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Bees and Autistic Imprints
by Maria Ashley
May 20, 2009


I went with the Pre-K class on a field trip to a local farm. The kids go there in the fall to pick apples and then in the spring to pet the baby animals.

Of course the highlight of the morning was when the baby duck pooped on the table. Oh the hilarity!

But one part of the talk was about bees and keeping bees, and types of bees, and moving bees to new hives, and it kind of went on and on because we were waiting for another group to leave the barn so we could have our turn. The kids were not really paying attention at that point.

But one of the things the instructor explained is that bees find their hives by smell, and that the smell takes them to the general area where they know the hive is, and then some sort of imprint in their mind lands them where the hive has always been. The bee knows, “there is my tree, and there is my large log, and there is my hive next to the log.”

If you are going to move a beehive, you have to move it at least two miles away for them to create a new imprint. They cannot match the differences in the imprint if you move the hive closer - say, to the other side of the log. If the hive is not where the picture matches, then it could be only five feet to the left, and the bee cannot find it. “There is my tree, and there is my large log, but my hive is not there.” You yell to the bee, “stupid bee! It is only on the other side of the log, not even hidden!” and the bee cannot find it.

And it occurred to me that autism is JUST like that. A child or person with Asperger’s Syndrome (the type of autism I am familiar with) has to “learn” by imprint the routines and things that society expects. The ability to read a face, or find a seat on the subway, or apologize for an accidental shove, all must be learned instead of acquired by instinct. The thing with autism, is that the imprint then becomes THE WAY, and I am constantly reminded that FLEXIBILITY also must be learned.

In my house, we put the shoes on a huge shoe rack by the front door. The sandals (or boots or soccer cleats, depending on the season) then go in a big bin next to the rack. One day, the shoes were placed in a line in the kitchen. My kids with Asperger’s COULD. NOT. FIND. THEM. They were very obviously in a big long line stretching across half the kitchen, but to them, the shoes were invisible. The shoes were not on the rack, what do you mean the shoes are not on the rack, the shoes are ALWAYS on the rack, the shoes are GONE! Very frustrating to me, who had to literally walk each of them into the kitchen, focus their attention on the shoes on the floor and say, “LOOK!” They were like, “OOOHhhhhhhhh!”

I got one of my children a new backpack for Christmas since the one he has been using for two years now is falling apart. The child cannot make the change mid year. THIS is my backpack for this year. You gave it to me at the beginning of the year and said it was my backpack. So there is no other backpack for this year. Maybe I can consider it for next year, but not this year. If I made the switch now, the child would probably come home everyday without a backpack because he couldn’t find it. To force the change is a battle not worth fighting.

So the bees helped me understand my kids a little better. Imprints. Who knew?

Interesting analogy I haven't seen made before. What do you think of it?
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