Autism in the Eurovision Song Contest

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to talk to you about one of my specialist interests- the Eurovision Song Contest, as this year one of the entrants is on the autistic spectrum! ๐Ÿ˜€

So, first things first, what exactly is the Eurovision Song Contest?

The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) is an annual international songwriting contest organized by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) that was first established in 1956 as a means of bringing divided European nations together through music in the wake of World War II. Originally, only 7 countries participated, but over the years musicians representing 52 countries have competed across Europe, Israel and Australia (don’t get me started on the logic for that one…)

Each participating country submits one original song under 3 minutes in length, and performs the song live on stage to the world, competing to win a trophy and the chance for their nation to host the contest the following year. There are two semi finals and one grand final, all held over one week, usually in May. The voting is a 50/50 split from audience televotes and panels of industry experts from each participating country.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Eurovision is very popular in Europe with an average annual audience of just under 200 million viewers. Over the years it has grown from a simple song contest to a huge spectacle with elaborate staging and often crazy performances from bread baking Russian grannies, to metal monsters, dancing drag queens, to flapping puppets (sorry again for that one Europe!), to powerful songs that unite us and capture the hearts of an entire continent.

Eurovision has also brought many acts to worldwide fame such as ABBA (Sweden 1974), Daรฐi Freyr (Iceland 2020/2021), Riverdance (Eurovision 1994’s interval act), Cรฉline Dion (Switzerland 1988) and most recently Mรฅneskin representing Italy in 2021. A host of other established acts have represented their countries (or failed to do so) over the years, including Cliff Richard (UK 1968/1973), Julio Iglesias (Spain 1970), Enya (Irish song selection 1973), Olivia Newton John (UK 1974), Katrina & the Waves (UK 1997), Bonnie Tyler (UK 2013), Cascada (Germany 2013), Darude (Finland 2019), The Rasmus (Finland 2022) and even Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote a failed song for Lulu in 1969 (who won with a different song that year) for the UK national selection! My native Ireland retains the title of most all time Eurovision wins (7 in total, including 3 years undefeated between 1991-1994), so naturally Eurovision was a big deal when I was growing up ๐Ÿ™‚

We get it, you love Eurovision Aoife, so where’s the autism link?

This year, the Australian delegation (we’ll let the geographical issues slide for a few paragraphs) are sending autistic singer Sheldon Riley to the contest in Turin, Italy with his song ‘Not The Same‘ where he talks about his struggles in life, and particularly his struggles growing up with Asperger’s Syndrome. You can check out the song here:

Diagnosed at 6 years old, Sheldon was told that he would never be “normal”, that he would never achieve his dreams, never have a job, friends or a romantic partner. Instead, he has defied the odds and went on to compete in several song competitions in Australia in addition to America’s Got Talent. As part of his stage persona, Sheldon incorporates elaborate crystal masks into his performances to hide his face to allow him to focus on his singing as he often feels judged for his appearance, a shield to allow him to perform, taking autistic masking to a new level. With his participation in Eurovision however, Sheldon finally feels confident to start ditching his mask to embrace who he really is. You can also hear Sheldon talking about his experiences of autism to BBC in the video below:

Sheldon isn’t however the first autist to take to the Eurovision stage. In 2015, Finland sent the rock band Pertti Kurikan Nimipรคivรคt comprised of disabled musicians with Down Syndrome and Autism. To this day it holds the record for the shortest ever song performed at Eurovision:

On another level, Greta Thunberg’s mother, Malena Ernman, who is an outspoken advocate for autism awareness, represented her native Sweden in the Eurovision in 2009!

Whilst these are the only confirmed examples of autists competing in the Eurovision, it’s quite possible that other past artists may also have been on the spectrum (knowingly or otherwise) but they have not revealed their diagnosis.

Fun Fact– yours truly contributed to last years 4th place Icelandic entry as part of an online virtual choir of 1000 fans, so you could say that one other autist has appeared on the Eurovision stage (in a roundabout way ๐Ÿ˜› )

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a lovely weekend and enjoy the competition tomorrow night if you’re watching!

Aoife

Autism in Harry Potter?

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

After recently seeing the new Fantastic Beasts film in the cinema, it’s got me thinking about whether or not some of my favourite characters in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are on the autistic spectrum.

As I stared up at the big screen at Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander, I was really struck by how many autistic traits that his character possessed. Newt is quirky and socially awkward, he rarely makes eye contact, he has an unusual gait and is obsessed to distraction with magical creatures, often mimicking their behaviours to communicate with them. Perhaps most telling of all in the latest film, Dumbledore tells him that his honesty is one of his greatest attributes. Eddie Redmayne himself has said in interviews that he feels that Newt probably has Asperger’s syndrome based on how JK Rowling described Newt’s mannerisms to him, but would have unlikely been diagnosed as the films take place in the 1920’s long before Kanner and Asperger first published their work on autism.

Here’s a video that someone spliced together showing Newt and some of his autistic moments in the films:

Driving home after the film, I started thinking back over the books and wondering how I had never wondered if some of the characters were autistic.

Perhaps the most obvious potential autist would be Luna “Looney” Lovegood- a quirky and eccentric girl who is often shunned by her peers for being different (famed in particular for her radish earrings). She floats around the castle a social outcast, her mind often miles away in a dreamland. Highly intelligent, fiercely loyal and brutally honest, Luna is quite gullible and often the victim of bullying, as many of us on the spectrum often are. Irish actress Evanna Lynch who played Luna in the films has said in interviews that she regularly receives letters from autistic fans about Luna and how they connect with her. I didn’t quite connect with Luna in the same way that I identified with Hermione Granger (as I’ve mentioned previously), but she was the one character I would have loved to have played in the films.

Many have also questioned whether Hermione Granger is on the spectrum due to her obsession with good grades and initial struggles to make friends after arriving at Hogwarts. While I certainly connected very strongly with Hermione, I doubt that she is on the spectrum- her emotional intelligence and understanding of people wouldn’t generally be expected of an aspie. She spent many nights by the common room fire schooling Harry and Ron on how to understand women and their emotions, something that very few on the spectrum would feel knowledgeable enough to comment on.

In addition, there are those who also feel that Snape and Voldemort could have been on the spectrum. I can see how Snape, like Hermione, could in passing seem autistic as he has displays some traits through his anti-social behaviours, obsession with potions and tendency towards eloquent language use, but again feel that this is unlikely. Let’s face it- most of us have no filter, we’d have never successfully hidden that we were working as a double agent from Voldemort!

As for Voldemort himself being an autist…I think that’s really reaching. Most people possess some level of autistic traits, and I think it’s a little insulting to liken one of the most evil literary villains of modern times to autists, and in fact quite damaging to compare his sociopathic lack of empathy to our struggles with this emotion. To attempt to humanize him by linking autism to his origin story really doesn’t do the autistic community a service.

While none of these character’s were ever explicitly written with autism in mind, it’s wonderful to hear that many autists feel they can connect with these character’s and feel seen ๐Ÿ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Happy Easter! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Autism in Holby City

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about an autistic character in the British medical TV drama ‘Holby City‘ that I have been following for a few years now- Jason Haynes.

Jules Robertson - IMDb

One of the really special things about this character is that Jason is portrayed by actor Jules Robertson who has Asperger’s syndrome – the first autistic actor to have a recurring acting role in a BBC TV show! Jules has been playing Jason on and off again since 2015 and has proven very popular with both his co-stars and the audience. His portrayal has been praised by several autism charities in the UK and Jules has even been nominated for a BAFTA for his acting work.

You can see Jules in action as Jason in this behind the scenes video:

Over the years the writers have really developed Jason’s character to highlight how much can be achieved when autists are properly supported. When he first appeared in the show, Jason was very literal, and needed full time care. Over time, he get’s a job as a hospital porter, get’s a girlfriend (who also has Asperger’s) and they have a baby and get married living completely independent lives, really challenging the stigma surrounding what autists can and can’t do.

I always get great enjoyment out of any episode that Jason appears in (he get’s some great one liners!). It’s a pleasure to see such a truthful portrayal of autism. Whilst Jules may not have some of the same issues in real life as Jason does, nevertheless he lights up the screen, fully able to be his true autistic self.

Jules Robertson in Holby City

None of this would have happened were it not for producer Simon Harper who fought hard to have an autistic actor play Jason to avoid another cliched Rainman-esque portrayal of an autist. Minor accommodations are made when Jules is filming such as encouraging a calm set and preparing the scripts further in advance than would be the norm for him, enabling Jules to work and inspire the next generation of autists to realize their dreams.

You can read an interview where Jules talks about life with autism here:

https://disabilityhorizons.com/2019/05/actor-jules-robertson-on-living-with-aspergers-and-rising-to-fame-in-holby-city/

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in Derry Girls

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about one of the main character’s in the acclaimed comedy show ‘Derry Girls‘ whom many consider to be autistic- Orla McCool.

So what’s ‘Derry Girls’ about?

Set during the Northern Ireland Troubles in the early 1990’s, ‘Derry Girls’ follows the lives of four teenage girls, and the honorary Derry “Girl” James, growing up in Derry in the years preceding the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Despite the sectarian clashes of The Troubles around them, the gang navigate life with good humour, getting themselves into all sorts of wacky and hilarious situations- just like any other “normal” teenagers.

If you’ve never seen Derry Girls you can check out a trailer for the show here:

Among the fab five is Orla (played by Dubliner Louisa Harland), a quirky, somewhat innocent girl who lives in a complete world of her own and is one of the show’s biggest sources of comic relief. She has really niche interests (she’s obsessed with sweets, step aerobics and Renault Clios), is very literal and truthful, is sensitive to loud noises and is often completely oblivious to social norms, cues and potential dangers. For example, Orla once expressed interest in joining the Orange Order for their drumming skills despite being a Catholic… She also appears to be sensitive to textures as can be seen in the picture above where she is rubbing her face with a sponge.

Here are some of Orla’s best moments from the show (Fun fact- her clips are the most viewed of all the gang on YouTube):

Now one of the most interesting things about Orla is that it appears she was not originally intended to be portrayed as an autist, just a complete individual. Back in the 1990’s in Ireland, ASD’s were relatively unheard of (hence why yours truly flew under the radar for 24 years), so Orla is simply just seen as an odd girl. In a recent interview, Louisa Harland revealed that she has had an overwhelmingly positive response from the autistic community with many female autists writing letters to her to say how much they loved her portrayal of Orla and how they finally felt like they were being represented. Louisa took this info forward into season 2 to really add more depth to Orla ๐Ÿ™‚

Regardless of whether Orla is autistic or not, ‘Derry Girls’ is a very enjoyable show and worth adding to your watch list ๐Ÿ™‚

Derry Girls - Rip Poster | All posters in one place | 3+1 FREE

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a lovely weekend! ๐Ÿ˜€

Aoife

Autism in ‘The Night Clerk’

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to take a look at the portrayal of autism in the 2020 crime-drama film ‘The Night Clerk‘ starring Tye Sheridan, Helen Hunt and Ana de Aramas.

Watch The Night Clerk | Prime Video

So what’s the movie about?

The Night Clerk tells the story of Bart, a 23 year old with Asperger’s Syndrome who works as a night clerk in a local hotel. Bart secretly films the guests in the hotel through a number of hidden cameras he has installed in order to observe people and learn social cues to help him navigate the world, becoming embroiled in a murder investigation as a result.

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

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

The film generally get’s a lot of the classic traits right such as struggles with eye contact, colour sensitivity, lack of filter, social awkwardness, stimming, coordination issues (in particular Bart runs awkwardly with his hands flapping at his sides) and echolalia. I particularly enjoyed Bart’s response when people asked him “How are you?” and he replied with “That’s a very complicated question!” As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I have often found in the past that this is one of the worst questions to be asked and it’s great to see that portrayed on screen.

Bart’s voyeurism on the other hand, while well intentioned, does portray the community somewhat negatively and further adds to the wealth of negative portrayals of autism. Interestingly though, it does sort of in a weird way shake things up a bit- yes it’s not the best look for autist’s, but it does highlight that just because you’re on the spectrum, doesn’t mean you can’t also be a bit of a creep ๐Ÿ˜›

Overall however, the depiction falls into the stereotypical pit showing us a lot of the same tired autistic tropes like Bart’s primarily monotonous tone of voice. Just once I’d like to see an autist show a little bit of varied inflection on screen- every single autist I know uses a variety of tones when speaking; monotonal speech is clearly not as common as film makers would have us believe.

The Night Clerk Review: Tye Sheridan's Thriller Is a Dud | Observer

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in ‘The Imitation Game’

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to have a look at the depiction of autism in the 2014 historical drama ‘The Imitation Game‘ starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.

The Imitation Game (2014).png

So what’s the film about?

Based on a true story, ‘The Imitation Game‘ follows computer scientist and mathematician Alan Turing during World War II as he works together with a group of code breakers to decrypt the German cipher machine Enigma, successfully intercepting key messages for British Intelligence. In designing his own computer (the Turing Machine) to decrypt the messages, Turing’s efforts allowed the allies to win a number of key battles in the war, with experts estimating that the war was shortened by as many as 2 years saving 14 million lives.

A trailer for the film can be found here:

Now this film isn’t strictly about autism, but as Alan Turing is widely believed by scholars to have had Asperger’s syndrome, it’s worth looking into the portrayal of Turing on the big screen.

So how did ‘The Imitation Game‘ fare?

In my opinion, I found Cumberbatch’s characterization of Turing to be very convincing of a man with Asperger’s syndrome- a blunt, literal, socially awkward character, with poor eye contact and a tendency towards unusual verbose language (although I will admit that these are once again, highly stereotyped autistic traits). It helps that Benedict Cumberbatch is no stranger to autism- for his turn in Danny Boyle’s Frankentein, Cumberbatch did a lot of research about autism and met with many individuals on the spectrum, his experiences of which would likely have influenced his portrayal of Alan Turing.

The True Story of The Imitation Game | Time

On the other hand, Turing’s intellect does further perpetuate the stereotype of the autistic genius, however, as in the case of ‘Mozart and the Whale‘ (also based on a true story), it’s hard to downplay a historical figure that is in fact a genuine genius ๐Ÿ˜› We just need to get Hollywood on board with showing us a more diverse range of autistic characters in fiction films ๐Ÿ˜‰

Interestingly, historians have criticized the film’s depiction of Turing as the autistic traits depicted do not align with Turing’s adult personality. Turing has been described as quite sociable and friendly with a good sense of humour, a man who did not have issues working with others- so it would appear that the filmmakers took some liberty with the facts in an attempt to convey that Turing was likely on the spectrum. Perhaps a more subtle portrayal of Turing’s autistic traits would have led to a more accurate portrayal of an alleged real life autist.

All in all, it’s a really interesting biopic and worth a watch to while away the lock-down blues ๐Ÿ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Backstreet Dreams

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

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! ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Love on the Spectrum

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ˜› ).

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- The Accountant

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

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 withย Batman vs Supermanย so maybe he was channeling Chris instead of Batman ๐Ÿ˜› Acting aside, this lack of emotion annoyed me. Yes, some autists struggle to express theirย emotions, but that does not mean that we are all emotionless robots or supercharged killing machines.

The Accountant review โ€“ 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 ๐Ÿ˜›

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜€

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Scrubs

Greetings from lock-down dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

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.

unnamed

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑