Graphic Novels for Visual Thinkers / Educating Aspergers

Support a new Middle School project in New York! (from a site offering funding for teacher proposals)

Graphic Novels Motivate Readers With Asperger Syndrome

My students need a library of graphic novels to motivate readers because these books provide the visual cues kids with Asperger and autism need to truly understand characters.


My ten students are middle-schoolers who have Asperger Syndrome.

Students in my classroom have difficulty understanding people, so it’s not surprising that they also struggle to infer characters’ motives and purpose in books. Nonfiction, full of facts? No problem! But fiction? The majority of my students with Asperger Syndrome could leave it completely.

Vintage “graphic novels” were aimed at boys who didn’t like to read.

They like to follow rules – but they make a lot of their own. They like to be right, so they hate to admit when they don’t know something, and they avoid things that are difficult. Tough concepts, like characterization, theme and tone in a novel, make them feel uncomfortable – so they’d rather not read fiction. And, as educators know, the only thing that really improves reading once the school day ends, is more reading. Then I found the novel, The Inventions of Hugo Cabret. We only have one copy – I borrowed it from our library, and they want it back! But the students were riveted. Not only were they fascinated by the format of the book – half graphic novel, half traditional – but they understood Hugo’s emotions, portrayed as they were with matching drawings, moving incrementally forward! Experiments with other graphic novels are also proving successful, but we don’t have a lot of them to go around.

I am requesting class sets of popular graphic novels for my self-contained English class of students with Asperger Syndrome (and High-Functioning Autism.) The novels I request will be taught in the same manner as traditional literature, and I will compare each work with a traditional novel, which we will also read. This will help my students be on equal footing with their peers, because they will have more insight into concepts about characterization (as well as plot, theme, tone, etc.) when they rejoin their peers in high school reading more traditional works. I hope that, ultimately, these graphic novels lead them to enjoy literature in a way that many people without autism do – for the love of the story and the characters we would otherwise not know.

I was a MAD Magazine addict and a sucker for cats and rabbits dressed in charming clothing.

Please help me bridge the “understanding gap” for my students, who are so smart and fun and have so much potential. Help them understand literature by opening the door, using pictures with the text, and engendering a level of understanding that their disability would otherwise prevents them from obtaining. Thank you so much for reading my proposal.

Remember when all childhood schoolbooks had plenty of beautiful illustrations – stylized but realistic (not infantilized and deformed neotenic blobs) FOR ALL CHILDREN? Maybe our “old-fashioned” predecessors in publishing and education knew a lot more than we do about visual thinking being basic to the human ability to learn…

Thoughts on Ancient Males / Life in the flesh

In the ancient world a common greeting among travelers was, “Which gods do you worship?” Deities were compared, traded, and adopted in recognition that strangers had something of value to offer. Along with the accretion of ancestor gods into extensive pantheons, an exchange of earthly ideas and useful articles took place. Pantheons were insurance providers who covered women, children, tradesman, sailors and warriors – no matter how dangerous or risky their occupations; no matter how lowly. Multiple gods meant that everyone had a sympathetic listener, one that might increase a person’s chances for a favorable outcome to life’s ventures, large and small. 

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A curious female type: The goddess Athena is incomprehensible to modern humans. Here she models the Trojan horse for the Greeks.

A curious female: The goddess Athena is incomprehensible to modern humans; and yet for the ancient Greeks, she was the cornerstone of civilization. Here she models the Trojan horse for the “clever” takedown of Troy.




 In The Iliad

…the gods are manifestations of physical states; the rush of adrenalin, sexual arousal, and rage. For the Homeric male, these are the gods that must be obeyed. There is no power by which a man can override the impulse-to-action of these god forces. The gifts of the notorious killer Achilles originate in the divine sphere, but he is human like his comrades; consumed by self pity and emotionally erratic.

In Ancient Greek culture, consequences accompanied individual gifts. Achilles must choose an average life (adulthood) and obscurity, or death at Troy and an immortal name. Achilles sulks like a boy, but we know that he will submit to his fate, because fate is the body, and no matter how extraordinary that body is, the body must die. Immortality for Homeric Greeks did not mean supernatural avoidance of death. To live forever meant that one’s name and deeds were preserved by the attention and skill of the poet. In Ancient Greek culture it was the artist who had the power to confer immortality.

There was no apology for violence in Homeric time. The work of men was grim adventure. Raids on neighbors and distant places for slave women, for horses and gold, for anything of value, was a man’s occupation. The Iliad is packed with unrelenting gore, and yet we continue to this day to be mesmerized by men who hack each other to death. Mundane questions arise: were these Bronze Age individuals afflicted with post traumatic stress disorder? How could women and children, as well as warriors not be traumatized by a life of episodic brutality? If they were severely damaged mentally and emotionally, how did they create a legacy of poetry, art, science and philosophy? Did these human beings inhabit a mind space that deflected trauma as if it were a rain shower? Was their literal perception of reality a type of protection?

imagesD8PA00S5riace bronze

Women will forever be drawn to the essential physicality of Homeric man. He is the original sexual male; the man whose qualities can be witnessed in the flesh. His body was a true product of nature and habit. Disfiguring scars proved his value in battle. Robust genes may have been his only participation in fatherhood.

Time and culture have produced another type of man, a supernatural creature with no marked talent, one who can offer general, but not specific, loyalty. Domestic man, propertied man, unbearably dull man, emotionally-retarded man. In his company a woman shrivels to her aptitude for patience and endurance, for heating dinner in the microwave and folding laundry. Her fate is a life of starvation.


Noble Penelope reduced to a neurotypical nag.

Growing out of Autism / Asperger’s and Education

By third grade I was identified by staff at the elementary school as “gifted” but socially backward. My report cards were stuffed with A’s but under teacher’s comments there was the ever-present “Does not work well with others.” There was discussion of sending me to a school for gifted children, or at least skipping a grade, but it was decided that I should stay put and that somehow “social behavior” would rub off on me. Looking back over a lifetime of experience with all this, I ought to have been sent to the “gifted” school. If anyone thinks being one of the smartest kids in class, year after year is fun, you are completely wrong. The smart kid, especially if female, is ostracized, ridiculed, watched intently for any error, and never allowed to forget a real dilemma: you are told that being smart is a wonderful thing, but that it’s imperative to hide your intelligence as if it’s a giant wart on your nose.

Another peculiar message that comes across loud and clear from adults is that you don’t actually own your gifts: society channels intelligence into purposeful personal sacrifice for the greater good. Smart girls are obliged to become nurses or teachers – or other professional helpers, who serve the needs of other people. Doing something personal, like following your bliss (thank-you, J. Campbell) is selfish. I was even told that my “intellectual destiny” was to be a mother who could be really good at helping my children with their homework.

I cannot express how much this pissed me off. It was like being given an around-the-world airline ticket and then told that you can’t use it to fly any farther than Toledo, Ohio.

It is a measure of how wrong adults were about forcing gifted children to “socialize” – relief came in high school by virtue of a gifted program that I was drafted into. At last! Kids like me, just as smart and many much smarter. I made friends with a group of girls who were talented in many different ways; I learned about myself by being with kids like me and didn’t ever have to apologize for my interests, my focus on intellectual activity, my propensity to question everything. My artistic abilities blossomed in the correct environment, and with the encouragement of teachers, I blossomed as a person.

As a young adult, I found the same type of open and welcoming (totally crazy) environment in advertising. The work was cooperative, team-based and competitive. I was never told to hide my intelligence or talent; those attributes were why I was hired. To this day, that special environment remains one of the islands of creativity and personal fulfillment in a dreary landscape of job-jobs.

But – the call of curiosity and exploration took me on to geology and personal art, a duo which often was commented on as “peculiar” because I ought to choose art OR science: no messing with those social and gender boundaries! This perplexity about my interests came from both sides of the equation, as if I were a “traitor” to both. Science versus art is a recent division in human social myopia. Boundaries fall away when one understands that beauty is the underlying connection.

The intersection of man and nature: the old dump.



The Best of Human Behavior / Art – Making the Invisible Visible


A metal “Coca-Cola” tray repurposed by a Navajo as the base for a Yei figure, in “sand painting” style. ca. 1930s-50s.

I have no memory of where I found this tray; most likely a thrift store in northern Arizona or New Mexico, along Route 66. The metal “Coke” tray was likely picked from a trash pile behind a restaurant or bar, or was given to a Navajo artist, who would have painted it, and then returned it in exchange for food or liquor. Or, he or she may have taken it to a “trading post” to trade for necessities, where it was offered for sale to tourists, along with other handmade objects. I could be completely wrong about it’s origin – part of the appeal is the ongoing mystery of its existence.

This type of “unofficial” art is what appeals to me; a story of one person’s act of everyday survival is ‘imaged” here, and can be “read” or imagined – as well as enjoyment of the object itself.


From: The Gale Group / U.S. History in Context / The Navajo

Link to excellent content and references: OVERVIEW

Birchfield, D. L. “Navajos.” Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs, 3rd ed., vol. 3, Gale, 2014, pp. 259-276. U.S. History in Context

Traditional Navajo healers are called hataalii, or “singers.” Traditional Navajo medical practice treats the whole person, not just the illness, and is not conducted in isolation but in a ceremony that includes the patient’s relatives. The ceremony can last from three to nine days, depending upon the illness being treated and the ceremony to be performed. For the Navajos, illness means that there is disharmony in the universe. Proper order is restored with sand paintings in a cleansing and healing ceremony. There are approximately 1,200 designs that can be used; most can be created within the size of the average hogan floor, about 6 feet by 6 feet, though some are as large as 12 feet in diameter and some as small as 1 foot in diameter. The hataalii may have several helpers in the creation of the intricate patterns. Dancers also assist them. In some ceremonies, such as the nine-day Yei-Bei-Chei, fifteen or sixteen teams of eleven members each dance throughout the night while the singer and his helpers chant prayers.

When the painting is ready, the patient sits in the middle of it. The singer then transmits the orderliness of the painting—symbolic of its cleanliness, goodness, and harmony—into the patient and puts the illness from the patient into the painting. The sand painting is then discarded. Many years of apprenticeship are required to learn the designs of the sand paintings and the songs that accompany them, skills that have been passed down through many generations. Most hataalii are able to perform only a few of the many ceremonies practiced by the Navajos, because each ceremony takes so long to learn. Sand painting is now also done for commercial purposes at public displays, but the paintings are not the same ones used in the healing rituals. The hataalii and the sand paintings are only one example of the numerous Navajo practices and specialists attending to health in the traditional system.

Link to the rest of the content: OVERVIEW

Aspergers listen to the WRONG kind of music


Please! Spare us any more “complex” music.

WOW! Just another reason why Asperger’s “annoy” neurotypicals: we actually enjoy complex music.

• Young kids with Asperger’s may become obsessed with complex topics, such as intricate patterns or music. Toddlers will become enraptured by a stylized pattern on a fabric or in a book. Babies may also listen to music that would typically be ignored by a normal youngster. This obsession becomes more apparent as the youngster ages. These children may be unable to focus on any other aspect of the environment once they notice the object of their obsession.

Behavioral conditioning will be necessary to help alleviate this symptom.

Just think: if psychologists had their way, “genius” could be prevented.


Evening Standard Article by James Rhodes, Classical Pianist (an annoying person who is obsessed with complex music)

It’s one a.m. A nine-year-old boy is fast asleep when his drunken father comes barging into his room. The boy is beaten awake and dragged downstairs to a piano where he is forced to play for his father and drunken friends for hours. A wrong note results in slaps, punches and ridicule. It happens regularly, and even when his father is sober the boy is mocked, beaten and forced to practise until he can barely see straight. Amid this madness, aged 11, rather than starve, he starts to earn a living as an organist. The beatings get so bad that twice, before the age of 13, he almost dies. As a teenager his mother dies, leaving him and his siblings in such dire straits that the boy is forced to go to court and wrest control of his father’s salary so the family can eat.

The adult that emerged from that hell was angry, sullen and suspicious. He was scarred physically and mentally, often suicidal, clumsy, badly coordinated, obtuse, prone to obsessive-compulsive behaviours and lacking both personal hygiene and social graces.

His name was Ludwig van Beethoven.

Ascribing specific dates and composers to different musical movements or eras works for everyone except Beethoven. There is Bach, the master of the Baroque; Haydn and Mozart the Classical superstars. There are Brahms, Chopin, Berlioz and Liszt the Romantics. Then there are Bruckner, Mahler and Wagner ushering music into the 20th century and the Stravinskys and  Schoenbergs with their “tyranny of the barline” and “emancipation of the dissonance” causing riots in Paris.

Before Beethoven, composers worked for the glory of God.  Or else they wrote on bended knee for wealthy courts and egotistical patrons. Beethoven kicked down the doors of the aristocratic world and made himself at home. He wrote for himself alone.

He was a superstar in Vienna — universally conceded to be the greatest composer in the world, something almost unheard of in the pre-digital age. And, most importantly, he knew it — “there will always be many princes and emperors but there will only ever be one Beethoven”, he wrote. It’s important here not to dismiss this as cockiness. What some may mistake as arrogance has stood the test of time as an unquenchable truth.

Beethoven is the most performed, revered composer there is. He eclipses every other composer and his shadow falls over every music manuscript in the world.  And if there were even a hint of injustice or hyperbole in that fact I would take issue with it. But the truth is, healthy or not (and I myself don’t hesitate to say healthy), Beethoven somehow achieved musical enlightenment and it is quite simply a fact of life that he is and always will be the benchmark, the prophet and the absolute peak of compositional genius for everyone else to aspire to.

Beethoven humbly transcended ego because he knew beyond doubt that he was writing for eternity. His confidence in his abilities was the only great truth in his life and he held on to it with such tenacity because it kept him alive. “To my art I owe the fact that I did not end my life with suicide,” he wrote. He was totally different to Mozart and Bach — his letters are full of words like artist, art, artistry. His music is the very definition of “interiority” — with Beethoven, music became about feelings, about looking within and expressing things hitherto unsayable.

Bach, Beethoven and Mozart are without question the holy trinity of music. But there is one reason alone that makes Beethoven The One, and it is his humanity. Bach and Mozart had gifts that came straight from God. I’m an unbeliever, but there is simply no other possible explanation for the depth of genius they displayed. What Bach and Mozart did with music is quite literally beyond any human comprehension.

Beethoven, on the other hand, was on his own. Every note was sweated over, every theme worked on tirelessly and chiselled into immortality. The manuscripts of Bach and Mozart look spotless next to the messy, crossed-out, almost indecipherable madness of Beethoven’s. While Mozart hurled symphonies on to paper as fast as he could write, barely without correction, Beethoven stewed and fought and wrestled and argued and raged until he forced what he was looking for out and onto the page.

In 1805 he changed the course of musical history, composing the Eroica symphony; a symphony twice as long as anything that had come before it, written for an orchestra of the future and the first truly “heroic” piece of music. With one compulsive wrench, music entered the 19th century. His invention and resource never flagged — his Fifth symphony, described by Forster as “the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated into the ear of man” — has an entire structure that is erected based on only four hammerblow notes. His music, especially that composed during his last 10 years, is unique — nothing like it has been composed, nothing ever will.

And he was deaf.




Trivial Pursuits / Words vs. Images Re-Post

It’s hard to describe thinking in pictures, because it’s not like looking through snapshots or image files. Intuition places them on a “screen” just in front of my ears that slices across my head vertically. (Think of an old-fashioned slide viewer.) There is no structure like that in the brain. That “plane” must be a construct that my brain has come up with to focus on the images.

The activity of seeing as a visual thinker cannot be like seeing with eyes: there are no eyes inside brain. It’s totally dark. “Images” are reconstituted from memory; visual memory is like one continuous steam from which snippets can be viewed, or discrete snapshots snatched. These images are not bound by a time sequence: one picture may elicit a related picture – related by color, time of day, object content, individual people, or any quality that indicates a pattern. These patterns are not cast in concrete, but appear and disappear, form new connections, or join other “themes.” I think this availability of non-linear connections is how much intuitive art arises; not art that seeks to duplicate an environmental structure or presents sentimental, socially-contrived stories and lessons, but which brings forth deep and ancient floodwaters, springs and wells of experience in human evolution. What is obvious is that beginning with the cave art of thousands of years ago, and continuing through the present, visual thinking has been vital to humankind. Long before words became indispensable social tools, the manipulation and application of images to understand the “real world” has been primary to human culture.

Arguments are often made that development of verbal language was the critical leap into the supremacy of Homo sapiens, the evolutionary path of whom emerges from the bumps and measurements of silent skulls by anthropologists – about 200,000 years ago. There is an embarrassing gulf between this ancestor, Archaic Homo sapiens and the first written examples of language that we have, dating to only 5,000 years ago.

Modern social humans look at this gap and assume that “language” means words; words mean concepts; advanced concepts are abstract, and that Archaic Homo sapiens (who more closely resemble Neanderthals than they do modern humans), conquered the world by using verbal language, because using words is (obviously) a more sophisticated, powerful, and “brainy” way to go. What a mistake!

All anyone must do to question the assumption of verbal supremacy, is to listen to government leaders and politicians endlessly argue the same impractical, fantastical claims of “knowing how to fix things” when they have no intention of doing so, and even if they were sincere, have no ability to escape the mire of language that entombs any possibility of real solutions. Social humans are embedded in a supernatural non-reality of verbal concepts, schemes and plans that defies understanding.

How did our ancestors become modern? What were they doing for the 190,000 years that passed before urbanization and agriculture produced modern social humans – a process brought about by domestication – neoteny?

A visual thinker can answer this readily: our ancestors were visual thinkers and learners. They may have used vocalizations when communicating over a distance; mimicked animal calls;  invented tools to copy natural sound; that is, used sound like hunters do to this day. Mothers coo’d and comforted babies, and used vocalizations like a leash to keep children within safe boundaries. Strictly, these are animal communications.

From studies of so-called primitive peoples, most of whom have been polluted by civilized attention and all but exterminated, observation often includes that the tribe being studied were concrete, literal thinkers. Each object or phenomenon in their environment had a distinct name, with the physical variations of each having a name, such as the variety of words for states of snow and ice used by the Inuit. Names are not abstractions, but words attached to specific images. As an Asperger, I identify this as visual thinking.

In case you think I’m trivializing social communication, I’m not doing the trivializing: Social language is intended to be trivial.

Cave art, Peche Merle, France 25,000 y.a. Black on white horses existed at the time. These are actual and specific horses, not "generic" horses.

Cave art, Peche Merle, France 25,000 y.a. Black on white horses existed at the time. These are specific horses, not “generic” horses. Visual thinkers are intensely observant of reality, and the realism of ancient art is documentary – actual events, people and animals. It is possible that the hands are signatures and that individual hands would be recognized as those of individuals, thus “names”

The frustration a visual thinker experiences is that social typical thinkers are word people: communication is  generic, not specific: “Have a nice day.” Humans living in complex natural environments could not survive on social communication. When your survival, and that of your family, depends on evading predators, acquiring food each and every day, and facing danger directly, each member is required to step up and fulfill his or her tasks; trivial will not do. Absolute trust, honesty and commitment are required.

This state of cooperation and loyalty is evident in the eternal “band of brothers” dedication that overrides the reaction to fear and danger in small groups of soldiers. And it is the transition from this high standard of behavior on the battlefield, to a fickle, treacherous and uncaring social regime at home, that causes a great deal of distress in soldiers, who found deep bond of caring in battle, and then lose that peak experience.


Art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness.

–Mark Rothko


Asperger individuals are not alone in the practice of  detailed and specific concrete language.

Washington Post article: There really are 50 Eskimo words for ‘snow’

January 14, 2013

Central Siberian Yupik has 40 such terms, while the Inuit dialect spoken in Canada’s Nunavik region has at least 53, including “matsaaruti,” for wet snow that can be used to ice a sleigh’s runners, and “pukak,” for the crystalline powder snow that looks like salt.

For many of these dialects, the vocabulary associated with sea ice is even richer. In the Inupiaq dialect of Wales, Alaska, Krupnik documented about 70 terms for ice that mark such distinctions as: “utuqaq,” ice that lasts year after year; “siguliaksraq,” the patchwork layer of crystals that forms as the sea begins to freeze; and “auniq,” ice that is filled with holes, like Swiss cheese.

It is not just the Eskimo languages that have colorful terms to describe their frosty surroundings: The Sami people, who live in the northern tips of Scandinavia and Russia, use at least 180 words related to snow and ice, according to Ole Henrik Magga, a linguist in Norway. (Unlike Inuit dialects, Sami ones are not polysynthetic, making it easier to distinguish words.)

Many words for reindeer, too

The Sami also have as many as 1,000 words for reindeer. These refer to such things as the reindeer’s fitness (“leami” means a short, fat female reindeer), personality (“njirru” is an unmanageable female) and the shape of its antlers (“snarri” is a reindeer whose antlers are short and branched). There is even a Sami word to describe a bull with a single, very large testicle: “busat.”

This kind of linguistic exuberance should come as no surprise, experts say, since languages evolve to suit the ideas and needs that are most crucial to the lives of their speakers. “These people need to know whether ice is fit to walk on or whether you will sink through it,” says linguist Willem de Reuse at the University of North Texas. “It’s a matter of life or death.”



Childhood Obsession / Charles 1st by van Dyck

My mother bought a book: one of those huge volumes titled 100 Favorite Paintings. Before I learned to read, it was an “education” in art and I fixated on one painting – I still find it beautiful and fascinating. .

charles1 and horse

Anthony van Dyck, 1635 / “Charles 1 at the Hunt”

Sir Anthony van Dyck was a Flemish Baroque artist who became the leading court painter in England, after enjoying great success in Italy and Flanders.

“All art Lies.”

I had no idea who these people were, but it was to be my first encounter with power of images and the people who painted them. After I learned to read, the sad story of “the beautiful man in beautiful boots” taught me that “civilized” people use torture and  executions (beheadings) to “solve their problems.” I found this terrifying. 

Study for a painting of Charles 1 - van Dyck

Study for a painting of Charles 1 – van Dyck

BBC Archives Charles I (1600 – 1649) 

Charles I was king of England, Scotland and Ireland, whose conflicts with parliament led to civil war and his eventual execution.

Charles I was born in Fife on 19 November 1600, the second son of James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark. On the death of Elizabeth I in 1603 James became king of England and Ireland. Charles’s popular older brother Henry, whom he adored, died in 1612 leaving Charles as heir, and in 1625 he became king. Three months after his accession he married Henrietta Maria of France. They had a happy marriage and left five surviving children.

Charles’s reign began with an unpopular friendship with George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who used his influence against the wishes of other nobility. Buckingham was assassinated in 1628. There was ongoing tension with parliament over money – made worse by the costs of war abroad. In addition, Charles favoured a High Anglican form of worship, and his wife was Catholic – both made many of his subjects suspicious, particularly the Puritans. Charles dissolved parliament three times between 1625 and 1629. In 1629, he dismissed parliament and resolved to rule alone. This forced him to raise revenue by non-parliamentary means which made him increasingly unpopular. At the same time, there was a crackdown on Puritans and Catholics and many emigrated to the American colonies.

Unrest in Scotland – because Charles attempted to force a new prayer book on the country – put an end to his personal rule. He was forced to call parliament to obtain funds to fight the Scots. In November 1641, tensions were raised even further with disagreements over who should command an army to suppress an uprising in Ireland. Charles attempted to have five members of parliament arrested and in August 1642, raised the royal standard at Nottingham. Civil war began.

The Royalists were defeated in 1645-1646 by a combination of parliament’s alliance with the Scots and the formation of the New Model Army. In 1646, Charles surrendered to the Scots, who handed him over to parliament. He escaped to the Isle of Wight in 1647 and encouraged discontented Scots to invade. This ‘Second Civil War’ was over within a year with another royalist defeat by Parliamentarian general Oliver Cromwell. Convinced that there would never be peace while the king lived, a rump of radical MPs, including Cromwell, put him on trial for treason. He was found guilty and executed on 30 January 1649 outside the Banqueting House on Whitehall, London.