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Autism: The caged bird

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This week marks the passing of poet Maya Angelou. She was especially beloved in the African American community, but her poetry has a universal quality.

It speaks to many who feel trapped and victimized by our society.

One of her most famous poems, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” perfectly captures the feeling of having something to say or contribute to society, but not being allowed to express it.

It describes the feeling of autism. The cage represents the sensory overload in which autistic people are constantly surrounded.

It represents the social barrier that separates them from neurotypical society.

The song is the creativity, intelligence and self-expression, trying to break out of the cage and into the world.

The clipped wings are the social skills that they lack that prevent them from “flying” with the other “birds” in our society.

The tied feet are the side effects that some have with autism; an inability to speak or communicate in a way that others understand.

In the poem, the reader feels the sadness of the bird, yet its song is drowned out by the much louder birds flying and singing in freedom.

The reader knows that this bird is most likely doomed to die in pain, yet the door to the cage can be opened if someone takes the chance to set the bird free.

It is harder to be free with clipped wings, but it is possible with compassion and support.

The bird sings, with every breath he has, to spread the hope that this might happen.

It can. It is hard, it goes against all we have been taught and against tradition, but it can happen.

From this reporter and the autistic community: Thank you Maya Angelou, rest in peace and always "dare to claim the sky."