Published on June 14th, 2023 | by Maryrose Smyth


Report From a Neurodiverse Universe

Date: Wednesday
Time: 6:15 AM, early spring
Location: Foothill canyon in Los Angeles aka your Narnia (in your now bedroom) in the was living room of your rambling ramshackle canyon house

You lay in bed. You push back comforter, roll, sit up, pull on socks, black silk Aladdin slippers and a navy peacoat that is laying on end of your queen-sized bed. You get up and walk to French doors. Push draperies back, open said doors, stand on threshold to now living room looking out.

See Val*, 15, your son, wears yesterday’s fatigue shorts, red socks and his neon yellow hoodie. He leans on the back of a painted orange chair that’s tucked into the steel rolltop desk where he stares down at the computer watching a YouTube of man with a Southern accent describe how to build a DIY snow machine. Val holds a plastic superhero plate in one hand and a wedge of pumpkin pie to his mouth in his other.[1]

Hi. You say, Cold for shorts today right buddy? Pants in barn dryer. Go get pants okay?

Val bristles.[2]

Kitchen: Kettle on stove. Heap coffee in drip filter. Line Val’s meds up on kitchen worktable less the one that his neurologist deleted yesterday in Zoom.

Pancakes.[3] Turn right. Eyeball Bisquick in a bowl plus extras to boost chance of vitamins and to put weight on Val: Omega-3 grassfed organic milk Formulated by Pediatricians, free range egg, melted butter and dollop vanilla extract. More hot water over coffee. Run to barn.[4]

Barn: Unsee rat poop hills everywhere: rafters, ledges, floor, worktable: Legos mixed with dumped buckets, partial expensive train with rusted track, Val’s Santa suit strewn over a broken inlaid Moroccan coffee table you remind yourself to fix, multiple empty canvas frames hanging on walls, car jacks, scattered auto mechanic tools, Ikea tower shelf filled with old cookbooks and stacked bins of baby clothes and Christmas décor.

Dryer: Fill Val’s laundry cart. Wheel to house. 

Kitchen: See Max[5] looking down at phone in his hand, wearing plush robe. He is standing over blasting floor heater.


Sink: Pour hot water over drip. Turn. Pancakes: Flip-flip-flip.[6]  Your head jerks at a familiar floor creak stove. Val. He reads the room like some people read phones. He stealth tiptoes toward Max. Val’s head nears his father’s soft terry shoulder in a rare gentle move. Ah! You think, Nice start to today!

Max wakes from phone death stare—forcefields up! Arms up! Hands up! Max’s left arm up at his shoulders. His phone drops, he deflects Val and catches his rib cage.

Dad “hit” me! Val yells, spinning. I’m gonna hit Dad back! 

Val full-body lunges at Max! Contact! Max’s full face folds like bread dough. His elbows pull in close to his waist! Serious jazz hands in front of him as if he’s about to catch a medicine ball—or a boy-man! Max staggers backwards, stumbles into worktable behind him. He straightens and stands stricken, wordless, staring at a blurred whorl that’s spinning into living room—it spins back!

Chin up, chest out—Val’s baby face contorts! His mouth sneers! He shoulder-butts Max’s shoulder. Stares a beat eye to eye.

Stop! Don’t! Max yells at him.[7] 

Max has a WTF look on his face. He opens his mouth as if to yell something at Val and stops himself and slow shakes like it’s a bag of heavy sand, then looks over at you and loud harrumphs! Clears Val’s wide stance in the doorway, he heads down the dark hall.

A far away door clicks. Locks.

Really? You ask Val, This? Your lips compress. No words. You file your tsk-tsk for later.

Busted! Val yells to his now gone dad.

You sigh. Your eyes flash to Val. You try to pin him to the wall in the living room looking into the kitchen. He evades your double dare glare. You try to untrigger yourself but your self-regulation switch is stuck on desolate. Whoosh! Reason: gone fishing. Your inner lizard has been waiting for this moment. It scans the room. What could Val hurl at me? Butter knife. Butter. Blue rubber band from last night’s broccolini you burnt. Your coffee! You pick your mug up.

Val’s gone. Where? Behind you. 12 o’clock Val! At the worktable making himself tea.[8] Two bags of mint. Boiling water to brim. Too much milk. Too much honey. You let it drop.

You’re smacking your lips![9]he yells.

Fire on dry mulch. He runs your way, grabs your knees. You watch your thighs swing back and forth. He slaps your knees—twice— repels off you, hits the wall behind him. Rebounds and crashes into your airspace. When did he get so tall? He palms your knees—swing-swing-swing!

What’s with the knees today buddy? Quit it man! Cortisol surge.

Val stomps the cute yarn pompoms on the tips of your silky slippers.

How’d ya like that, huh? He leers in your face. The two of you share the same breath cloud. Val’s right arm fly high up overhead. He grabs your black watch cap off your head, throws it on the floor and steps back—he is victorious!

Back it up mister![12] You know the rules! No touching Mom when you’re red! Did Mom invite you to touch her? You have to be invited to touch Mom! Maybe some private time in your room?[13]

You turn to the window and look out. Concentrate! you tell yourself. The sycamores—the sun– this second!

Running! You hear running on the opposite side of room. Metal on metal. Knife basket. Knife. Don’t turn around, you tell yourself. Don’t. Move. You turn and stare and say nothing. 

You know what I want to do with this, don’t ya, Val yells. A heavy steak knife points at his wafer thin chest.

You make your face a whiteboard. Wonder why you don’t even feel mad. You try to remember what you’re supposed to do.  Is it the  think happy place, squeeze yourself, or the, There, there, pat your sternum?

Is this the guy you really want to be?[14] you ask Val, even though the statement sounds fraught with guilt. Strategies? Break? Ice water?[15]

He drops the knife into the metal basket, slams cupboard and walks out.

Pants! you yell after him, taking a sip of coffee. Your cup rests at your lips as you drink in coffee air.

You hear Val’s laundry cart banging into the walls, desk or chair.

I’m getting dressed in here, he yells, exasperated. 

You dash back to Narnia, grab whatever’s fastest: yesterday’s denim suspenders, striped sweater, socks, shoes. Bathroom. Nix shower and makeup. Wellbutrin. Watch cap. Coat. Keys. Coffee. Car. Drive.


[1] Upon entering same room, you begin clocking Val’s mood fluctuations to sensory input details. Triggers usually come from what just transpired. What behaviorists call the antecedent. Today: Your entrance may have spiked Val’s mood if he is anticipating his having to transition from a preferred activity to adhere to his posted school routine instead. Too, your very being, proximity, mood, smell, etc. add to his mental load. You ponder whether pulling your son off computer will add mental load. If your saying, No eating in living room will add mental load. If redirecting him will add mental load. Did you soften your tone? Are you following his lead? At his eye level? Did you drop your request, demand and expectations? Did you set the Time Timer to make the clock the bad guy? See Ross Greene, PhD, “Children do well when they can.” Did you remember that Low Demand Parenting is a thing? See or Snow in the foothills of Los Angeles is mostly unlikely.

[2] Note he didn’t say, Hi, back to you. His imperceptible bristle was your first (missed) sign—the slow burn you don’t see begins his Misophonic ragePrimitive rage. Stop talking must be the hardest thing! You tell yourself to work on this.

[3]You make pancakes just in case Val eats them. 

[4] Brace yourself to not scream at rats or snakes or general pell-mell disarray (remind yourself to downsize this summer).

[5] “Conscious uncoupling” refers to a relatively amicable marital divorce. Term created by Katherine Woodward Thomas as program toward collaboration and transparency. See her book by same name. Author’s case: responsibilities, finances shared. Co-habituating in-house with husband and children, 15, 26.

 [6] You ruminate over what you may have missed the rest of day. Make mental notes: your mantra needs update. Detaching keeps reattaching. Day by day. It’s not you. It’s insert here. Impulsivity. Proximity. Delegate control. Val unstoppable. Love your inner child. Did Val’s birthmother’s drink? Val’s PTSD. Max’s unresolved childhood PTSD. Your unresolved CPTSD. Triangulation. Freefall—red zone. Get to green (mood color wheel team leader PhD designed). Tell yourself breathe when Val’s at school. Journal. Make yourself small faster.

[7] Vocal tone to remain soft. Better yet, point or get Val’s favorite stuffed animal. Let it do the talking.

[8] You start your self-protective strategies: consider exiting back door, blocking with cookbook on table, coffee mug. Be present but not direct.

[9] See Misophonia.

[10] You disassociate-numb-freeze, self-congratulate yourself on your not moving. Tell yourself death comes only once. After that, you’re good. 

[11]  Once he goes limbic, red, raging, survival hits, rage strikes. You tell yourself, You’re the adult (you cannot join the rage fest), you buy time in bits—goal: the 90 second pause reset to get closer to green.

[12] “Now,” “no,” demands, and limits trigger his PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance).

[13] Too many words. Consent with others vs. hurting them keeps you awake at night. Maternal health, distressed birth, adoption trauma, FASD (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder), autism, PTSD, PDA, RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), genetic deletion, vulnerability for a mood disorder, developmental delays, compromised executive function, ramp impulsivity. You’re fried. Your menopause, etc. The pause has not been invented yet. Theory of Mind challenges. You try to remember how far he’s come! Separating from upset is a challenge. Every episode runs course. You get respite helpers. He has a team, great neighbors and school. IEP. A village, really.

[14] You weigh your moves, wondering why you can’t stop crying.

[15] Stop talking! you tell yourself. He’s getting big. How many more years can we do this? Will insurance, services or social security cover anything forever? Who will take care of him when the money’s gone and we’re too old?

*Names changed for privacy.

Cover photo by Guillermo Ferla on Unsplash

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About the Author

Maryrose Smyth is a member of the Writer’s Collective in Los Angeles. She studies with Jack Grapes, Suzanne Lummis, Tresha Faye Haefner, Ellen Bass, Natalie Goldberg, Terrie Silverman and Amanda Montei.

Her poem, “Desert Winter Sky, Joshua Tree” was in Amethyst Review, June 2022. Her other work appears in F.R.E.D. and The Best of the Poetry Salon 2013-2018, Wax Seal Online Literary Magazine, August, 2018, “To My Dear Dead Grandmother.” Her poem “Liberty” was an honorable mention in the Jack Grapes Cultural Weekly Poetry Contest of 2015. She lists her passions as: art making, family and the one-woman artist preserve she calls home where she lives.

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