Autism in the Eurovision Song Contest

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

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! πŸ˜€

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), DaΓ°i Freyr (Iceland 2020/2021), Riverdance (Eurovision 1994’s interval act), CΓ©line Dion (Switzerland 1988) and most recently MΓ₯neskin 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 πŸ™‚

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 NimipΓ€ivΓ€t 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 πŸ˜› )

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

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

Aoife

Was Kurt Cobain Autistic?

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to discuss something that I’ve been wondering about for a while, whether Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain was on the autistic spectrum.

As a teenager in the mid noughties, I discovered the music of Nirvana during a particularly turbulent time in my life (the joys of being an undiagnosed teenage aspie). Kurt’s words brought me great comfort as he verbalized so many emotions that I was struggling to identify. Reading more about his life, I really identified with his life and felt a sense of kinship- his experiences of bullying and struggling to fit in as a teen, his shyness and intense sensitivity, his struggles with mental health and how he was so often misunderstood by the world.

After receiving my Asperger’s diagnosis in 2014, I became more familiar with autistic traits, and I often wondered if maybe Kurt had been on the spectrum- a question that many people have pondered on various messaging boards across the internet. Kurt was a quirky individual, often aloof and preferring social isolation, regularly rejecting social norms as many autists are prone to. He was an extremely sensitive individual who often struggled to balance empathy and apathy as he cared so deeply about the world and everyone in it. His struggles with addiction are well documented, something that is increasingly associated with autists. Kurt also suffered from an agonizing, unexplained stomach complaint. Many autists suffer from co-morbid digestive issues, issues that can be exacerbated by intense stress- the kind that would be worsened by such a meteoric rise to fame like Kurt’s.

The Dispatch - CDE News - Nirvana

Interestingly, Kurt’s widow Courtney Love is mildly autistic- if Kurt was indeed on the spectrum, this could explain their intense connection and turbulent relationship. Some of my closest friends are on the spectrum and the sense of connection I feel with them is completely different to my other friendships- we understand each other more than anyone else ever could, like matching locks and keys clicking perfectly together.

Having recently finished Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl’s memoir ‘The Storyteller‘ (for any Nirvana or Foo Fighter’s fans I highly recommend it πŸ™‚ ), Dave’s personal stories from life on the road with Kurt have really reaffirmed for me what I had long suspected. In the book, Dave talks of how the huge crowds that gathered to see Nirvana in tiny venues at the peak of their fame would drive him to breaking point, constantly crawling onto the stage and interrupting the set. Kurt would reach a point in the show where he would become completely frustrated and seemingly overwhelmed with the feral fans and he would proceed to break things around him like instruments, soundboards, anything he could find to vent his frustrations. As Dave described in the book, when Kurt got frustrated, things were going to get destroyed. To the media, this seemed like a deliberate rock and roll statement, but Dave assures the reader that it was no show.

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music: Amazon.co.uk: Grohl, Dave:  9781398503700: Books

Reading these passages felt so much like someone describing an outsiders view of a meltdown. So many times during a meltdown I’ve felt the intense need to pick things up and throw them or break them just to disperse some of the pent up emotions from sensory overload (my maths book was thrown at the wall soooo many times when I couldn’t understand my homework!). When your brain is overloaded from sensory input, it pushes you to physically output energy to try to redirect your overload and expend some of the excess energy coursing through your brain. Stimming is the classic example, but sometimes the physical urge manifests in other ways like throwing things, punching, kicking etc.

Kurt’s quotes and lyrics have always resonated strongly with me. As many of you may have noticed, my homepage is emblazoned with his immortal words: “Trying to be someone else is a waste of the person that you are.” Kurt’s lyrics are ablaze with the pain of someone who always struggled with their identity, never felt at ease, never felt like they belonged. In the song Dumb, Kurt gently lilts “I’m not like them, but I can pretend,” a sentiment that resonates with so many of us autists. Perhaps his life could have turned out differently had there been a better understanding of neurodiversity during his lifetime ❀

Kurt Cobain | Blogged about here | Sally | Flickr

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Happy 5 year Anniversary A Is For Aoife Not Autism!

Greetings Earthlings! 😁

Happy Anniversary!!πŸ₯³

Wow- I cannot believe it’s been 5 years!😱 Where has the time gone?!

205 posts, roughly 1000 regular readers, 123,000 views and 94000 visitors from almost every country on the planet! 🀯

I am truly humbled by your continued readership and support over the last 5 years. When I first started out I never dreamed that my audience would grow very much from it’s humble beginnings as a side project to keep me entertained as I was searching for employment. I don’t think I’ve managed to keep any other project tipping away for this long- except perhaps when I spent 8 years persistently trying to find a way to get 100% completion on ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone‘ for PlayStation 2 (turns out the game itself was glitched all along πŸ™ˆ)!

Sorry I’ve been very quiet lately but the weeks leading up to Christmas were very busy and stressful so I’ve been taking some downtime, but I hope to be back on schedule with a brand new post next week πŸ₯°

Thank you all so much once again for your continued love, support and encouraging comments ❀

Here’s to the next 5! πŸ₯‚

Have a lovely weekend everyone!

Aoife

Christmas Greetings 2021

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Just taking this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2022. In spite of all the lockdowns, this year has been quite good to me- the blog hit a milestone 100,000 all times views a couple of months ago! 😱πŸ₯³

Thank you all so much for your continued readership, support and kind messages this year. I read them all and appreciate every one.πŸ₯°

Here’s to 2022!! πŸ₯³πŸ˜ƒ

Aoife

Happy 4th Anniversary!

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Happy New Year! πŸ˜€ Please God 2021 will be a lot kinder to us than 2020 has been (current Irish lockdown aside πŸ˜› ).

It’s time again for my annual reader appreciation post! πŸ˜€

Can you believe it’s been 4 years already?! 😱 I know I say this every year, but I am genuinely shocked that I’m still here and that you’re all still interested in listening to what I have to say! πŸ˜‚

Thank you all so much for sticking with me whether you’re new to the blog or have been with me over the last few years. I greatly appreciate your readership and messages. Particularly during these difficult times, I’ve really enjoyed hearing from you this year; you’ve given me many warm fuzzies to lighten the darker days πŸ€—.

I’ll have a brand new post for you next week so stay tuned! πŸ™‚

Wishing each and every one of you all the best for 2021- we’ll make it a good one!

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Merry Christmas 2020!

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Just the quickest of posts before the year is out to wish all of my loyal readers every blessing for the holiday season! 😊

Here’s hoping that 2021 will be a much happier and brighter year for us all! πŸ₯°

Stay safe!

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

What I Wished I Knew About Autism

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like talk about some of the things I wished I had known about autism when I was first diagnosed. There’s so much to learn about the autistic spectrum, but here are just a selection of things I personally wish I had known:

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Autism is neurological not psychological– This is something that really stems from a lack of proper education about autism in the world. Because autism is so behaviour orientated, there is often a lot of onus on the psychology of the condition, and as such, people can be very dismissive of it. “If you just did this..”, “if you just tried to fit in…”- it’s not that simple. The autistic brain is wired completely differently to the neurotypical brain. There are chemical differences, differences in multiple structures in the brain, even differences in the number of brain connections. Behavioural changes can be made and coping strategies developed, but we need to be aware of the biological aspect- you can’t just swap out your brain for another. I wish I had understood that my own brain was hardwired to drop me into unfortunate situations growing up!

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Autism is a different way of thinking– The autistic brain is built differently, so therefore it thinks differently. It doesn’t mean that autistic thinking is not “normal”, just different.Β 

Autism is a spectrum- I know this one may seem silly as we’ve all heard of the autistic spectrum, but I wished I had known what being on the spectrum really meant. I had often heard the phrase “oh so-and-so is on the spectrum”, but took it to be a catch all term for people who were a bit odd, didn’t quite learn like everyone else, didn’t quite act like everyone else- basically people who weren’t quite “normal”. I never understood the minutia of the spectrum, that there were high functioning and lower functioning forms of autism. I wish I had known that traits were highly variable, that not everyone with autism is the same and that every case is unique. Perhaps if I had known this, I would have been far more understanding and less dismissive of my fellow autists growing up.

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Autists do experience empathy– We just may not be the best at expressing it. In fact as I’ve previously discussed, research suggests that we feel emotions on an even greater scale than neurotypicals.Β 

Autists want love– Asexuality is often thought to go hand in hand with autism. As I’ve previously discussed, most autists want to be loved, we’re just not sure how to communicate that or navigate the complexities of romantic relationships. Yes, there are a number of asexual individuals on the spectrum (as there equally are in the neurotypical population), but as with the spectrum of autistic traits, there is also a spectrum of sexuality.Β 

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That I wasn’t alone– For much of my life I felt like I didn’t fit in, like the world just didn’t understand me. I was always saying or doing the wrong thing, regularly subjected to looks of disappointment and dismay followed by lectures about my behaviour. When I would meltdown, I was ridiculed or punished as I sat there baffled by my own reactions, unable to explain to myself or others what had happened. Everything changed once I got my diagnosis; suddenly my behaviour was not so abnormal after all. There were articles, books and blogs filled with thousands of similar stories to mine. There was a name, an explanation, a community- I never have to feel alone again.

That I was “normal” (whatever that means) – As a result of being undiagnosed and misunderstood, I was constantly berating myself for not conforming to the accepted “norm”. The world told me that I was weird, that I was “wrong”, where nothing I ever seemed to do outside of academics seemed to be “right”. Had I truly known and understood that there is no such thing as “normal”, had I, and the world, known that being autistic is “normal” for millions of people, my life could have been so much simpler.

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Hope you liked this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚Β 

Enjoy the weekend!Β 

Aoife

Happy Easter 2020!

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

In the midst of these trying times, I’d just like to send you all a quick Easter greeting for 2020! πŸ™‚

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I wish I could say that my Easter plans will look like this, however, the reality will unfortunately look a lot more like so:

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Wishing you all a very Happy Easter wherever you are, and hoping that you’re all doing OK during this crisis.

Sending my virtual love to all my Earthlings!

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Aoife

Autism and COVID-19

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

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As I am writing to you this week from an Ireland on near total lock down, I’d like to talk to you about the COVID-19 pandemic and how this affects the autistic community. While many autists will be content in isolation, concerns over contracting the virus, disruption to routine and difficulty obtaining preferred foods due to panic shopping can make this time quite stressful.

coronavirus

Here are some of my top tips for navigating the pandemic on the spectrum:

Try to remain calm– I know, easier said than done for the anxious and over-thinkers, but panicking will solve nothing, and will trigger meltdowns and shutdowns. If you’re struggling with your emotions surrounding the pandemic, try to write them down or talk about them with your family. A problem shared is a problem halved.

Stay positive- I know it’s hard to see the sun through all the cancellations (Eurovision and my recent non-holiday were particularly heavy blows for me), and the rising number of cases, but this shall pass. Try to see the positives of our situation- more time for family, new hobbies, a break from the office the environmental impact of restricted movements etc.

Know the facts– do not allow yourself to get distracted by fake news, this will only make things harder. If you must read about the virus, educate yourself using the official information released by the World Health Organization. Knowledge is power.

Turn off the news/take a break from social media– if you’re the kind of person who get’s easily weighed down by all the fake news and mass hysteria on our airwaves at the moment, just take a step back from the media. Limit and reduce your consumption- perhaps taking a break from social media might help to drown out the panicked buzzing all around you?

Keep busy– this is crucial for the easily bored autistic mind. Cabin fever comes on all too quickly when you’re not adequately entertained, so try to keep yourself occupied. Indulge your specialist interests and hobbies (why not even take up a new one?) take plenty of walks (if you can), sort out all of the items you’ve been procrastinating on your to-do list etc. Find a way to keep both body and mind distracted and the time will fly by!

And most importantly, stick to the following rules for preventing the spread of the virus:

 

 

I know it seems like the world is spinning out of control, but we need to do our best to stay calm to get through this time. We all have to do our bit to combat the virus- sacrificing our routines for a few weeks may seem difficult, but it’s the only way to lock this thing down and stop the spread.

Stay safe everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

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