Asperger's Alive

The changing landscape of autism and neurodiversity

When Secession is an Option, After All

The White House says no to withdrawal from the US. But my son had other ideas.

Map of Massachusetts with the flag of HuropaSecession is not an option, said the White House. But they hadn’t counted on my kid.

Three years ago, Hugh, my then 13-year-old Aspergerian, acquired a new obsessive interest: micronations. Micronations are pockets of territory that have some nominal resemblance to independent nations or states. But they are not recognized by the United Nations, nor any state or government – nor, in fact, anyone beyond the micronation’s picket fence. And possibly not everyone within it, either. Past micronations include Lundy Island, England, whose previous owner/monarch immodestly put his face to bronze coins, and the Conch Republic in Florida (“We seceded where others failed”).

Hugh researched micronations in meticulous Aspie fashion. He had in mind a nation of his own, to be called Huropa.

  • Boundaries  Yard fence
  • Size   17,000 square feet
  • Population   Hugh the Supreme Ruler; brother Anthony, the Oppressed Subject; Mom, the Minister for Making Life Comfortable; and two overweight cats assigned to rodent border incursions
  • Politics   Independent
  • Flag   Blue, white and green, representing loyalty, integrity and environmentalism 
  • Foreign policy  Acquire an F-22, fly it to Eastern Europe and obliterate a rival micronation – specifically, Other World Kingdom  (OWK), allegedly located in the Czech Republic

Perhaps establishing his own small country was Hugh’s attempt to impose order on a too-big world. But order didn’t come easily. For a start, the values enshrined in the flag seemed not to be reflected in Huropa’s foreign policy — a demoralizing reminder of how quickly corruption sets in. What was OWK anyway? Some uneasy combination of Ow! and OK?

Hugh insisted he didn’t invent it. Other World Kingdom was ruled by Her Royal Majesty Queen Patricia, he said. She restricted citizenship to women who owned male slaves.

“Male slaves?”

He’d read it on Wikipedia. OK: so he hadn’t clicked into a porn site.

“There’s something to be said for matriarchies,” I said. This was just a year or two after his father and I divorced.

Hugh disagreed. He found the concept of women with male slaves offensive. I didn’t like to explain that these particular slaves might be there of their own free will, as cheering as that message should be. In any case, Hugh’s objection didn’t bode well for family life. I’d been about to ask him to take out the garbage.  I asked, “You’re sure the Other World Kingdom isn’t just a household where the boys have to pick up their own Nerf darts?”

Either way, he said, it deserved that F-22 firepower.

Note for discussion at the next school meeting: Perspective problem?

But there was a bigger issue here. Some people with autism are never able to find their community. For them, isolationism can be a way of life, not necessarily of their choosing. Sensory stimuli and anxiety, for Hugh, could be barriers to understanding and incorporating others’ perspectives in real time, to making meaningful social connections.

Anthony, Hugh’s brother, was nine years old during the time of Huropa. His neurotypicality was a card he played to get himself a pass from Hugh’s Aspergerian endeavors. The third week of hearing Hugh intoning somewhat relentlessly on the micronation, Anthony covered his ears and screamed. (This really was the neurotypical one. They do that too.) 

“I will not be a citizen of your stupid country.”  

Immediately the population of Huropa plummeted by 20 per cent. And now Anthony required an enclave that represented his neutrality. His bedroom, a neutral zone: Bedzerland.

So here we had a micronation within a micronation. The cats would need dual nationality.

“Why not be a citizen of Huropa?” I asked Anthony. “Just for a quiet life.”

He burst into tears. “It’s not a quiet life, Mom. He’s getting an F-22 and going bombing.”

The issue now was not so much Hugh’s separatist or neocon tendencies as Anthony’s genuine anxiety.

“Honey,” I said, “Hugh’s ambitious. But I don’t think the U.S. Army sells F-22s to eighth graders, and anyway his allowance would never cover it. The only warfare will be over homework.” Not that this was any small thing.

We were agonizing again, but this time in Huropa and Bedzerland, two nested micronations located in the suburban heartland — a suburb we could only hope would not turn hostile before this experiment in independence had run its course. It seemed to me that our new status would hardly change us on the surface. We’d cross our yard (national boundaries) and shop at the same stores, argue at the same diners, riot at the same schools (note to self: don’t let slip change of nationhood to school district administrators. We know how much they’d like us out). Doubtless we’d bring the same combination of gratitude and skepticism to this new nation as to the old, and the same tension around loyalty/integrity/etc and bombing a people that never did anything to us.

But this is not to say Huropa would be a meaningless entity, nor even an entirely new one. In the old days, when I was learning about Asperger’s and autism, I waved goodbye to my neighbors, with their typically developing children and hilarious puppies and their anguish over the new countertops, and felt I was crossing an invisible border. It symbolized the division, the distance between our family and theirs that we were all trying to ignore.

That distance narrowed over the years. By now, it has largely disappeared. Mostly, that’s because I see autism and Asperger’s differently. And I see, too, that all around us, within and beyond the borders of Bedzerland and Huropa and Massachusetts and the USA, people and families with autism, or any other difference, are struggling to determine their own worlds. We all are. The result is “noisy and complicated,” as the White House spokesperson, addressing our petitioning secessionists, described democracy. He added, "But that does not provide a right to walk away from it."


Note: Asperger syndrome and autism are not associated with a desire to wage war. The Huropa foreign policy was a passing phase. This incident is better understood as reflecting his desire for social justice, notwithstanding the choice of strategy.

Another note: I know that plane in the picture isn't an F-22. Map by Nations Online Project. Bomber image by Crompton Motion Graphics.

Lucy Berrington is a Massachusetts writer and the parent of a teen with Asperger syndrome. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Asperger's Association of New England.

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