Birds were not meant to live in cages. They were meant to fly. Their natural instincts tell them to forage, scream, and avoid people. Wanting a bird to cuddle and talk is contradictory to their true nature. Teaching bids skills that are unnatural to them requires an immense amount of trust from both the trainer and the parrot. No two birds are the same. Some take to training easily while others respond with fear and aggression. A successful parrot trainer acknowledges a bird’s desire to express their true nature and learns how to respectfully communicate with their bird. Biting, screaming, and flying are natural parrot behaviors. They only become problems when humans are involved. Training a parrot means learning their language and loving them on their terms.
I feel a kinship with the birds that I train. My parrot and I speak different languages, similar to the way that neurotypical people and I speak different languages. Hearing my bird calmly grind his beak as he soothes himself to sleep reminds me of the sound of my incessant fastening and unfastening of the button on my jacket sleeve, and I understand the bird is calm. Watching his feathers fearfully dampen as he retreats to the corner of his cage is similar to how I might wince from an unwelcome gaze. While my parrot and I speak different languages, we share a common desire to communicate with the world in a manner suited to us.
Just as my bird’s beak grinding is a sign of content, his bite is a sign of fear. Many people make the mistake of taking a bite personally. A bite means that a bird needs his space. He has been pushed to his limit, and he needs his trainer to respect that. Although a bite may bleed, it is simply a form of communication. A pet bird has been stripped of nearly all his freedom. He lives in a cage around the schedule of a human. He cannot control what he eats, what he drinks, or when his cage is cleaned, and he was made to fly. One thing he can control is his beak, and when people fail to read a bird’s body language, the bird will use his beak to communicate his need for space. Birds need respect, and only trainers who treat their parrots with it will break that biting habit.
The most respectful thing a trainer can do for a bird is teach them to fly. Birds are incredibly human. They feel empathy and pain. They remember people who are kind (or not) to them for decades. They have a capacity for love, and there is no denying the presence of a soul. But, the most striking difference between a bird and human is that birds can fly. Flight training is completely necessary for a bird to reach his full potential. The only time their lungs reach full capacity is during flight. The sunlight makes their feathers shine. Finally, they have the freedom to explore and play. Humans were not made to fly. Therefore, we will never understand how vital flying is to the life of a bird. I understand that birds need to fly to reach their full potential. I Understand this, yet I will never soar above the trees like they do. I am not built for it. I will never fully understand neurotypical people, and they will never fully understand me. We were built to excel at different things. Yet, to deny either one of us our true nature is to deny the world the greatest gifts we have to offer it. We speak different languages, but truly all we want is to communicate. It is possible for us to come together and improve the world for both autistic and neurotypical people. But, for this to happen we need to remember to treat each other respect, even when misunderstandings occur. We need to stop taking bites personally, stop clipping each other’s wings, and accept our differences as a part of human diversity.
Autistic people are still people. We feel empathy and pain. We remember people who are kind (or not) for decades. Despite what people may think, we have a tremendous capacity for love, and there is no denying the presence of a soul. Just because other people must learn our language to see these things does not mean they do not exist. Autistic people must also remember this lesson and treat our neurotypical counterparts with the same respect we so desperately desire. We all fly differently, and even though we may never understand each other’s perspective, we must not deny anyone the privilege of spreading their wings.