?" Armelle said.

"You said you didn't know
the rules here. There aren't
a lot of formal ones now, but
we have some common tastes,"
Shuttlecock explained. "Don't
stare at people, because most
of us don't like eye contact.
It feels really uncomfortable,
like staring into headlights."

"All right. What else?"
Armelle wondered.

"Be honest and don't talk around
things," said Shuttlecock.
"It confuses people."

"Don't touch people without
asking first," Bottleneck said.
"A lot of us are extra sensitive,
so it can be startling or painful."

Armelle thought about how
her husband was slow to warm up
in bed, and now with her daughter,
every diaper change was a battle.
"I can see that," she said.

"Look for common interests,"
said Shuttlecock. "Most people
have a passion for something,
and if you like the same thing,
then you can be great friends.
Sharing the same twiddles can
make a starting point, too."

"Twiddles?" Armelle said,
feeling rather lost again.

"Whatever people do
to calm themselves,"
said Shuttlecock. "It has
different names -- twiddles,
stimming, joggles, trifling."

"Like fidgeting," Armelle said.

"Kind of, but it's more of
a load-bearing support
for us," Bottleneck said.

"It used to be for everyone,"
said Shuttlecock. "I learned that
by reading some old family journals.
Idle hands are the Devil's playground.
People had to work all the time, so
they would talk while carding wool
or spinning yarn or shelling peas.
Now they want everyone to be still,
but that's not how we evolved."

Armelle looked at Embry.

The toddler was sitting on the floor,
chewing the hem of her mother's skirt.

Armelle gave Bottleneck a helpless look.
"I know that's bad for her, it's dirty and
she could get sick. It wears holes in
my clothes," she said. "But if you don't
want me to stop her, what can I do?"

"Give her something safe to chew on,"
Bottleneck said. "Shuttlecock, do you
have any of the chewies here?"

She nodded. "I've started keeping
some around, because fitting is
so stressful for a lot of folks."

"That would be great, thanks,"
said Armelle. "We couldn't bring
much of anything with us."

Shuttlecock rummaged around,
then offered a pink elephant and
a copper-colored pirate ship. "These
are food-grade silicone," she said.
"A trader saw some of our jewelry
and thought we might like these."

"Pick one to keep," Armelle said,
handing the toys to her daughter.

Embry squeezed them and
poked her little fingers into
the holes. Then she settled
on the pink elephant.

Shuttlecock took back
the pirate ship and then
brought out a string. "If you
tie the elephant to her clothes,
or around her wrist, it will be
harder for her to lose it."

"That's a good idea," Armelle said,
and fastened it to Embry's wrist.

"I have some jewelry too,
if you want one for yourself,"
said Shuttlecock. "It helps
people stay calm when
they feel stressed."

Armelle always felt stressed.
She had grown up in a war zone
and narrowly survived the Massacre.

She looked at the spinning rack of
colorful jewelry, then picked out
a purple star necklace. "Thanks."

"Do you have a twiddle?"
Shuttlecock asked Armelle.
"Your family died and you moved
and that's a lot of change to deal with."

"No, not really," Armelle said.
"I've always been too busy
to waste time on anything
that's not essential."

"This is one of mine,"
Shuttlecock said, lifting
a skein of blue-gray yarn
with two knitting needles
stuck through it along with
one and a half socks. "You
can touch it if you want to."

Tentatively Armelle stroked
the soft blue yarn. "It's nice."

"If you want to learn knitting,
I could teach you," said Shuttlecock.
"Or you could pick something else,
I don't care. There are lots of options."

It was weird, that take-it-or-leave-it
approach to socialization, but
Armelle has spent enough time
with Bottleneck to recognize it.

That reminded her of something.

"What's yours?" Armelle said suddenly,
looking at her husband. "If everyone here
has a way of fidgeting, you must too."

He smiled at her, so warm and bright
that it made her heart melt. "You've
seen it," he said. "I sort things. That's
why I do materials management. I put
things in boxes and move them around
on the shelves. It's very soothing -- and
I get paid for it, or I did. Now I get barter."

"You should try to find something that
you like to do," Shuttlecock said.
"It makes people feel better."

"That would be good," Armelle agreed.
"Maybe it'll help me fit in here, too."

"It's not that hard," Bottleneck said.
"Mostly just be tolerant of people
and they'll do the same for you.
We have traders who manage it."

That made Armelle want to meet them.
The pilot who'd brought her here had
been weird, and she had not been
expecting the sentient starship at all.

"Your daughter is falling asleep,"
Shuttlecock said abruptly.

Armelle looked down and saw that
Embry had finally quit fooling around
and sprawled against her father's legs.

Taking advantage of the opportunity,
Armelle quickly tested the fit of the outfit,
which was a little big. That was fine.
Embry would soon grow into it.

"This is great, thanks," Armelle said
to Shuttlecock. "We'd like another of
these, and two of the skirt version."

"I'll get on that," said Shuttlecock.

Armelle picked up her daughter,
and when Embry yawned, Armelle
couldn't help yawning herself.
She felt exhausted, and they
had only visited two stores.

"Yawning people are tired people,"
said Bottleneck. "Let's go home."

"But we're not done shopping,"
Armelle protested weakly.

"Trust me, it is way better
to stop now, before anyone
has a meltdown," he said.
"We can finish the shopping
tomorrow when we're fresh."

"Fine," said Armelle, too tired
to argue about it anymore.

Bottleneck picked up Embry
and balanced the toddler on
his hip. "You'll feel better
when we get home," he said.

Armelle couldn't think of
this place as home, not yet,
but she was beginning to think
that someday she might.

She just needed to remember
to take everything as is.

* * *

Notes:

“All of us sport an invisible sign around our necks -- “AS IS.” It means, take me as I am. I may not become what you want me to be. And I’m far, far from perfect. But I have some great qualities, too, as well as my share of faults. You will have to take me “AS IS” and I’ll take you that way, too.”
Steve Goodier

Uniforms have inspired many clothes for children. Here is a sailor uniform pattern. This page has school uniform patterns. Similar to what Embry has, this toddler uniform and dress were influenced by military ones.

Autism can be seen as a psychological adaptation with its own place in evolution.

Early signs of autism should account for the fact that girls may present differently than boys. Because these are often overlooked, many people are not diagnosed, which has its pros and cons. But if they later recognize these traits in themselves, there is a huge stigma against self-diagnosis. As a devout empiricist, I suggest that you ignore the diagnosis unless you require paperwork to please people in power. Instead, look for patterns in your own behavior or feelings, then look for resources which address whatever related needs you have. In this regard it does not matter if you "have" autism; if you have any of those traits, you will probably get some use out of tools or techniques that autistic people have devised to cope with said traits.

Sensory issues often occur with autism, and may involve sensory-seeking or sensory-avoiding behaviors. Understand how to meet their sensory needs.

Stimming is what neurotypical people call repetitive behaviors they dislike. Fidgeting is a somewhat less stigmatized term. Many types of activity can serve as stimming, which has a soothing or balancing effect. Suppressing this regulatory function makes it more difficult for autistic people to think or work. Acceptance is better. Compare "socially inappropriate stims" to other things that people with special needs do to improve their lives. And yes, Deaf people have been discouraged from signing in favor of the inferior but more pleasing lip-reading; people who can use their legs at all are discouraged from using wheelchairs even if wheels hurt less. Some stims are more easily overlooked by an intolerant society.

(Some of these links are extremely disturbing.)
Therapy can be abusive in ways that destroy people. This post shows videos of good and bad therapy. One possible way to distinguish between abusive therapy and beneficial therapy is: would you accept this with a neurotypical child? (A drawback to this method is that some people generally consider it okay to mistreat anyone less powerful, including all children.) Sadly, it's perfectly legal to abuse children if you make it look like therapy. You only get charged if you slip over the line into behavior that someone in power recognizes as abuse. The problem with all this is that abusive therapy damages people's ability to feel safe, be happy, identify their body, interact with other people, and understand the world around them. What we see here in Armelle is the desperation of a parent who wants to keep her child safe but doesn't know how; and in Shuttlecock, a survivor of abuse who fights through her own scars in hopes of preventing someone else from suffering the same injuries. It's a mess. Humans are messy. See checklists for abuse in general therapy and ABA therapy. Explore what to do if you have been abused in therapy and how to heal from it.

Autistic coping relies on the careful management of limited energy to complete tasks. This is why sudden changes upset them: that wastes energy and makes for uncomfortable shifts in momentum.

Neurologically mixed relationships can work, but this requires compromise.

Autistic etiquette includes understanding how to communicate with autistic people and how to be a friend to them. Good manners can vary greatly between cultures, and trying to force people to conform to your expectations is unlikely to produce positive results. But look what happens when autistic people interact with each other: it's much more fluent, and they have their own etiquette.

Stim toys come in many styles, including chewable jewelry. Handheld chewies include the elephant (featured in pink) and the pirate ship (featured in copper). Necklaces include the star (featured in purple).

It is vital to offer children choices in order to teach decision-making skills.

Knitting is a fun and useful skill with some unexpected benefits. Many people find it therapeutic, and it's also a socially acceptable stim. You can learn how to knit things such as socks and scarves. Here is a simple sock pattern in several sizes, and a picture of socks in progress. There are videos for basic knitting skills.

A meltdown is a horrible experience in which environmental demands exceed mental energy so much that the brain ceases to function properly. Neurotypical people tend to have meltdowns only under extreme circumstances, such as after witnessing a terrible car accident. Neurovariant people have a much lower threshold of overstimulation and may have meltdowns several times a week or even daily. Understand how to avoid meltdowns and how to cope with them. While this is an essential everyday skill for neurovariant people, it is also super useful for handling the rare meltdown in neurotypical people, who usually have no clue what is happening to them or how to treat it because it's unfamiliar.  Backstopping is another valuable skill, often taught in autistic or disabled contexts, but relevant to everyone.  It means giving someone a chance to solve their own challenges, but if they can't, then you step in and help.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-27 04:56 am (UTC)
mdlbear: (smith-lightsails)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Yay! Poor Armelle - the culture shock must be awful. But she's adapting; she'll get there.

Embry's going to be fine as soon as they figure out how to make larger parts of the station childproof, and she's among people who understand her now. That must be huge.

It's nice to see Bexley and Falconwing, however briefly.

And thanks for the WikiHow on avoiding meltdowns. I've been under a lot of stress in the last few years; as you say, meltdowns are scary as heck when you're not used to them and don't know what's going on. I'm learning, but it's been rough.

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2016-12-27 03:07 pm (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Ooh! Thank you - that does look useful. (I can actually find myself on either side of that one, depending on who and where.)

I found "Valence" a little while after commenting here. <3

Hopefully things will get better this summer sometime, though that depends on several things coming together.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-27 06:51 am (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
Some very very good links here - ones I would use to explain how to interact with me to people I trust to try very hard to do so, or to help myself process, if that gives you an idea of how much I valued them.

The poem itself was a good read; I enjoyed the characters and the plot development. But my brain did that thing where it noticed something that might be upsetting and them refused to emotion about it at all, so I need to come back and reread with more spoons to fully appreciate it.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-27 12:21 pm (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
Random odd thought... it's funny how so much of autistic behaviour and etiquette maps to perfectly normal social behaviour, for cats!

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-27 06:28 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Oh, this just... it was exactly what I needed to read, today, thank you, to be reminded that it's okay to stim, because I've just realized that I shouldn't be biting my lip bloody. Your writing is always perfectly timed with what I need to read, it's magical. You are a rockstar. *pulls out the little metal acorn I keep in my purse* THANKS! -kellyc

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2017-01-04 06:01 am (UTC)
fyreharper: (Default)
From: [personal profile] fyreharper
My current favorite chewy is this starfish: https://www.etsy.com/listing/237394634/silicone-teething-starfish-pendant-bead (theoretically it's a starfish; it kind of looks more like a splat...). It's nice and bendy to fidget with, and I can nibble on just one of its arms or stuff the whole thing in my mouth.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-28 04:15 am (UTC)
thnidu: Red pen. Text: The red penis the editor's friend; editing mark "insert space" in "penis". from lj:stormsdotter (editor's friend)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
I went over your list of links. This post goes on my Memories list. Thank you.

• Austic coping
→ Autistic

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