A triptych of abstract illustrations of bats hanging upside down. Colors include shades of brown and orange.

Upside Down People: Bats and Autism

2,018 total words    

8 minutes of reading

ABOVE: “Upside Down People: Bats and Autism” is an audio story created and narrated by Sara Kian-Judge and curated by Animal Allegories for Future Fables: Lessons from Other Animals project. (The Flying-fox camp recording, sound collage, and original background music by Sara Kian-Judge; microbat call recordings by Stefan Nyman; sound effects provided by Soundtrap and Sara Kian-Judge; layering and alteration by Sara Kian-Judge.) Visit Sara Kian-Judge’s bio page for more information about her creative storytelling on bats and autism.
BELOW: Find more beautiful bat art by Sara Kian-Judge; discover the story behind Animal Allegories’ Future Fables: Lessons from Other Animals; and experience “Upside Down People: Bats and Autism” via text transcript, offering you an additional sensory storytelling experience.

By Sara Kian-Judge.[1]

Future Fables: Lessons from Other Animals

Curated by Ceridwen Dovey and Zoë Sadokierski from Animal Allegories.

“Upside Down People: Bats and Autism” is an audio story curated for Animal Allegories’ Future Fables: Lessons from Other Animals project. The off-kilter stories that make up the Future Fables  collection are intended to open up new thresholds for considering how humans relate to the more-than-human species around us. These stories emerged alongside another project Animal Allegories is developing with the Australian Museum, titled “Survival Stories: Threatened Species and the Scientists Who Study Them.” Visit the Animal Allegories page for more information about Future Fables.

Humans and Nature Press Digital is honored to present Future Fables as an ongoing digital story gallery highlighting a variety of text, audio, video, and artwork capturing the power of human and nature encounters and connections. Stay tuned for more fables to come.

By Sara Kian-Judge.[2]

Audio Transcript of "Upside Down People: Bats and Autism"

Story, narration, flying-fox camp recording, sound collage, and original background music by Sara Kian-Judge. Microbat call recordings by Stefan Nyman. Sound effects provided by Soundtrap and Sara Kian-Judge, layering and alteration by Sara Kian-Judge.

(The sound of Grey-Headed Flying Foxes fades in and lingers endlessly in the background throughout the piece.)
I am an autistic upside-down person, and . . . I am a human Bat.
(A squeaky swing set is heard moving rhythmically back and forth.) 
Sometimes I wonder if Bats think we are upside down,
Because when you’re a Bat—upside down is the right way up!
It’s all about perspective.

People sometimes think autism is a lack of empathy. 
(A soft, whimsical, dreamlike melody plays and fades out.)
It can seem like we’re lost in our own little worlds and not interested in what’s going on for others. 
But—I am very interested in what’s going on in Bat world. 
I put myself in the shoes of a Bat every day.
(Footsteps walking on crunchy ground are heard.)
Ha! Bat shoes! 
That’s funny—because Bats don’t wear shoes! And neither do I!  
(A pair of shoes can be heard dropping to the ground one after the other.)
SHOES. FEEL. BAD. Shoes feel like suffocating. 

My feet can’t talk to the ground, and all I can hear is the leather weight 
(The resonant echo of several rhythmic beats on metal play in time with the words ring-ring-ringing.)
Ring-ring-ringing in my ears. Bats don’t wear shoes. 
(The sound of a superhero-style grapple gun, releasing cord, and hook contact are heard.)
Their feet are spidery grappling hooks better than anything Batman could come up with. 

(Tense, heroic music plays along with the turning of comic book pages.)
When I was a kid, I loved Batman comics. Because I loved Bats.
(Various punches and groans are heard.)
Batman is great—even if he is a rich capitalist who bashes up scientists and people with mental health challenges. 
(A page being torn from a comic book, crumpled up, and thrown away is heard.)
That part I don’t agree with. The important thing is this: even though he has no superpowers, 
(Various punches and groans are heard.)
Batman totally kicks Superman’s butt!
He does it by thinking differently—Batman is an upside-down superhero, just like me.
Except—unlike Batman—I have a strict “no bashing up weird, eccentric, or unruly people” policy.
(Various punches and kicks are heard in time with each the words destruction, injustice, and discrimination.)
My enemies are environmental destruction! Injustice! Discrimination! And possibly 
(A monstrous, bird- and reptilian-like dinosaur growl plays.)
Velociraptors…

It’s easy to think that autistic people aren’t as strong and capable when you spend a lot of time around super-powered people. 

Let’s face it, when the world you live in is all about 
(The sounds of swooping flight and laser beams are heard.)

People flying around in bright costumes—saving the day with their superstrength and laser eyes, it’s kinda 
easy to miss the Bats
(Soft chirps of Microbats play.)
In their Batcaves doing things a bit differently. And by differently, I could literally mean . . . hanging upside down in the dark. 
(Drops of water fall and echo in a cave.)
That’s how I get my best thinking done.

We autistic people are made strong by our different ways of doing things!
And we—can—be—AWESOME.
It’s up to the people around us to see that—but first, they might have to turn off the lights and learn to see differently—
(The flick of a light switch is heard and there is a pause of complete silence except for the voice speaking.)
in the dark where the Bats live.
(Whooshing of flapping Bat wings is heard.)

Did you know that Microbats speak in 
(A drop of water falls and echoes in a cave.)
echoes? Now that’s a superpower!
They open their tiny little mouths and talk in 
(Narrator speaks much louder, accompanied by the sound of human chatter in a crowded place.)
INAPPROPRIATELY LOUD VOICES!
(Brief silence returns before Microbat chirps are heard rhythmically moving from slow and soft to fast and loud. The chirps end with a vibrating buzz sound as the Bat closes in.)
Which to human ears, sounds like baaaarely a whisper of tiny clicks and chirps. 
Their words bounce off things, sending an echo in the shape of the object back to their long, sensitive Batty ears.
(The Microbat chirps are heard again, but this time alongside submarine sonar beeps.)
Just like sonar.

Sometimes I try to copy Bat clicks and chirps—because my autistic brain MUST echo what I love. And I love Bats. If I suddenly started going: tst-tst-tst-tst! And bi-bi-bi-bi! in a quiet office, you might think I was pretty weird…and maybe a little crazy. But for many autistic people, echoing spoken voices feels as natural 
(A Cat’s meow is heard, followed by a human meow in response.)
as speaking with our own voice.

(A soundscape is heard in layers, starting with chirping Flying Fox calls, twittering Bird calls, humming Whale calls, water flowing, and a teacup being stirred.) 
In my brain, spoken voices include Bats…and Birds…and Whales…and Rivers…and Teabags… 
and pretty much everything around me. 
(The sounds of Flying Fox calls, Bird calls, and water flowing continue, ended by the whistle and crack call of a Whipbird that makes the soundscape fade out.)
I can’t think of a single thing that isn’t alive and speaking. So I try to learn their languages and speak back.

Just like Microbats, I hear and speak differently too.
(A soundscape is heard in layers, starting with fur brushed over wood, sand pouring, stone rubbing against stone, and a sheet billowing. The soundscape is ended by a fluttering of bird feathers.)
When I touch things like fur, sand, feathers, or stone—I can hear the way they feel. They have touch-voices.
(A soundscape is heard in layers, starting with the pitter-patter of rain falling, twittering Bird calls, the dry drone of Cicadas that peaks and then fades out in reverse order.)
When I listen to falling rain, the dawn chorus of the Birds, or chirping Cicadas—I see colored lights and patterns all around me. They have picture-voices.

Having cross-wired senses isn’t always nice, though.
Sometimes it hurts so bad… 
(A soundscape is heard in layers that do not fade or balance out, creating a chaotic, noisy mess. It starts with television static, followed by a truck engine, a drill, a lawn mower, supermarket checkouts, police sirens, car horns and traffic, a crowd talking and cheering, and fireworks.)
Some things make noises and pictures that are too big, too bright, too loud! And I’m just one little creature of the night! The noisy light and bright noise makes me blind as a Bat! I can’t see! My ears sting! I feel like I’m falling! I can’t breathe!
(All sounds suddenly stop. All that is heard is silence and a rapid heartbeat that steadily becomes slower, revealing the gentle sounds of drops of water falling and echoing in a cave.)
And all I want is to hide in a dark, quiet cave…wrapped up tight in my black, raincoat blanket wings that keep out the light, the noise, everything—
(The gentle rumble of thunder billows and fades.)
until the storm passes.

(As the thunder fades out, the chatty sounds of Grey-Headed Flying Foxes fade in and linger endlessly in the background throughout the piece.)
Bats are social people. They live in camps and big roosts together.
There’s a myth that autistic people are antisocial.
Ha! We’re not; we’re just Bats.
We like to hang with our people—but we also like our own personal space bubble.
When I see one Flying Fox try to 
(Swooshing karate chop sound is heard.)
karate chop another Bat with her wings—I understand!
“That’s close enough! We don’t have to be all up in one another’s business,
(A childlike reply of “OK” is heard.)
OK?!”

(Chirping Microbat calls are heard.)
Did you know that Microbats have language?
Each species speaks its own language, and each species’ language has dialects that connect Bats to their roosts and communities. 
(Chirping Microbat calls are heard.)
How cool is that?!

(An old-style toy sound with a ringing quality is heard.)
I’m a Bat with language.
I have a roost of other neurodivergent people who speak my language and dialect through our shared 
(A series of similar old-style toy sounds play one after the other.)
experiences.

I have neighboring roosts of people who speak a similar language in different dialects that we can both (More old-style toy sounds play, but with more rhythmic blipping, popping, and rattling qualities.) relate to. 

And then there’s most people—the humans who don’t speak my language 
(A confused questioning voice is heard asking, “Huh?” followed by a frustrated sigh.)
at all. 
Like different species, we don’t always understand each other. But that’s OK—so long as they don’t try to invade my roost and speak for me.
(The rhythmic beeping of an engaged phone signal is heard.)

I have a Batty mind.
When I was a kid, I loved Bats AND 
(A ferocious dinosaur roar is heard.)
Dinosaurs!
Then I learned about 
(A ferocious dragon roar and blast of fire-breath followed by the crackling of flames is heard.)
Dragons. 
Hold up! Are you telling me that there’s a creature that’s half-Bat, half-Dinosaur? 
(A comical explosion is heard.)
MIND. BLOWN! 
Even if most Dragons aren’t anatomically correct, an extra set of limbs is a small price to pay for such EPIC AWESOMENESS.

(Soft, thoughtful, and slightly sad music fades in and continues to play for remainder of the piece along with the sound of Flying Foxes.)
But then—people want to slay Dragons, cull Bats, and cure autism.
And Dinosaurs are already extinct.
I just feel like the world would be a less shiny, exciting place if we got rid of anyone we didn’t understand—right?

I am an upside-down person. I am autistic. And I am very often—a Bat!
I don’t want to be culled—because I’m not a pest. I belong here.
And I don’t want to be cured—because I’m just different, not less.

So maybe, just for a minute, swing yourself upside down and hang with me and the Bats.
Try to see everything you think you know from a different point of view—one where we can walk on Tree tops and gaze up at the Ground-Sky, at this amazing world we all share.
Because more than anyone or anything else—Bats have taught me that it is possible to be different—together. 
(Music fades out, Bats fade out.)

Featured image by Sara Kian-Judge.
[1] By Sara Kian-Judge. Continuous pen line Bat image with ink and water color splashes was drawn without lifting the pen once to represent the continuity of Bat connections with Country and the interconnected sky paths they travel and pollinate. The ink splashes convey the synesthesia visualization I see with Bat scents. 
[2] By Sara Kian-Judge. Pen drawn simple patterns Bat image shows a Flying Fox unrealistically smaller than a Eucalyptus, representing the enormous role these trees play in supporting Bat lives. The pattern style is informed by my autistic pattern and shape seeking brain.

  • Sara Kian-Judge

    Sara Kian-Judge is a Walbunja-Yuin autistic artist. Her work aims to generate conversation & change around the recognition of personhood, self-determination, and intrinsic rights of existence frequently stripped from marginalized people, places & species. Sara’s work is guided by her relationships with animals & nature, her Indigenous cultural education, and her lived experience of sensory synesthaezia and autism.
  • Animal Allegories

    Collaborating as Animal Allegories, Zoë Sadokierski and Ceridwen Dovey craft experimental, visually surprising tales of animal entanglements. We know stories can't save the world. But they can provide moments of respite, transporting us into an imaginative realm where future possibilities shimmer briefly into view.

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