Kitty Cat Lights and Puppy Fans: The Joys in Parenting an Autistic Child

Annie Newman
6 min readJan 16, 2023


Baby Emmy in the fan and lighting aisle of the local hardware store. It’s always been one of her favorite places.

I don’t know exactly when it started, but Emmy* started referring to ceiling fans as “puppy fans.” I assumed the blades were the ears. One day, when she was in a talkative mood, I asked her about it. Apparently I got it all wrong. The pull chains are the ears (I guess fans without pull chains have had their ears docked). The center of the fan — whether it is a light or not — is the nose, and the blades are the legs. I guess I can see it, kind of like a dog running. Whatever it is and whenever it started, she now gets excited about new puppy fans whenever we see one.

Her household-fixture-mythology grew with the addition of kitty cat lights. Yes, all lights are kitty cats — well, all those that are not the noses of the puppy fans. I cannot find any rhyme or reason to this, but it has stuck. After the kitty cat lights, new animals were assigned to new fixtures more rapidly. Some make sense: panda outlets, for example, do look like little panda faces. Wolf AC’s, or really any audible vents, could be compared to a howling wolf, especially if you are sensory-sensitive. Other correlations seem completely random, like a fox door or a yak lightswitch. Yet when I tried to suggest it might be a kangaroo lightswitch (you know, because it bounces up and down like a kangaroo), I was firmly and thoroughly shot down. Maybe one day she’ll share a little more insight with me on the murky ones.

I like to say Emmy has a secret language. My mother-in-law says Emmy is just smarter than the rest of us, and we need to catch up. I forget who said it to me, but another family member jokingly suggested that Emmy has two right brains (the “creative” side). Whatever makes Emmy think and express herself the way she does probably has a lot to do with her autism. While there are aspects of Emmy’s autism that definitely make life harder and we are working on mitigating, there are the other aspects that make her so unique and creative.

Visual Processing

Clearly, the unusual associations she makes is a big one, as demonstrated by her ongoing fascination with household fixtures. How she visually processes information is another unique and creative aspect. For example, we walk the dog every day down to the end of our street and back, and for several days in a row she kept talking about a school bus. We live on a very quiet, dead-end road. We may see a car three out of the seven days we go out, so I had no clue what she was talking about, especially since she seemed to think there was a school bus in the neighbor’s house.

Finally I saw it. The light had changed, and made the inside of the neighbor’s window more visible. Against the glass was a bench, with rungs evenly spaced and a curve at the end of the backrest. The way it was positioned within the window frame, it did, indeed, look like the top of a school bus: with the rungs making the windows, and the curve of the backrest becoming the curve of the front windshield. The maple wood was even sort of yellowish, and a shadow at the bottom looked like the black stripe that runs down the middle of the school bus. Emmy was so excited that I finally saw it, and so was I. Now we “look for the school bus” whenever we walk that way.

A Developed Aesthetic

Emmy’s paper monsters (eating some gems, because even paper monsters get hungry)

Emmy’s minimalist restraint is another aspect of her creativity that I enjoy. Her sister Bee* goes wild with art supplies: glitter glue and pom-poms and googly eyes and paint and anything else she can get her hands on, all on the same 8.5 x 11 sheet. She’s even tried to glue playdoh to her paper. Invariably, the result is a creation that is so heavy and wet it takes two hands to lift it somewhere safe to dry. Emmy, on the other hand, makes things like paper monsters. They are simple and perfect: One sheet of construction paper. One googly eye glued towards the side. One cut with the squiggly or zig-zag scissors under the eye to make a mouth. Violà. A paper monster in profile. On to the next one. She started creating these when she was five. What five year old has such a developed sense of composition that they can step away after three conscious design choices? I love it.

No BS Here

Another conjecture from my mother-in-law: Emmy’s recalcitrance around language is that she just can’t be bothered to explain her level of thinking to plebes like us. There’s no denying Emmy has a language delay…but I think my MIL might be onto something. Perhaps Emmy doesn’t see the value in learning to verbally express herself more fully because she’d have to deal with more nonsense. Take one of my favorite examples of Emmy behavior:

We were in line at Walgreens waiting to pick up my prescription. Well, more accurately, I was in line at Walgreens and Emmy and her sister were sitting in the chairs where people wait for vaccines or consultations. An older gentleman came up in line behind me.

“Well, I have never seen so many pretty girls in my life!” He declared, “How old are you, sweetheart?” he proceeded to ask my youngest.

“I’m five,” Bee said.

“And I’m seven,” Emmy chimed in, knowing the prompt. I was very proud of her.

“And I’m Bee and my sister is Emmy,” my ever-friendly Bee volunteered.

“Bee and Emmy, huh? That’s nice…you sure that ain’t your brother?” The man was just teasing them, as older men tend to do with children. Bee stared at him in blank confusion.

If Craig from Southpark and Wednesday Addams had a baby it would sound like Emmy.

“Nooo,” she said in her Craig-Wednesday-flatline voice, sighed, and turned slowly around in the chair so she was completely faced away from the man, giving him the coldest of shoulders.

She clearly didn’t have time for someone who couldn’t understand the straight facts given to him. I couldn’t even be mad at her mildly rude behavior. He spoke a little bit more with Bee, but Emmy kept her back to him the rest of our time there. It was just so funny.

A Little Mirror

One more story: Emmy is acutely and astutely aware of those around her, and likes to gently tease them. One of her classroom aides came up to me when I was subbing in the front office one day.

“You’ve got one heck of a smart-alek with Emmy,” the aide said, smiling.

“I know,” I said, because she is, in fact, very smart-alek sometimes, “what did she do though?”

“I didn’t know I even said it that much but I heard her tell Mrs. Henry* ‘Ms Moneymaker *says ‘ah-ah ah-ah.’ ’ And I do! And she has one that is spot-on for everyone in the classroom.”

I tested it when I got home, “Hey Emmy, what does Ms. Moneymaker say?”

“Ah-ah ah-ah.”

“And Mrs. Henry?”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk!”

“And Mrs. Cousins*?”

“No ma’am!”

She was, in fact, correct. I have heard all those teachers use those phrases repeatedly. She had their tone and their mannerisms, she is the perfect impressionist and loves to hold the proverbial mirror up to us, exposing our little quirks and idioms. It is revealing, sometimes a little uncomfortable, but mostly hilarious.

I get accused from time to time of wanting to make Emmy “less autistic.” I do want her to be less anxious, and more able to communicate and take care of her basic needs, it’s true. And while I’ll do everything in my power to help her get there, I do not want her to be less autistic. The way her brain works absolutely delights me, and when I finally catch up to whatever she is trying to tell me, it’s like being invited to the secret society, finding your favorite lost glove, and getting the inside joke, all wrapped into one. In short, it is a joy.

*names have been changed

Annie Newman is a substitute teacher, mom, and aspiring children’s book author raising two children: one neurotypical and one autistic. You can also follow her day-to-day learning on Instagram and on Tiktok.



Annie Newman

Two kids, one NT and one Autistic. On a learning and therapy journey that is constantly evolving.