Autism on Screen- X+Y

Greetings Earthlings! 😀

This week I’d like to take a look at the depiction of autism in the semi-biographical drama film ‘X+Y‘ (also known as ‘A Brilliant Young Mind‘ in some countries) starring Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins.

In case (like me) you have never heard of it, the film follows the story of Nathan, an autist with genius level skill in mathematics as he trains for and competes in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). The interesting thing about this story is that it is based on the experiences of Maths prodigy Daniel Lightwing, who won a silver medal in the IMO back in 2006, and shows us how he found love, friendship and a sense of belonging through Maths.

You can see a trailer for the film here:

So given that the film has it’s basis in fact, how did it fare in it’s depiction of autism?

For starters, I found it hard to take the film seriously knowing from my research that for a film based on a true story, there were a number of  inaccuracies. Nathan was diagnosed with autism at a young age whereas Daniel was a teenager; his mentor was a woman but portrayed by a man in the film; Nathan’s father is killed off whereas Daniel’s is very much living, and perhaps the biggest difference being *Spoiler alert* that Nathan ran out of the IMO exam, whereas Daniel claimed the silver medal!

In terms of the portrayal of autism, I found that in general Asa Butterfield’s portrayal of autism was fairly stereotyped (poor eye contact, literal thinking, particular food preferences, problems with social skills etc.), however in reading about Daniel/watching his teenage self being interviewed, it’s hard to argue with the portrayal. Got to admit, Asa does look quite like him!

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One thing that I found particularly interesting was when another autistic character began to self harm after he did not make it onto the IMO team. This darker side of autism is often overlooked in film. We see the stereotyped struggles such as eye contact, social and sensory problems, however we rarely see an autists struggles with mental health. As I’ve discussed previously, mental health issues are very common among autists. Self injurious behaviours such as cutting can be particularly common, making the depiction of this trait in the film all the more poignant.

 

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At the end of the day, the real opinion that matters here is Daniel’s. When asked about the film Daniel was quoted as saying “I cried the first three times I watched it. It says things I was feeling but could not express.”

You can read more about Daniel’s experiences of Asperger’s here:

https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/with-asperger-s-you-put-on-a-mask-to-pretend-you-re-normal-daniel-lightwing-on-how-the-film-of-his-10119675.html

All in all, ‘X+Y’ is worth a watch, perhaps not the most informative film about autism, but an interesting story nonetheless.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 😀

Have a good weekend!

Aoife

Autism and the Catherine Noone Controversy

Greetings Earthlings! 😀

This week, I’d like to talk about a highly controversial incident that’s happened this week in Ireland in the run up to our general election on the 8th of February.

 

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Fine Gael election candidate Catherine Noone has gotten herself into hot water this week for making the following comment about Taoiseach (aka our prime minister) Leo Varadker while out on the election trail:

“He’s autistic like, he’s on the spectrum, there’s no doubt about it. He’s uncomfortable socially and he doesn’t always get the in-between bits.”

In the wake of these comments, she initially denied them before a tape emerged of the conversation. Since then, Catherine has apologized profusely to the Taoiseach, which he has accepted, and she will not face suspension or sanction from their political party.

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This entire incident has naturally caused outrage among the autistic community in Ireland that autism was used in such a derogatory way.

The biggest issue here is Catherine’s lack of education about autism and her sweeping stereotypical comments. Most people have a certain percentage of autistic traits, but that does not mean that they are on the spectrum. Moreover, someone can be perfectly at ease in social situations, but can still be autistic.

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In my opinion, I found it quite insulting that this statement would imply that I, as an autist, am like the Taoiseach. I do not appreciate being lumped in the same camp as a man with such a serious lack of empathy for the people over whom he governs. The housing and homelessness crisis, our abysmal health service (despite being a trained medical professional), the death of rural Ireland – the country has been falling apart while the salaries of his cabinet have increased. As I have discussed previously, contrary to popular belief, autists are quite empathetic. We may not always know how to convey empathy, but it does not mean we are devoid. Few autists could sit back and allow what’s happened to Ireland in the past few years as our clear cut understanding of right and wrong would forbid it. To imply that I am anything like an unfeeling politician is extremely hurtful.

To be fair, this lack of empathy is fairly typical of most politicians- but I’m not one for stereotypes 😛

The world needs to be properly educated in the range of ways that spectrum traits can manifest, maybe then we would be far less quick to resort to derogatory stereotypes.

Hope you enjoyed this  post dear Earthlings! 😀

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism Friendly Shopping

Greetings Earthlings! 😀

Shopping can be quite an overwhelming experience for an autist- the hustle and bustle, bright lighting, loud noises, strong smells etc.

As autism friendly events are all the rage at the moment, I decided to take some time to check out Lidl’s weekly autism friendly shopping hours.

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So what’s so special about Lidl’s autism friendly shopping experience?

Every Tuesday from 6-8pm across all Irish stores, Lidl takes the following autism friendly measures:

  • Reduced lighting
  • No music or announcements
  • Lower till scan sounds
  • Priority queuing
  • Offers additional help if requested
  • Assistance dogs are welcome (sadly none of these cuties were around during my visit 😦 )

They also include a sensory map for kids which can be downloaded from their website to show you the layout of the store to familiarize yourself with it, even providing a key to indicate where there may be strong smells, cold areas, and items that you shouldn’t touch:

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This map would also be of benefit for anxious adults on the spectrum, albeit the ‘do not touch’ symbols on the alcohol, pet food and cleaning products is a bit insulting. These symbols could be challenging for literal, rule-abiding adult autists- who says we don’t like to drink/cook with alcohol, have pets to feed or need to clean a toilet 😛

So how was my shopping experience?

I’ve lived and shopped on my own since college, so I’m perfectly at ease with the hustle and bustle of a busy shop (except for Lush in Dublin- so narrow, crowded and impossible to find what you’re looking for that I have to say a prayer before I enter 😛 ). Nevertheless, I found the whole experience quite soothing.

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My eyes didn’t recoil from the harsh transition from the darkness of the carpark to dazzling supermarket lighting, but rather gently adjusted to the dimmed lights. Even the freezer lights were turned off to reduce the sensory impact. The quietness of the store was similarly soothing. I could slowly walk around the store at ease, my mind clear to focus on the items in front of me.

I was really enjoying my experience, however, it was cut short abruptly without any warning.

Lidl’s autism friendly hours are 6-8pm on a Tuesday. At 7.45 I looked up from my phone to be blinded by the store lighting which had been turned on early. Granted, shops aren’t a sensory problem for me, however, had another autist been in the shop at this time it could have been a whole other story.

What if someone had started their shop at 7.30 under the assumption that they had a solid 30 minutes to get a few bits?

This begs the question as to why the hour ended early? Autists are very literal and  would assume that when something is advertised to last until 8pm that that is when it ends- not 15 minutes earlier with no advanced warning. At this point in the evening, there were no children in the shop, so was it assumed that there were no more autists doing their shopping? My presence meant that there was one confirmed autist still shopping, who’s to say there were not others?

If the decision to end the hour early was based on the number of children in the store, it is highly insulting to adults on the spectrum. People still consider autism to be a childhood disorder, but it is lifelong. We keep forgetting that the child with autism will one day grow up. These autism friendly evenings appear to be mainly geared at children, but adults with autism may choose to shop during these hours too and this must be considered.

Aside from their disregard for accurate timekeeping, Lidl is nevertheless the perfect spot to go for an autism friendly grocery spree! 😀 If arriving later in the hour though, especially for adult autists, perhaps it would be worthwhile flagging it to a member of staff or carry a sign or something to avoid getting caught out like I did 😛 😂

bitmoji-20200108115511Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 😀

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Happy 3rd Anniversary!

Greetings Earthlings!

Happy New Year!! 😀 Hope that you and yours enjoyed the holiday season as much as I did 🙂

Here we are again- another year’s blogging under my belt! 😲

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No one is as shocked as I am that I have now been writing this blog for THREE whole years, and even more so that you’re all still enjoying my ramblings! 😂 I am so appreciative for your continued readership and support. Reading your messages and comments about how my words have helped you has meant so much to me these past 3 years 🙂

I’ve got some brand new ideas cooking away so roll on 2020! 😀

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Aoife

Seasons Greetings!

Greetings Earthlings! 😀

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As 2019 draws to a close (and so two does my third year of this blog! 😲), I’d just like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and every blessing for 2020 🥳

Thank you all so much for your continued readership, support and kind messages this year, and I look forward to writing for you all again in the new year 🙂

Enjoy the holiday season dear Earthlings! 😀

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Aoife

Autism and Asthma

Greetings Earthlings! 😀

Having just been officially diagnosed with asthma this week (after 23 years of uming and ahing about whether to diagnose as it’s been mild thusfar), I decided to do some investigating to see if there are any links between ASD’s and asthma.

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Did you know, that autists are 35% more likely to suffer from asthma than the general population?

Seemingly random, but true!

So what exactly is happening in the lungs of asthmatics?

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways in the lungs. Inflammation in the airways in response to triggers (such as allergens, cold air, tobacco smoke etc.) causes the airways to narrow and spasm, resulting in bouts of wheezing and shortness of breath- which I’m ironically experiencing as I write this *drags deeply on inhaler*.

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But how exactly are asthma and ASD’s intertwined? 

The exact cause of asthma, like autism remains unknown, however, it’s inflammatory nature may reveal it’s links to autism. A recent study suggests that there is a connection between inflammation and ASD’s. Post mortem examination of the brains of autists show that there are increased levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine (a substance secreted by the immune system) IL-18 in the amygdala and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of the brain- areas where alterations are often linked to autism. Perhaps these increased inflammatory markers may predispose autists to the development of asthma. Moreover, research has shown that there is genetic overlap between asthma genes and multiple mental health disorders such as anxiety, ADHD and major depressive disorder (MDD) that are often co-morbid with autism, which could suggest a common genetic pathway for both asthma and autism.

In addition to the link between asthma and autism, recent research suggests that having a parent with an asthma diagnosis may slightly increase the risk of autism development. However, there are conflicting studies as to whether or not the use of asthma medications during pregnancy may increase this risk (although the most recent of these studies supports their use).

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 😀

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

 

Autism and Trust

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to briefly talk about the issue of trust and autism.

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Trust is something that we all struggle with from time to time. In an increasingly disingenuous world, it can be tough to tell friend from foe. This is even more problematic for the autistic community.

Studies have shown that autists struggle to read facial cues for signs of trustworthiness in others. As an autist is so often transparent in their words and actions with their black and white thinking, it’s a struggle to comprehend that others may not be. For example, if an adult tells an autistic child a lie, they will usually believe them without question- after all, why would a grown up lie to you? Isn’t lying supposed to be bad? This is particularly worrying for an autist coming up against potential bullies and predators.

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I found this to be a problem during my school days. On the surface, my peers seemed nice to me. I thought many were friends, but I was unable to tell from their tones that they were mocking me and my eccentricities. It was only after the damage was done that I saw through the facade, which made it hard to trust my peers for a long time. When you see everything in black and white, it can be hard to discern that a smiling face may be a sarcastic sneer.

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But is there a biological reason for our trust issues?

Studies have shown that changes in the structure of the autistic brain can cause issues with trust. Changes in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (the area that assesses social rewards) in people that tended to be more trusting of others, and changes in the amygdala (an area associated with memory and emotional responses) in both those who were more and less trusting of others appear to be linked to trust issues.

Moreover, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, oxytocin is a hormone that is thought to be associated with social behaviour, emotional attachment and trust. Multiple studies suggest that oxytocin levels are dysregulated in autists, which could explain our struggles when it comes to trusting others.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 😀

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Greta Thunberg and Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 😀

So this week I’d like to discuss an inspirational young autist that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time- climate activist Greta Thunberg.

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For those of you who’ve been living under a rock (and I mean, seriously living under a rock, this girl has been all over the news 😛 ), Greta is a Swedish teenager who began striking from school on Fridays outside the houses of parliament in Stockholm for action against climate change in 2018 at just 15 years of age. Greta rationalized that the impending climate crisis means no future for her generation, so why should she go to school to prepare for a future that would not exist?

Since she began striking, Greta’s actions have spawned an international movement known as ‘Fridays For Future‘ where students the world over are striking from school for climate change action. She was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019.

What a girl!

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In recent months however, attention has focused on the fact that Greta has Asperger’s syndrome (I’m in good company!). In her viral Ted Talk, Greta speaks of how learning about the climate crisis at 8 years old led to her diagnosis. Unable to process the inaction of the world, Greta became withdrawn, depressed and stopped eating, which led her to be diagnosed with OCD, selective mutism and Asperger’s Syndrome. As Greta so eloquently explained in her talk, this means that she only speaks when necessary. Now, in the midst of the climate crisis, is one of those moments.

You can see her viral TEDx Talk here:

 

 

Like me, Greta does not see Asperger’s as a disability, but as a gift, calling it her “superpower”. She recently discussed this on the Ellen DeGeneres show where she talked about how autists are important in a crisis such as global warming as we are different, and we need to think differently to find solutions. Her tenacity, her passion and her black and white, no nonsense speeches (all autistic traits), truly are superpowers in her fight to save the planet.

 

Greta Fun Fact- her mother represented Sweden in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest 😀

However, the media have recently begun to turn on Greta because she is neurodivergent. A guest on Fox News recently described her as “mentally ill” sparking much discussion about the state of her mental health. As is often the case, once people hear the ‘a’ word, they automatically assign you a box…

Just a reminder– autism is NOT a mental illness; it’s a neurodevelopmental disorder. We may be greater disposed to having issues with our mental health due to higher stress levels, but an autism diagnosis is not synonymous with mental illness.

Whilst I would echo some journalists concerns about the strain of her current international exposure (fellow aspie Susan Boyle had to check into rehab for exhaustion after her viral appearance in Britain’s’ Got Talent), ultimately what Greta needs is action. Saving the planet is her specialist interest, and as I’ve discussed previously, we are consumed by our passions. She will stop at nothing or for no one to save the world.

Without a doubt, Greta is an extraordinary girl, and really shows that you should not allow yourself to be limited by your diagnosis. Indeed, there are people out there vehemently trying to write her off, but the rest of the world is listening.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 😀

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- I Am Sam

Greetings Earthlings! 😀

This week I’d like to discuss the portrayal of autism in the 2001 drama film ‘I Am Sam‘ starring Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer and a young Dakota Fanning.

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So what’s the film about?

The film focuses on the title character of Sam (Penn), an adult man with autism who is struggling to raise his 7 year daughter Lucy (Fanning) on his own. As Lucy’s intellectual age begins to surpass that of her father’s, social services seek to take her into care, so Sam must go to court to fight for custody.

If you haven’t seen it before, you can watch the trailer here:

 

So what did I make of the film?

Sean Penn’s acting was superb as Sam (I wouldn’t be his biggest fan, but he’s completely obscured by the character) and he even received an Oscar nod for his role. But an Oscar nomination is not always synonymous with scientifically accurate portrayals, so how did the film fare?

When it comes to researching films about autism, ‘I Am Sam‘ is rarely mentioned. His intellectual disability is not specifically labelled in the film, but much of Sam’s traits are consistent with autism- his poor coordination, repetitive behaviours, echolalia, OCD and poor eye contact.

The film itself received mixed to negative reviews, however, some critics have praised it for focusing on a “real” autist, a man who’s holding down a job, has a social life, is raising a child etc- aspects of life that are often ignored or overlooked in media portrayals of autism. As I have discussed in many previous posts, the vast majority of autists live normal lives. We’re always hearing about children with autism, but we forget that children grow up into adults with autism; adults that want jobs, relationships, children- it just might be a little bit harder for us to achieve these goals. So it’s quite refreshing that this film portrays Sam as a functioning member of society and not just another autist incapable of independent living.

All in all the film is worth a watch at least once, even if just for Sean Penn’s acting 🙂

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Enjoy the weekend! 🙂

Aoife

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