The Human Boy and the Martians – living on the Autistic Spectrum, by a Martian Mummy and Knowledge Guardian
Jamie, a human baby boy, is born into a Martian family, in a Martian town, on the planet Mars. As he enters the world, he is overwhelmed by sounds, smells, feelings, tastes and sensations so that he shuts his eyes and goes to sleep. During his babyhood, he either sleeps a lot or screams hysterically when all of his senses become overloaded by information that he cannot cope with.
His human brain is programmed to understand the world in a different way to the Martian brain and he struggles to survive. Jamie becomes attached to his Martian mummy and begins to learn meaning from her sounds and the movement of her tentacles. He feels secure when she is close to him; the scent, feel and sound of her body are comforting. He does not feel safe when he is separated from her or held by other members of his Martian family, so he screams and screams until his Martian mummy can calm him.
As he grows, he begins to understand more about his world and trust more adult Martians. They make allowances for his human brain as they have heard about other Martian families with human children and they try to help. Martian children are a different matter. Jamie wants to join in but he cannot cope with the strange movements of their tentacles and the way they use sounds – the rules of their games are impossible for him to work out and so he plays by himself or with children who are older or younger than him. When he does join games he often changes the rules or disrupts the play.
When Jamie first goes away from home to the Martian playgroup or nursery, he screams at the separation from his Martian mummy and takes hours to quieten down when she comes to collect him. He gradually learns to make some sounds and move his face and body in an attempt to make himself understood, but some children and adults make fun of him. To cope with this confusing and frightening world he develops rituals and routines that help him feel safe – he likes things to stay the same and not change.
The same happens when he eventually goes to Martian school. The routine of the day is soothing and he often practises “school” at home, organising the day into timed sections, expecting his food at precisely the same time every day, checking the clock and thinking about what he might be doing each day. He likes to dress in the same way each day and put clothes on in the same order. Jamie develops obsessive interests that the Martian children cannot understand. They like to play Martian canal hopping, Jamie is interested in a strange game called football – he is so weird! When he occasionally manages to be interested in the same things as the Martian children, he continues his obsession long after the others have moved on to something else.
Jamie has safe people and places at Martian school. During lesson time, he can cope to some extent, although he lives in a permanent state of high anxiety from the effort of trying to understand not only the content of the lesson but also the Martian body language and speech of the teachers and other students. His heart-rate is extremely rapid as he lives in his own world of worry and fear. He takes comments from teachers on a literal level and battles to understand irony, sarcasm and jokes – if he is asked to “wait a minute”, he times 60 seconds on his watch then goes back to the teacher again.
Panic really hits Jamie at break and lunchtimes. Then, the rules and routines are often suspended by students and he cannot understand why the Martian children get angry when he reminds them that they should not drop litter, be late for lessons or run in the corridors. So, he heads for his favourite safe place – the school Knowledge Centre. The Knowledge Guardian is sympathetic and helps to make the centre a haven from bullies and disruption. Jamie has jobs and routines entrusted to him and the Martian children are kinder to him, as the Knowledge Guardian has explained that Jamie is a human boy and he does not think or react like a Martian. The Knowledge Centre is organised logically and has systems that are easy to understand.
The levels of anxiety that Jamie lives with all of the time are just about manageable on most days. Sometimes, however, Martians like to change things around without any warning. They love breaks from routine called Canal Festivals when all of the rules are different. Also, some of Jamie’s most trusted Martians like to change and develop things so that new ideas can be implemented. All of this sometimes makes him lose his temper and “blow”. Usually, he can stop himself doing this at school and so he waits until he gets home and then erupts over his Martian parents. He knows that they love him and will tolerate his outbursts. They, however, are exhausted from living with a growing adolescent human boy who causes huge tension in the family. Jamie is particularly difficult during the run up to the Great Canal Festival and can ruin the whole holiday for the rest of his family.
Jamie is loved passionately by his Martian mummy and daddy and tolerated, for the most part, by his Martian brother. His teachers are pleased by his progress although they, and most of the Martian students, struggle to understand him. Jamie did not ask to be born human into a Martian world and sometimes he wishes that he could be a Martian too. His parents try to help him see his strengths – perhaps he may one day introduce football to Mars!
© Anne M Robinson, 2004.
This story was written to support children and young people who are on the Autistic Spectrum and to help those who work with them to understand them a little better. My son has ASD and the story is my attempt to explain how his brain works. I do not suppose that I ever really fully understand him, although I do try. He has given me permission to publish the story here and to mention him. His name is not Jamie, by the way.
If anyone reads this who is ASD themselves, I would really welcome your feedback – as a Martian, I know that I have not really got it right!
Please feel free to use this story to promote the understanding of ASD, just let me know and credit me.
Brought tears to my eyes, I work in a specialist Autism school, and I feel humbled by the courage and persistence of the beautiful students I work and play with. I am sure they have taught me more than I have taught them. God Bless you and your family.
Thank you so much for this lovely comment. I wrote this story many years ago when my son was quite young. He is now in his late twenties and has developed so much, although he can still be quite a handful at times. I agree that he has taught, and continues to teach me so much about myself, himself and the wider world. Thank you also for the work that you do. X