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.

BackstreetDreams1990.png

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 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 on Screen- The Accountant

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to take a look at a film I’ve been meaning to write about for a while, the 2016 action thriller ‘The Accountant‘ starring Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick.

The Accountant [DVD]

So what’s the film about?

As the name suggests, the film follows an accountant named Chris (Affleck) with high functioning autism and genius level maths skills (yawn! Can we get a new angle please Hollywood?). By day, Chris is a talented forensic accountant and expert cooker of books, but by night, he exacts violent revenge on the criminals he encounters through his work for breaking his moral code (his father put him through grueling military and martial arts training as a sort of coping mechanism/management strategy).

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

 

So what did I make of the depiction of autism?

It was hard to focus on the film at times as the acting was not great- Ben Affleck was basically expressionless throughout the entire film. Not sure why I’m surprised after Affleck’s pitiful take on Batman! The filming schedule for this would have coincided withΒ Batman vs SupermanΒ so maybe he was channeling Chris instead of Batman πŸ˜› Acting aside, this lack of emotion annoyed me. Yes, some autists struggle to express theirΒ emotions, but that does not mean that we are all emotionless robots or supercharged killing machines.

The Accountant review – Ben Affleck autism thriller doesn't add up ...

In terms of scientific accuracy, the film is a fairly bland affair. It get’s the basics relatively right with little things like separating foods, routines, stimming behaviours, social awkwardness and lack of eye contact, buuttt as with many other films, it hinges on stereotypes of savantism and mathematical genius. I did however appreciate the angle of Chris’s vigilante retribution for those that violated his moral code- a refreshing take on an autists propensity for rules/black and white thinking (albeit his response to the rule breaking was not the best…). In addition, I did find the military style induction of sensory overload through loud music, flashing lights and self injury to be an interesting new take on stimming and autism management, although a wildly extreme one!

The film however was not well received by the autistic community. The American Journal of Psychiatry for instance criticized it for not balancing clinical reality with the films action and entertainment value. Moreover, many have criticized the film for it’s links between autism and violence. Indeed, some autists can have violent outbursts during meltdowns, however, it’s the cool, calculated intent that is particularly unsettling in this inference.

All in all, The Accountant is a fairly run of the mill action movie that doesn’t deliver a significant portrayal of the autistic experience- if you really want to see Ben Affleck run around as a brooding, emotionless vigilante, you’d be better off watching Batman Vs Superman πŸ˜›

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Scrubs

Greetings from lock-down dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

As I try to fill my hours in these dark days, like many people, I’ve been spending more time working my way through my TV/film backlog. In the midst of this, I’ve come across an old episode of the acclaimed medical comedy Scrubs (Season 4 Episode 18) which featured an autistic child.

Binge Watchin' TV Review: Scrubs

In this episode, Dr. Cox’s highly competitive childhood friend Ron comes to town with his son and arranges a play date. During the course of this play date, Dr Cox is dismayed to find that Ron’s son Nathan is far superior in his block building skills to his son Jack. Taking this, Nathan’s lack of eye contact and avoidance of touch/hugs into account, Dr. Cox realizes that Nathan is likely autistic.

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While this episode is not the most accurate portrayal of autism with such stereotyped traits (the character’s on screen appearance is only fleeting so it would have been difficult to show a true representation), I wanted to talk about the episode nonetheless for the way that Dr. Cox handled the situation.

The episode did not focus in on the medical drama or exaggerated autistic traits, but kept it simple yet effective in the sensitive delivery of the suspected diagnosis from one friend to another. There was also a greater focus on the fact that early diagnosis is a good thing to give autists the best chance to thrive- a refreshing change as so often media portrayals stick with the negatives.

Here’s a clip from this poignant scene:

 

In reality, John C. McGinley (who plays Dr. Cox) is father to a child with Down Syndrome and is an active ambassador for this cause, playing an integral part in the Special Olympics “R-word: Spread The Word, To End The Word” campaign in recent years. As such, it appears that he drew from his own experiences of special needs in his delivery here which really added to the authenticity and tenderness of this moment of true friendship.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Stay safe!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- X+Y

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

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 ofΒ  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!

Image result for daniel lightwing"

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.

 

Image result for x+y"

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! πŸ˜€

Have a good weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- I Am Sam

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

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.

Image result for i am sam"

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 πŸ™‚

Image result for i am sam"

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Enjoy the weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Glee

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about autism in the popular multi-award winning, musical comedy-drama show ‘Glee‘.

Image result for glee

In case you’ve been living under a rock or have forgotten all about ‘Glee‘, ‘Glee‘ focused on a high schoolΒ show-choirΒ comprised of a group of misfits as they strive for fame and acceptance.

As I’ve been binge watching it on Netflix in recent weeks, I’ve discovered something that I missed when I initially watched the show, there was a character with Asperger’s syndrome in the choir room all along- Sugar Motta.

Image result for sugar motta

Sugar Motta was introduced during the third series of the show as a girl with “self-diagnosed Asperger’s syndrome” which she claimed entitled her to say whatever she wanted and gave her carte blanche to be brutally honest with everyone.

Here’s a quick video with some of her moments from the show’s run:

So how does the character’s portrayal of Asperger’s fare?

Looking through the archives, the show received a great deal of backlash at the time for their use of Asperger’s as a punch line. Most people have argued that Sugar is not on the spectrum and is just a spoiled brat who uses Asperger’s as a means to get her own way, but in terms of traits the show wasn’t that far off the mark for a girl on the spectrum, albeit a brief glimpse. The brutal honesty, the inability to accept that she cannot sing (so much so that her rich father set up a rival glee club where she could be the star) or any criticism for that matter, and her high level of social functioning can be true for some female autists.

After a couple of episodes the character’s diagnosis is no longer mentioned, nor are her traits showcased. It’s no wonder really that I never spotted her Asperger’s when I watched the show originally as the character was relegated to the background of the show by the time I received my diagnosis in 2014.

All in all, I’d have to agree with the critics that the character doesn’t really have Asperger’s, or at the very least is a pretty poor depiction of the autistic experience.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Until next time!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to discuss the portrayal of autism in the 1993 comedy-drama film ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape‘ starring Johnny Depp, a young Leonardo Dicaprio and Juliette Lewis (who ironically portrayed an autistic character in ‘The Other Sister‘ a few years later).

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The story follows Gilbert Grape (Depp) a young man living in a rural town in Iowa as he takes care of his obese mother and autistic brother Arnie (Dicaprio). The film explores Gilbert’s life and struggles to take care of his family whilst trying to forge a life of his own.

If you haven’t seen this classic, here’s the trailer:

So how does the film fare in it’s depiction of autism?

Autism is not explicitly mentioned as such in this film, but most experts agree that Arnie’s traits align with those of autism. His repetitive movements, echolalia, self injurious behaviours, use of atypical speech, preference for routine, his childlike nature, mind-blindness and lack of danger perception (he has a fondness for climbing the town water tower) all indicate that Arnie is on the spectrum. This is also one of the few films where the autist is not portrayed as a savant so that’s a refreshing change!

Leonardo Dicaprio’s acting is, as always, sublime- he even received his first ever Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Arnie in this role. In particular I felt that the depiction of meltdowns was quite good, however, the most striking aspect of the film, as in Atypical, was how it highlights the struggles that the wider family often experiences with autism, particularly where siblings are concerned. Gilbert loves Arnie dearly, but taking care of him and his entire family takes it’s toll.

The film also takes a more lighthearted approach at times to Arnie’s eccentricities. Arnie’s lack of filter delivers some of the more humorous moments in the film, which like Atypical, allows us to see the funnier side of autism- yes autism can be challenging, but it’s not all doom and gloom.

All in all ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape‘ gives a fairly decent representation of autism, but either way- the film is worth a watch just for Leonardo Dicaprio’s performance. This film really was a sign of things to come for him! πŸ™‚

Image result for what's eating gilbert grape

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Pablo

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today I’m going to take a look at the latest live-action/animation sensation, the acclaimed children’s TV show ‘Pablo‘.

Pablo is a five-year-old boy on the autistic spectrum in a new TV show (BBC/PA)

So what’s so special about it?

Co-produced by RTΓ‰jr and CBeebies in Ireland and the UK, ‘Pablo‘ is a unique kids TV show about a 5 and a 1/2 year old boy with autism who with the help of some magic crayons, creates an elaborate world of animals to help him to cope with and make sense of the world around him.

Here’s a quick video about the show:

The really cool thing about ‘Pablo‘ is that the stories are based on the real life experiences of several people on the spectrum, and not only that, but all of the characters in the show themselves have autism! πŸ˜€

52 10-minute episodes have been created thus far, and several countries have expressed interest in broadcasting the show. Even Netflix wants to broadcast it!

So what’s the show like?

Granted I’ve only caught a few episodes of the show, but I found it to be an excellent and lighthearted show that both educates and entertains.

One of the things I really liked is that the show highlights the diverse nature of spectrum traits by personifying them as animal characters in Pablo’s imagination. Each character possesses different autistic traits as narrated in the catchy theme tune:

I really liked how in one particular episode the writer took literal thinking and turned it into something fun. Pablo spilled a bag of crisps which his mother said “went everywhere.” Following this, Pablo embarks on an adventure to locate the crisps in such far reaching places as the moon and at the bottom of the ocean! A new and inventive way to spin autism! πŸ™‚

All in all this is an excellent show for the youth of today which should help to educate the next generation and make them more accepting of autism πŸ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a great weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Keep the Change

 

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

As it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, this week I decided to check out the 2017 indie film ‘Keep the Change‘ a quirky rom-com about 2 autists who meet at a support group and fall in love.

Image result for keep the change

David is an aspiring film maker that has been required by court order to attend a support group (after an inappropriate joke get’s him into a spot of bother) wherein he meets the bubbly Sara, an enthusiastic singer with perfect pitch. After a rocky start, the two fall in love, their differences and families push them apart but ultimately they get back together again.

Nothing particularly original there, it’s a similar premise to ‘Mozart and the Whale‘, however, the unique thing about this film is that the principal cast are all on the spectrum in real life! 😲

I know!

What’s more, the story is based on Brandon Polansky’s (the actor that plays David) first serious relationship in real life, which sadly ended before filming.

You can check out a trailer for the film here:

This film actually originated as a 15 minute short film in 2013 which you can see in it’s entirety below:

So what did I make of the film?

Well, for the first time I won’t be complaining about the lack of accuracy in the portrayal of life with autism as the actors themselves are living the experience every day! Similarly, there are no savant stereotypes portrayed, just regular people navigating life on the spectrum. It’s refreshing to see a film keeping it real and true to the autistic experience (although that being said, some of the romantic interactions seemed to me to be more exaggerated and cringe worthy than I’d imagine the true story was!).

However, as authentic and well researched as this film is, I personally found the film a little bit lackluster for my tastes. Moreover, I would have loved to see more diversity in the support group as we saw in the most recent series of ‘Atypical‘. We didn’t get much of a look a the different personality types, interests and traits of the supporting characters, so they all sorted of blended into one “happy-clappy” entity.

As I’ve said before, it would be great to see more diversity in the portrayal of higher functioning autists. Yes, a lot of the characters we see on screen are high functioning, but these characters are still quite dependent on their families and each other to navigate the world. It would be nice one day to see the ‘lost generation’ of autists on screen- those of us who travel through life undiagnosed, undetected and struggling in silence.

Image result for keep the change

All in all, if you’ve an interest in films about autism, this one’s a must add to your list πŸ™‚

Have a good weekend everyone! πŸ˜€

Aoife

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