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.

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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 πŸ™‚

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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‘.

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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.

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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™‚

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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.

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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.

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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

Autism on Screen- Atypical (Season 2)

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Following on from last years discussion of the Netflix smash ‘Atypical‘, I wanted to see how the second season fared in it’s portrayal of autism πŸ™‚

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In case you need a reminder, ‘Atypical‘ focuses on autistic teenager Sam as he navigates his senior year of high school. The show also focuses on Sam’s wider family and friends so that we are not given a mere one dimensional look at the reality of living with autism.

Picking up where the last season left off, ‘Atypical‘ follows Sam through the latter half of his senior year in high school, charting his girl trouble, struggles with change, and his fears and ambitions for life after school. The season in particular focuses a great deal on the difficulties Sam experiences with change as he comes to terms with the consequences of his mother’s affair, needing to find a new therapist, his sisters transfer to a private school along with an assortment of other changes associated with the end of his school days.

You can check out the trailer for season 2 here:

Just like last season, I highly enjoyed this refreshing and endearingly comedic portrayal of autism. The acting was again excellent and I believe that the show gave a well rounded view of the autistic experience.

What I liked in particular about this season was Sam’s support group. In order to prepare himself for “the abyss” or his future after graduation, Sam joins a group for high-school seniors with ASD’s. The good thing about this group meant that it allowed for other autistic characters and their traits to shine through in the series.

In addition to this, many of these group members were themselves on the spectrum (as the first series was criticized for not making greater use of spectrum actors) which meant that we actually saw a realistic portrayal of several spectrum characters! πŸ˜€ This was great for showcasing autistic women, especially as one of the characters was shown to have “super empathy” after stealing Sam’s art portfolio to keep him from going to college as he was afraid of becoming a starving artist! πŸ˜‚ Additionally the struggles to regulate tone were also evident in this group- a common trait with limited awareness.

Furthermore the season highlighted a growing area of importance- first responder autism training. Sam get’s overwhelmed when he attempts to sleep over at his friend Zahid’s house and leaves for home in his PJs. He is subsequently arrested for his odd behaviour in his attempts to “stim” and calm down, even after Zahid tells the officer that he is autistic. Here in Ireland, autism charity AsIAm are particularly dedicated to offering training to a number of services in the public sector for encounters such as this one:

https://asiam.ie/our-work/asiam-public-sector-training/

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However, there was one major issue in this season, which we Irish found highly irksome- the mispronunciation (or absolute butchering) of Kilkea, Athy, Co. Kildare (https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/banter/trending/irish-netflix-viewers-bemused-by-atypical-characters-pronunciation-of-kildare-athy-and-kilkea-37308271.html). This town was pronounced as kill-kay-ah, ath-ee, county kill-daahr. For the record- it’s pronounced kill-key, a-thigh, county kill-dare (literally no reason to mispronounce the last one! πŸ˜› ).

I didn’t even realize where they were talking about until they said Ireland at the end! Perhaps the scriptwriters would do well to double check their place names in future πŸ˜›

All in all I highly enjoyed the sophomore season of ‘Atypical‘ and would highly recommend this quirky comedy for a weekend binge watch πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism on Screen-Little Man Tate

Greetings Earthlings πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to focus in on the 1991 film Little Man Tate and it’s depiction of Asperger’s Syndrome.

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Directed by and starring Jodie Foster, Little Man Tate tells the story of Fred, a young genius (sigh) with Asperger’s syndrome and his relationship with his loving mother Dede. Fred struggles to relate to his peers due to his high intellect in school whilst his mother wonders why he can’t just be a “normal, happy little kid”. Life begins to change for the better for Fred however when his intellect is discovered by a child psychologist who wants to enroll Fred in a school for gifted children.

You can check out the trailer for the film below:

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

Aside from the obvious genius/savant conundrum (I’m sick of giving out about it’s over-portrayal in film at this stage! πŸ˜› ), the Asperger’s traits portrayed here were highly stereotypical in my opinion. Granted, the film never explicitly mentions autism, however many experts consider the character as having Asperger’s.

The film is very dated in it’s portrayal, however, this would have been one of the earlier film portrayals of autism when knowledge was limited in contrast to newer more accurate representations such as in Mozart and the Whale,Β My Name is Khan and most recently in the Netflix orignal TV series Atypical.

However I have to give props to casting-Β  Adam Hann-Byrd could easily pass for Jodie Foster’s real son in looks and accent!Β πŸ˜‚

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In addition to this, Foster’s character has to be commended for her determination to make Fred’s life as “normal” as possible, despite him being delightfully unique (as I always say normal is overrated!). Far too often autism is used as an excuse these days which will ultimately impede autists from reaching their true potential.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Sheldon Cooper- A Case Study

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

So today I’d like to take a quick look at one of the most famous TV characters in recent years- ‘The Big Bang Theory’s‘ Sheldon Cooper.

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Strictly speaking, the show’s creators have said that Sheldon is not specifically autistic (and have been frequently criticized for stereotyping autistic behaviour), however, the evidence is overwhelming that he is a cornucopia of autistic traits. In fact, having seen every episode (and many episodes dozens of times thanks to the constant replays on E4!), I believe that he has demonstrated practically every single common autistic trait, and also many rarer traits which the average viewer may miss.

In case you haven’t seen him in action, here’s a video of some of his best “sheldonisms:”

So let’s take a closer look at who exactly is Dr. Sheldon Cooper?

Sheldon is a socially awkward, routine obsessed, theoretical particle physicist of genius intellect (*cough stereotype*!) who’s array of outrageous quirks have been the cornerstone of ‘The Big Bang Theory’s‘ enduring success. Much of the show’s humour hinges on Sheldon’s OCD, specialist interests (such as trains, physics, comic books and sci-fi), mind blindness and bluntness, with particular attention to his struggles to perceive sarcasm. Sheldon constantly has to be coached on appropriate social behaviour, including one particularly memorable episode where he had to practice smiling to feign support when his friend Raj was being obscenely obnoxious.

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It may surprise you to hear that many autists have struggles with smiling, particularly in forced situations such as in front of the camera (or in Sheldon’s case in an attempt to endear himself). I certainly went through a phase of not knowing what to do with my face in pictures as a child- there’s some pretty awful photos of me from one particular holiday until I copped how creepy it looked 😬!

Sheldon has also shown signs of synaesthesia (a phenomenon where one sense is perceived in terms of another i.e. hearing colours, smelling sounds etc- which I will talk about in a later post), a common, but not widely known autistic trait in the following scene:

Immortalized by the line “I’m not crazy; my mother had me tested!” (a line which I have jovially used since my own diagnosis πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰ ), Sheldon can be a lot to handle. His narcissism, OCD, TMI and childish tendencies whilst comedic, often alienate him from friends, family and the world in general.

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As annoying as Sheldon can be however, we have seen huge improvement in his character over the course of the last 11 seasons- he has become more socially aware of others, more in sync with the ins and outs of humour, more comfortable with touch and has even bagged himself a girlfriend who will soon become his wife in the current season finale πŸ™‚ This character development is particularly poignant as it shows how in spite of the difficulties associated with autism, with time, effort and a LOT of patience, autists can overcome so much! πŸ˜€

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All in all whilst Sheldon’s character is highly exaggerated with many stereotypical autistic behaviours, I think it’s really important that a character like Sheldon features so prominently in a prime time TV show to help normalize the autistic experience, and more importantly to see the lighter side of things. So often we fail to see the funny side of autism- what can you do but laugh when Disney films trigger a happiness meltdown (wouldn’t know anything about that happening…πŸ˜¬πŸ˜‚)?!

Enjoy the weekend Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Please Stand By

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

In this weeks edition of ‘autism on screen’, we’re going to take a look at a brand new film about autism- the 2018 film ‘Please Stand By.

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What’s that I see in the poster? A young woman with autism?! 😲

FINALLY!

Nice to see Hollywood change things up a bit!

So what’s the story about?

Starring Dakota Fanning (was wondering what she was up to these days after Twlight!), ‘Please Stand By‘ tells the story of Wendy, a girl with Asperger’s syndrome living in a home for people with disabilities. When the opportunity arises to enter a screenwriting contest for ‘Star Trek‘ fan-fiction, Wendy must step outside her comfort zone and boldly cross the country alone (she ran away- a common trait in autistic women) in order to get her script to the studio on time.

You can check out the trailer for the film here:

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

Well…as excited as I was to see this film…the reality did not live up to my expectations.

Indeed, Wendy showed the classic signs of autism- meltdowns, lack of eye contact, preference for routine, social awkwardness, literal thinking etc., but she did not stand out as a unique character. She was quirky, but there was nothing unique about her quirks, unlike Sigourney Weaver and her fondness for snow in ‘Snow Cake.

Surprisingly, Wendy didn’t appear to be a savant as in other films, however, she did have superb recall of the minutia of her specialist interestStar Trek‘!

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I am a little shocked seeing as her character was so derivative in other respects! πŸ˜›

What really bugs me about this film however were the missed opportunities. As Wendy spends much of this film by herself, ‘Please Stand By‘ had the perfect opportunity to focus in on the challenges of a high functioning female autist. To the outside world, most autistic women appear fine; we employ learned/observed techniques to blend in- known as ‘masking’. However, behind closed doors it’s a very different story.

Case in point-check out this clip from last week’s Channel 4 documentary ‘Are You Autistic‘:

You would never know that these women are on the spectrum, but you could pick Wendy out of a lineup!

The film uses a lot of narrative introspection to give us some insight (albeit minor) into the autistic psyche, but alas the full potential here was not harnessed. Wendy mainly spoke in ‘Star Trek‘ quotes which while poignant, this narrative could have been put to better use to give us true insight into the speed/and or disordered array of thought within the autistic mind. I often compare my thoughts to that of Marisa Tomei’s character in ‘What Women Want‘ (which by the way is just as funny 18 years on as it was when it was released… Man I feel old!😬).

To be quite frank, the film is kind of forgettable (I even had to look up Wendy’s name she left that little of an impression on me!)- it just didn’t draw me in and I found it incredibly tedious.

But as I say with all these films- if you think it’s your thing, why not check it out? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure after all! πŸ™‚

Enjoy the weekend everyone! πŸ˜€

Aoife

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