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Autism on Screen- Backstreet Dreams

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about the representation of autism in the 1990 drama film ‘Backstreet Dreams‘ starring a young Brookie Shields and Jason O’Malley.

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So what’s the film about?

The story follows a young hoodlum named Dean as he navigates fatherhood. Things become complicated when Dean’s son Shane get’s diagnosed with autism, causing his marriage to fall apart, and making Dean a single father. With the help of Shane’s therapist Stevie, Dean forms a connection with his son, finding the strength to leave his backstreet activities behind him.

You can check out a trailer for the film here:

So how did this film fare in it’s portrayal of autism?

Filmed in 1990, this was one of the earlier film portrayals of autism, and as such is very stereotyped in the autistic traits discussed. There’s a lot of mono-tonal speech, lack of eye contact, repetitive behaviours and stimming so nothing really out of the ordinary in this film. That being said, for a child actor in a role this young, it’s tricky to accurately depict the realities of autism unless the actor is themselves autistic. The story also tended to focus more on the impact of autism for Dean rather than Shane, which further distracted from the issue.

Cineplex.com | Movie

On the other hand, it was heartening to see the impact that appropriate interventions and support were having on Shane’s development, something that wasn’t always highlighted in these early films featuring autism. Most early films focus on accepting autism or how burdensome the condition can be, but this film showed a turning point in how it’s not all doom and gloom, and how proper interventions can really improve symptoms and outcomes for autists.

All in all, it was a fairly poor offering both in terms of autism and cinema, but by all means give it a go if you think you might like it!

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in ‘The Rosie Effect’

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

True to my word, this week I’m going to discuss the representation of autism in the sequel to ‘The Rosie Project‘, the 2014 novel ‘The Rosie Effect‘ by Graeme Simsion.

So what’s the sequel about?

The Rosie Effect‘ picks up where we left Rosie and Don, now a year into marital bliss, having moved to New York for Rosie’s studies. Having found love and marriage, Don now faces an impending new edition to his family. The story focuses in on Don on his journey towards fatherhood (lovingly referred to as “The Baby Project”) as he tries to come to terms with this massive change to his life in his own unique way.

You can check out an interview with Graeme talking about the about the sequel here:

So how does the sequel fare in it’s representation of autism?

Similar to it’s predecessor, the book continues to deliver in it’s portrayal of autism, focusing in the minutia of the condition through Don’s everyday life in his quirks, routines, mind blindness and blunt manner. Whilst again, Don does not identify as autistic/is not diagnosed as such in the book, there is a heavier, less subtle inference that Don has Asperger’s Syndrome from those around him.

This book is particularly interesting in that it focuses on the impact of married life and impending fatherhood for Don, aspects of life that are often overlooked when talking about autists. Too often in fictional accounts of autism (not to mention the real world) do we focus on the “disability” and not on the person, and so the world rarely sees that adult autists can live “normal” and happy lives.

What I enjoyed most about the book however, was that through the first person narrative, we really got an insight into the workings of Don’s mind, illustrating how often autists intentions are misconstrued, however noble. You get to see his complete thought process, showing us a character who is kind and compassionate, and watch in horror as those around him pick him up completely wrong. This really resonated with me, as like Don, all too often the world misunderstands my way of thinking, oftentimes with disastrous consequences 😞

Fun Fact– I’ve recently discovered that there’s an official Twitter account (see below) for Don tweeting out amusing Don-isms, so if you’ve read the books I’d highly recommend following him! πŸ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings- I highly recommend this book, it’s a great way to pass those second lockdown hours πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Halloween

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

In light of the week that’s in it, I’m going to discuss how Halloween festivities can impact those on the autistic spectrum πŸ™‚

Halloween is designed to be a scary time all around, but if you’re on the spectrum, Halloween can be even more unsettling than you might think. From a sensory perspective, Halloween can be difficult to navigate with the noise from explosive pyrotechnics, the bright lights, open flames, itchy costumes and the unpredictability with potential jump scares and strangers in costume waiting around every corner. On another level, masked faces can also pose a problem given how autists struggle on a normal basis to read social cues and facial expressions.

But just because Halloween can be challenging for an autist, doesn’t mean that it still can’t be fun. Here are some of my top tips for navigating the scary season:

Plan your costume ahead of time– some costumes are made from quite cheap materials which can be quite irritating to an autists sensitive skin, so it’s always best to get your costume ready in advance/get them to wear it round the house to make sure that they will be comfortable in their outfit. Try incorporating specialist interests into the costume as this will help your child feel more at ease as they navigate Halloween festivities. Pro tip– have a backup option with something comfy that you know your child will be happy to wear in case something goes wrong.

Do makeup trial runs– Halloween makeup can be quite irritating and sometimes smelly, so it’s a good idea to do a trial run, particularly if you’re planning anything with liquid latex (you would not believe the smell- I covered half my face in the stuff for a Phantom of the Opera look one year and the smell was so bad it burned my eyes all night!)

Discuss costume options with friends in advance: Children with autism may be scared or may not recognize a friend in makeup/wearing a mask. If they are heading out with a group of friends, have a chat ahead of time so that they will be prepared for the choice of costume and won’t find the change so unsettling.

Get an autism awareness card– for nonverbal autists that are unable to say “Trick or Treat”, you can get some fun Halloween cards that will explain this to show when you knock on a door, which can help make the night a little easier. Check out this this one below for example:

Halloween Autism Awareness Cards - Autism Dog Services

Use sensory aids such as earplugs and sunglasses: These can help to take the edge off the loud noises and bright lights. If you’re feeling self conscious, why not try and incorporate them into your Halloween costume- Halloween is the one night of the year where you can look like an oddball and no one can judge you for it πŸ˜‰

Head out early– if your child is uncomfortable in the dark, or you want to reduce the chances of them getting overwhelmed by the amount of people out and about, take your child out for early Trick or Treating. Alternatively, you could organize some indoor activities or a mini Halloween party with familiar friends to put your child at ease.

Halloween may be scary for an autist, but it doesn’t mean that you still can’t have fun πŸ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a wonderful Halloween! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Ageing

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

As I am approaching a new decade in the coming days (eep!), this week I’d like to explore the topic of autism and ageing.

For the most part when talking or reading about autism, children with autism are the focus, but what happens when the child grows up? Autism is a lifelong condition, it doesn’t just magically go away once you’ve turned 18! Sadly, it is around this time that many services are taken away from autists and we “age out” of the system.

So what happens now? What do we know about ageing and autism?

As autism is still a relatively young diagnosis, there is limited data about about the impact ageing has on an autist. The first autists were diagnosed in the 1940’s, so the long term data is only now starting to emerge. So what does it indicate?

The data so far is a little bit mixed about outcomes for autistic adults. Some studies indicate that autism improves over time, but many of these have focused on outcomes for younger autists, all of whom were diagnosed and received interventions during their developing years.

Other studies indicate that autism in fact get’s worse with age where features such as communication, flexible thinking and social awkwardness become more severe over time. This study however focused purely on adults with autism, most of whom received their diagnoses later in life, so it’s hard to predict if their outcomes would have improved with age had they received support and useful interventions at an earlier age.

These studies also fail to take into the account the outcomes of the “lost generation” of autistic adults in the world, walking through life as I did, knowing something wasn’t quite right about me, but unable to put my finger on it.

Speaking from my own experience of autism over the last 30 years, my outcomes have improved dramatically over time. In particular, things have most improved in the years since receiving my diagnosis, as I now finally understand myself, and have been able to adjust my lifestyle accordingly πŸ™‚

On a slightly more morbid note, recent studies have indicated that autists have a shorter life expectancy than neurotypicals (18 years younger!😱 ), as we are at higher risk for accidents, cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental health issues!

However, the risk may be indirect correlating to our tendency towards maladaptive behaviours and lifestyles, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it if you’re keeping on top of your health and fitness πŸ™‚

Finally, age has also been implicated as a factor in the risk of developing autism. Multiple studies have shown that there is a correlation between parental age and autistic risk i.e the older you are, the greater the risk that your child may be autistic.

I wouldn’t worry too much about this though- we’re not so bad πŸ˜› πŸ™ƒ

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Emergency Services

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Following the recent violent shooting of an unarmed, 13 year old autist by police in America during a meltdown (thankfully he is recovering in hospital), this week I’d like to discuss the importance of adequately educating our emergency services and first responders about autism.

emergency services

In this situation, Linden Cameron’s mother called 911 for assistance as Linden was experiencing a bad meltdown due to separation anxiety, and needed help to de-escalate the situation with the minimal amount of force. Shortly after arrival however, the police shot Linden multiple times instead of using lesser means of force (they claimed that he was armed, but this was not the case).

While the issue of police brutality in the States is an entirely separate debate, this incident really highlights the need to properly educate the emergency services about autistic behaviours.

Autists can’t always regulate their behaviours and emotions, especially when they are in distress. Loud noises and flashing lights from emergency vehicles can further impact this stress from a sensory perspective and make situations worse. Autists are also quite sensitive to touch, and as such, physical interactions could cause an autist to attack a responder.Β 

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Here are some tips to keep in mind when interacting with a distressed autist/suspected autist:

Patience- always be patient when dealing with an autist and give them some space. Try to void making quick movements or loud noises that may distress them further. They may have difficulty communicating with you, so give them plenty of time to process and respond.

Try to use clear, concise language– avoid confusing sentences or turns of phrase that they might interpret literally (e.g it’s raining cats and dogs). They may already be struggling to process their situation, and too many words could be even more overwhelming.

Avoid touching an autist– unless absolutely necessary. Touch sensitivities could escalate the situation and an autist may react violently in defense.

Watch out for potential triggers that may escalate the situation– be conscious of potential sources of distress such as sensory sensitivities which could further agitate an autist.Β 

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Listen- take advice from caregivers (if present) or the autist themselves (as some autists may be able to communicate during a meltdown on some level). They will have a better understanding of their individual needs than you do.Β 

At the end of the day however, there is no substitute for a proper training program for emergency responders/law enforcement. Many autism charities run these programs such as AsIAm here in Ireland.

You can read more advice for the emergency services here:

http://asiam.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/emergency_servicesFinal.pdfΒ 

Hope you found this post helpful dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Language Barriers

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to discuss the joys of navigating language barriers on the spectrum.

Language barriers can be hard enough to deal with at the best of times, but throw in the glorious social awkwardness and mortification that autism brings and you’re in for a real treat!

Over the years, I’ve visited many non-English speaking/non-tourist regions in Europe, and my encounters have been a right barrel of laughs (in hindsight- not so much at the time πŸ˜› ) given that I have only a few remaining French phrases from my schooldays! There really is nothing quite like going to a pharmacist and trying to communicate the massive insect bite on your eye without words! πŸ™ˆ

Granted, Google translate and similar services have made it considerably easier to communicate than it would have been 15 years ago, but even so, things can still get wildly lost in translation. I’ve found ordering food to be somewhat of an ordeal with language barriers (even with translate in hand), a task already made difficult in English by my various food aversions!

I once had an interesting experience in an Italian pizzeria while trying to order a portion of chips (as I don’t eat pizza). I looked up the translation with an accompanying picture, showed it to the server and waited for my food, delighted that I had successfully navigated the transaction without a word of Italian. When my food came out however…it was a pizza…with chips on top!? Talk about a crime against humanity! I tried to communicate that the order was wrong buuut I awkwardly got stuck with the pizza… and with every other restaurant closed for the afternoon, I had no choice but to pick what few chips I could off the top that were not contaminated by the cheese! πŸ˜›

Language barriers are a veritable nightmare- but here are a few tips for navigating this minefield:

Do your research– before heading on a trip, try to plan out the best places to eat, tourist attractions, shops etc. You can see menus ahead of time and translate them (as roaming charges can make the internet less accessible than it may be at home for Google Translate) or find English speaking restaurants to offset any awkward situations. Pro tip– go old school and download and print off maps for key sites/restaurants on your trip. If you find the Google Maps arrow as confusing as I do, this may be prove very useful!

Use Google Translate audio to text translation- this is a useful feature where you speak and the phone translates to the desired language, which can be really helpful when you’re in a flap. If it doesn’t work, you get the added bonus of a great laugh out of it’s misinterpretations! πŸ˜‚

Request menus in your native tongue– a restaurant may not always have one, but there’s no harm in asking, even if you feel awkward doing so. Pro tip– just point at the menu item if you’re unsure of the translation. Don’t make a tit of yourself and risk ordering the wrong thing when you don’t have to πŸ˜‰

Ask for help/don’t go anywhere without your translator– determined to be independent and not burden anyone, my pharmacy experience above would have been much easier if I had asked my translator friend to accompany me! πŸ™ˆ

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Temperature

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

With the summer drawing to a close, this week I’d like to talk about thermosensitivity and autism.

As I’ve discussed on multiple occasions, autists’ are very sensitive to sensory stimuli, so it should come as no surprise that autists have different reactions to temperature versus their neurotypical peers.

temperature

In my experience, I have found that I can be sensitive to higher or lower than average temperatures. I’m a bit like Goldilocks- I don’t like to be too hot, don’t like to be too cold, but I do like a nice moderate temperature (which is why Ireland suits me so well I suppose!πŸ˜‚). If the temperature starts to drift in either direction away from my comfort zone, I tend to get quite irritable and my masking abilities are impacted by the distracting temperature change. I may have gotten some weird looks from some girls a few rows in front of me at a Paramore concert once as my voice started to get higher, shout-y and more strangled from the frustration of sitting beneath a freezing vent while waiting on the band 😬

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I’m also more likely to have a meltdown if other buttons are pushed while dealing with temperature fluctuations, particularly where hotter temperatures are concerned-needless to say, I’m not a fan of sun holidays and dread to think what menopause may bring for me in the future! πŸ˜›

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I’m even quite picky when it comes to the temperature of food, being unable to stomach some foods under certain temperatures. For example, I’m a real carnivore, but if the meat is cold I can’t stomach it; similarly, hot drinks are an uncomfortable sensory experience, so even though I like the taste of hot chocolate, I won’t drink it!
Like me, many autists are quite thermosensitive, and find fluctuations in their surrounding temperature to be an overwhelming experience. On the other hand, several autists have also reported temperature insensitivity or an indifference to thermal stimuli.

temp

So what has the science to say?

The literature is a little contradictory when it comes to thermosensitivity. A 2015 study found that children with autism had a lower perceptual threshold for detection of hot and cold temperatures, indicating decreased temperature sensitivity and perception in certain brain regions. This was thought to be related to cognitive impairments and deficits in attention, so it could be that some autists are more distracted by other stimuli to notice temperature fluctuations. However, a more recent 2019 study found that there appeared to be no differences in temperature perception between autists and neurotypicals, concluding that temperature perception was entirely individual to the autist- which makes a lot of sense given the vastness of the spectrum.

On another scientific note entirely, research suggests that autistic behaviours are positively impacted by elevated body temperature. Multiple studies have noted that when an autist has a fever, many of their negative behaviours (such as irritability, hyperactivity, repetitive behaviours etc.) improve, but return to normal post-recovery. The reason for this remains unclear, however, one such theory cites the impact of temperature on neural circuits where it can either enhance or suppress brain activity in certain regions. This seems quite likely given that autists brains have an excess number of brain connections and increased neurochemical activity compared with neurotypicals, factors which heavily contribute to autistic behaviours. Brain activity might also be impacted by certain chemicals produced by our immune system to fight infection during a fever.

Perhaps it might be worth exploring the severity of autism between autists who live in hotter or colder climates to see if an increase in surrounding temperature could help manage autistic symptoms.

All in all it would seem that temperature response, like autistic traits, is entirely individual to the autist πŸ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in ‘The Rosie Project’

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about a book that was recommended to me by several people around the time of my diagnosis (most notably by my grandmother, the name pressed into my hand on a folded piece of notepaper as if my diagnosis were a state secret!πŸ˜‚)- Graeme Simsion’s ‘The Rosie Project.’

You reading group: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion | Daily ...

The Rosie Project‘ tells the story of Don Tillman, a genetics professor that struggles with social interaction, who creates a questionnaire to determine the suitability of potential female romantic interests (something that he calls ‘The Wife Project’). In the process, he meets Rosie, a completely “unsuitable” candidate with whom he strikes up a friendship, helping her to track down her biological father (“The Father Project”), and falling in love along the way.

Fun fact about the book- a former colleague of the author did in fact create a “Wife Project” questionnaire just like Don (however, as far as he knows this worker was never diagnosed as autistic)!

You can find a trailer of sorts from the author here where he talks about the book and the challenges of translating it for other countries:

 

It’s an endearing, unconventional love story, but how does it’s depiction of autism fare?

Unlike ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time‘, the book was never explicitly linked to autism in the blurbs, however, many agree that Don is on the spectrum. His logical thinking, strict routines, social awkwardness, his intellect (here we go again πŸ™„) and struggles with emotions are highly indicative of Asperger’s syndrome, albeit somewhat stereotyped traits. Moreover, Asperger’s and it’s symptoms are directly discussed by Don multiple times throughout the book, but Don never explicitly reveals whether or not he has been diagnosed with it- a clever move by the author as it infers the diagnosis, without accountability for any potential misrepresentation.

Graeme Simsion completes his mega-selling Rosie trilogy

Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β  Β Author Graeme Simsion in 2019

Nevertheless, the book delivers the highly positive message that autists are not just capable of love, but of also being loved in return- and by neurotypicals no less (shock, horror! πŸ˜› ), and I would highly recommend a read of it πŸ™‚ .

In preparation for this post, I recently discovered that this book is part of a trilogy, so I will definitely be checking these out and will write about them in the near future.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Love on the Spectrum

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to discuss an Australian documentary series that I recently watched on Netflix called ‘Love on the Spectrum‘.

Love On The Spectrum - ABC and SBS - Media Spy

So what’s it about?

As the title suggests, the documentary follows several young adults on the autistic spectrum as they look for love, many venturing into the world of dating for the first time. The show also features some recently engaged autistic couples discussing their experiences of love on the spectrum.

You can see a trailer for the series here:

So what did I think of the series?

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, the path to love isn’t always the easiest for an autist. The search for love can be difficult enough for neurotypicals, but throw in sensory issues, social awkwardness, mind blindness and difficulty reading social cues however, and dating becomes a lot more complicated. The show-creator’s did a great job of accurately conveying these struggles to the public. Too often we’re told “if you made more of an effort”, “if you did this, said that etc.” you would have no problems finding love, but the reality is far more complicated.

It was heartening to see my fellow autists putting themselves out there, taking a chance on finding love when so many deem us “unlovable”. While some autists are content with the single life, the vast majority of us want to find love, so it was great to see this stereotype blasted by the show.

love on the spectrum northern pictures

On the other hand, I did feel a little ill at ease with the documentary at times. Dating can be extremely stressful, and I often felt that the ever present camera crews may have made the experience more difficult than it had to be. I know if it were me, the combination of first date awkwardness and the knowledge that my every move was being recorded (and judged) would have made me very uncomfortable. There was a lot of hovering during the dates, and I felt that producers weren’t as sensitive as they could have been to the needs of their subjects- it just felt like there was a real lack of emotional intelligence on their part (which is ironic given how many neurotypicals have told me I need to work on mine πŸ˜› ).

I also felt it was a little bit odd that the producers only sought to set up the autists with other autists, or with other people who also had some form of intellectual disability. Many autists find love with neurotypicals, so why not feature them in the dating pool? I understand that for many on the spectrum it can be easier to date a fellow autist, especially given that they might better understand you, but for me the documentary just gave off the vibe that autists should only date “their own kind.” Perhaps if future seasons are planned, it would be useful to set up dates with greater neurodiversity, like in the British TV series ‘The Undateables.

All in all however, this quirky series was a delight to watch for the characters alone- it was so nice to just see these autists bouncing around, completely comfortable just being themselves. We could all learn a lot from them πŸ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Face Masks

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from my recent post about autism and COVID-19, I’d like to focus in on the issue of face coverings and autism.

mask

With the debate raging in the media as to the true efficacy of face masks, there has been little discussion as to the impact that face coverings may have for autists. Face masks are not fun for anyone (except for maybe playing dress up), but for autists, they can pose a serious sensory challenge. Overheating, irritating materials against sensitive skin, the uncomfortable sensation of elastic bearing down on your ears, and last but not least, the feeling of suffocation from the mask pressing against your nose and mouth.

Thankfully in many countries such as Ireland, guidelines have been issued for people with sensory needs that do not require them to wear a face mask if they are unable to do so, however, if you can, it is recommended that you should. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen viral videos of anxious people berating those who do not wear face coverings, which can further compound anxieties for autists should they be targeted.Β  In these difficult times, whilst I know it can be hard not to judge people when they don’t wear a face mask in public spaces, try to spare a thought for autists. Autism is an invisible disability after all; when you don’t see a mask, consider what else you may not be seeing.

no mask

It is also worth noting that face masks can create further issues for autists as they act as a communication barrier. As autists struggle to read nonverbal cues and facial expressions, wearing a face mask can make communicating all the more difficult- especially given struggles with eye contact. So don’t judge us too harshly if we completely misread social situations with greater frequency than normal πŸ˜‰

Interestingly, in my own experience, I have discovered that face masks have an unexpected advantage in that they have actually helped to suppress meltdowns and have kept me from getting overwhelmed! When you hyperventilate (as I often do during a meltdown), the carbon dioxide levels in your blood drop as you are over-breathing. This can also cause your oxygen levels to drop. The restrictive nature of the mask creates a seal around the face causing you to inhale more carbon dioxide when you hyperventilate which will help to re-balance your blood gas levels and calm you down- just like breathing into a paper bag.

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So ironically whilst the face mask may trigger a meltdown, it can equally help to offset one! πŸ˜‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a nice weekend!

Aoife

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