Bodies in Space
A young man on the autism spectrum and his neurotypical boyfriend learn how to work things out. Also, space.
Isaac didn't make mistakes. He was a very thorough and hard worker, and had been praised for that by his supervisor on so many occasions that he'd lost count, and something had to happen very many times before Isaac lost count of it.
Rick and Isaac show up briefly, three years later, in the first scene of Night Begins the Day.
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It feels odd owning up to the stupid origins of this story, since it went so far off the rails, but the genesis of the idea really was in a comment made, upon finishing Portal 2, about Space Sphere/Adventure Sphere. I swear, it really was intended to be a funny story when I started out, but ... well, I thought about it too long and hard, and it wound up here. But that's why Rick's name is Rick, just in case you were curious.
Isaac as a narrator was an interesting experience, because I had to set myself a few limits on narration, most of which involved remembering not to use much of other characters' facial expressions and body language to inform perspectives. It's not that Isaac can't read these things so much as he has learned not to rely on them, and therefore doesn't really look for them most of the time. Another thing I didn't get to do much is talk about what Isaac was doing with his body unless someone else drew attention to it. I figure he stims several times throughout the story, mostly when he's out having his New York adventure, but Dr. Karimi's the only one who'd make him stop and remind him about quiet hands. Isaac also just doesn't understand a lot of the nuances that are going around him, though I tried to make them obvious to the reader when necessary.
The other thing I had to keep in mind is that Isaac doesn't always -- or even often -- know what information is important and what isn't. I read an article many years ago about why computers can do huge calculations but can't give you a one-sentence summary of Cinderella, and it's that a computer can make tons of connections, but it can't prioritize those connections without being told to do just that. Isaac's brain is sort of like that, in that he doesn't always know how to connect information to its most relevant material, and sometimes the best defense against that problem is just refusing to take in new information, or refusing to understand language as language at all.
Isaac is indeed supposed to be on the autism spectrum -- though I'm imagining that his formal diagnosis, acquired somewhere in his early teens, is PDD-NOS. It's a little bit like splitting hairs, trying to find the lines between autism and Asperger's and PDD-NOS, but most of the people I modelled Isaac after have had PDD-NOS diagnoses.
A lot of my information here comes with having worked with young people on the spectrum for several years. People with autism are sort of like Tolstoy's unhappy families -- not because they're unhappy, but because they're all remarkably different from one another. Conventional wisdom about the way people on the spectrum should act doesn't even really help, either, because of the variations in the way autism manifests.
The date thing that Isaac does is totally real, too. I met an andolescent once who didn't understand the concepts of 'tomorrow' or 'yesterday', but could tell me, upon learning my birthdate, that I was born on a Monday. He didn't seem as impressed by his ability to do this trick as everyone else around him was, but he was willing to go with it.
The other sort of bee in my bonnet here is about the way I've seen a lot of non-neurotypical people, especially those with either developmental disorders or traumatic brain injuries, get treated with regards to sex and relationships. It was often uncomfortable for parents and teachers alike to see these adolescents strugging to make sense of bodies growing far faster than brains -- to say nothing of what those poor kids often went through. I'm grateful I wasn't the teacher who got the duty of calming down the (rather severe) autistic adolescent boy who was distraught that there was glue coming out of his penis. But just because you may not get all the implications of what's happening to your body doesn't mean that you can't learn to deal with it, and it especially doesn't mean you can't learn to make it work for you.
And God help the developmentally disabled queer children. Andy is based on a real teenager I knew who wanted nothing more than to be Cinderella for Halloween, to his parents' indescribable horror; we teachers were told not to encourage his love of pink, sparkly, or otherwise 'girly' things. That always bothered me for many reasons, not least because I found myself almost seeing the parents' point, in that he was not really capable of understanding societal gender norms, and therefore couldn't really understand what it would be to transgress them the way he wanted to.
I wanted to make sure that Isaac never seemed childlike -- he doesn't process things as fast as Rick does, it's true, but he's not a mental five-year-old. Sometimes he needs things we associate children with needing that adults don't -- like lots of handholding in public, supervision in the kitchen, more detailed directions -- but he's not a child. He's not quite an adult yet, either, or at least he's surrounded by a lot of people who haven't really let him be, so he's starting to take some big steps.
I know some couples like Rick and Isaac, where one partner is neurotypical and the other isn't, for one cause or another, and they're some of the best, most stable relationships I know of. All relationships value different things, and these couples I know of have made things work by finding what shared things they value and figuring out how to work everything else around it -- like most people in relationships do, I guess. This What is it like to be in a relationship with someone who has Asperger's? post that was going around a while back is a good read -- some of the relationships described there go on to be happy and healthy ones, and some crash and burn spectacularly. As with all other relationships, it's just about finding what works.
At any rate! Credit where credit is due: beeblebabe, per usual, helped me get my head together on this one, and J.L. turned in such an amazing illustration that it actually helped me figure out where I wanted to take the story. So thanks, superdudes!
This is the story that Goodreads latched on to, which is very gratifying, because most people there seem to like it. If you read the author’s notes at the end, you can see that it started out with an intensely stupid premise, but somewhere along the way, it worked into a story about love and different abilities. I spent seven years working with young people with mild to severe autism, and one of the thousand difficult things they had to manage was figuring out their own sexual identities, especially amidst parents and teachers who tended to treat them like children instead of near-adults. Truth be told, I think a bit of the story is lost out of context: I curate every SSBB issue very carefully, and this was the story I chose to close out the ‘Weasels Ripped My Flesh’ issue, a theme intended to evoke the campy hyper-masculinity of men’s pulp adventure magazines. If the story had been about Rick, it would have been much more like the wonderful high-spirited stories that preceded it in the issue order, but I took it somewhere a little different. I feel that move was successful, and folk seem to agree. (Plus, that issue has On Earth My Nina, perhaps my favorite Domashita Romero story ever.)
- pinboard.in: "This is literally perfect and flawless and everyone should read it."
- pinboard.in: "This story had me sobbing. A story about love and growth from the view of an autistic man (so of course the audience might pick up on some things that the narrator does not), written with such care and understanding that makes it so easy to put ourselves in Isaac's shoes. Really a lovely piece of fiction."