Autism in Tuner and Hooch (TV Series)

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’ve been binge watching the Disney+ TV revival of Turner and Hooch, and in the midst of my fading interest in the show (it’s a bit meh, but grand background watching while you’re doing other things), I encountered some autistic characters on screen, so I decided to give my 2 cents on the representation of autism in this series.

Turner & Hooch (TV Series 2021– ) - IMDb

Based on the 1989 film starring Tom Hanks, the series picks up in the present day following Turner’s son Scott as he enters the police force shortly after the passing of his father. Suddenly, his life get’s turned upside down as his father has willed his dog Hooch to him, a police dog in training whom his dad believed to be a reincarnation of his first canine buddy Hooch. Together, Turner and the wayward Hooch embark on a series of wacky adventures, solving crimes and making friends along the way.

Here’s a trailer for the TV series if you haven’t checked it out yet:

So where does autism fit in with the show?

For starters, Hooch’s trainer Erica has an autistic brother Curtis, who helps her out with the police dog training program. We don’t get to see much of Curtis, but as it turns out, the actor who plays Curtis, Jonathan Simao, does in fact have Asperger’s syndrome; so when you are seeing him on screen, you’re getting the real deal.

In episode 9 of the series, we get a much closer look at autism. Scott and Hooch have been assigned to protect an autistic child Anthony, who has witnessed an attack on his neighbour by an assassin, but due to his communication difficulties, he finds it hard to give the police a description. What follows is an endearing episode where Erica is brought in to help Turner and Hooch to communicate with Anthony, where Hooch is instrumental in getting him to open up.

Interestingly, Lucas Yao who portrays Anthony, is a renowned child prodigy and is himself mildly on the spectrum. You can read more about him here. This is very positive to see the show runners employing autistic actors to play autistic roles- something that many in the community have been crying out for.

The episode handles autism with great sensitivity without resorting to overt stereotypes (although having Anthony obsessed with trains is veering a little bit into this territory). It was particularly lovely to see the “paws-itive” impact that Hooch has on Anthony, as studies have shown significant benefits for autists who own dogs as I’ve discussed in a previous post.

While the TV show itself may not be the most thrilling, this was a lovely episode to see, and is a real step forward in screen portrayals of autism.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Shopping

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from my previous post about autism friendly shopping, this week I’d like to elaborate a little bit more on the subject.Β 

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Shopping can be quite an overwhelming experience for an autist- the hustle and bustle, bright lighting, loud noises, overwhelming choices, strong smells etc. It can be a real sensory assault. Personally, I HATE shopping (although I’m surprisingly good at it- I even buy my Christmas and birthday presents for friends and family months in advance!). Β It’s never been my thing, I’ve hated it for as long as I can remember; could never explain it. I did everything to avoid it growing up, so much so that when I was 16, I couldn’t figure out how to work the coin slot on the trolley! πŸ™ˆ But as time has gone on, I’ve had to adapt and get used to the process πŸ™‚Β 

While shopping can be troublesome for an autist, there are many alternative options to help you navigate the experience more smoothly.Β 

Here are some of my top tips for making the shopping process a little easier:

  • Make lists- if you find that you get overwhelmed by the choices on offer in the shops, I find it very useful to write out a list to bring with me to keep me from getting distracted and to ensure that I hit all my targets as quickly as possible. Pro- tip, try writing the items you’re seeking in the order you would encounter them in the shops e.g fruit and veg first, meats and cold items, frozen foods etc. This way you can get in and out as quickly as possible without forgetting anything important.
  • Shop online-the joys of modern technology! In the last year, the online retail industry has exploded, so now you don’t even have to leave your house to get your shopping done. There’s websites for everything, and in most cases, the shipping costs are fairly low, so if you’re really anxious, just pull up your laptop and let your shopping come to you.dc855bea69ee17a435c9bae5ab45be12b4f4ed11ecbf0d76dd154fc18c55a1b4.0
  • Avail of autism friendly shopping times- as I previously discussed in my linked post, most supermarkets have regular autism friendly shopping hours where the atmosphere is adjusted to be more sensory friendly. Even busy shopping centres have dedicated autism times to allow autists to pass through and browse the shops without fear of getting overwhelmed.Β 
  • Set spending limits– if you have impulsivity issues surrounding shopping, try to set a spending limit to keep you from going overboard. Many financial apps can do this for you. You can even remove the tap feature on your debit card to discourage you from impulsively tapping your funds away.Β 
  • Keep it short and sweet– to prevent a meltdown, keep your shopping visits nice and short until you feel more comfortable with longer shopping periods. You can slowly build up your tolerance over time.
  • Make use of sensory tools– as discussed in many of my previous blogs, using such sensory tools as noise reducing or cancelling headphones, sunglasses/tinted lenses, weighted clothing or even an item in your pocket to stim with can help to reduce some of the sensory impact of your surroundings.

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Β 

Shopping can be a scary sensory experience, but if you follow some of the above tips, you’ll find the experience so much easier πŸ™‚Β 

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!Β 

Enjoy your weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Twins

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about a really interesting research area- autism and twins.

Oh my God two Aoife’s! 😲

Haha don’t worry there’s only one me- I don’t think the world is ready for me to have a clone!

But have you ever wondered what happens if an autist is a twin? Researchers have- they’ve been examining autism in pairs of twins for years and the results have a lot to tell us.

The evidence shows that in up to 90% of twins where one sibling is autistic, the second sibling is also on the spectrum. Identical twins share the exact same DNA (although fun fact, they have different fingerprints due to varying blood flow levels to each baby in the womb! πŸ˜€ ), so given that the root of autism is thought to be largely genetic, it makes sense that they would also be identical in this regard.

Interestingly, as no two cases of autism are the same, this holds true for identical twins. Severity can vary greatly among twins, so while both may be autistic, they may each have very different traits. Social trait severity in particular can vary between twins. In one study for example, one twin was nonverbal while the other had no speech issues. This demonstrates that while genetics may cause autism, they don’t always influence traits and severity, so just because your DNA says that you’re autistic, doesn’t mean that your quality of life is defined by your genome. That being said however, the reason for these differences has slightly baffled researchers as identical twins share the same DNA and environment, so the differences in severity is intriguing.

In the case of fraternal twins who do not share the same DNA, there is also a high chance that both twins will be autistic. It’s thought that this may happen as both twins share the same womb, they are exposed to the same in utero environmental factors such as stress, diet, drugs, maternal age etc.

The factors for autism development are many and varied, but twin studies certainly give us a lot of food for thought.

Let the Olsen Twins' Teen Movies Be Your Summer Style Guide

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Weighted Blankets

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

After many posts where I’ve mentioned them, this week, I’ve finally bought a weighted blanket! I have been dying to try one out for years, but they are often quite expensive, usually retailing around the 100-200 euro-ish region for a full blanket. However on a Googling whim, I recently found that Dunnes Stores here in Ireland stocks them for as little as €35, so naturally I couldn’t say no!

So first things first, what exactly is a weighted blanket?

Weighted blankets (also known as gravity blankets) are pretty self explanatory- they are flat blankets that usually contain metal, glass or plastic beads in evenly spaced, quilted pockets across the entire surface of the blanket. The blanket is designed to evenly apply deep, calming pressure to the user across their body, like simulating a hug. As the blankets are weighted, you are also more restricted, making it harder to toss and turn in your sleep. Many of these blankets are even designed to stay cool in summer and warm in winter. For optimal use, blankets shouldn’t exceed 10% of the user’s weight.

But how does this benefit autists?

As I’ve discussedΒ previously, autists have higher levels of stimulatory neurotransmitters and lower levels of calming neurotransmitters, meaning that our brains are more “switched on” and harder to turn off than most. The deep pressure applied by the blanket is designed to stimulate the release of the calming neurotransmitters serotonin (which helps regulate the sleep cycle and temperature) and dopamine to relax and soothe the racing mind. It’s also thought that deep pressure can stimulate the limbic system, the emotional centre of the brain, which could potentially help calm you down during a meltdown.

So how did I find using it?

It was quite an unusual sensation to begin with- as you would expect from having a 6kg blanket pressing down on your body πŸ˜› It’s somewhat of a workout moving it about when making the bed and moving it around the house! πŸ˜‚ I found it was quite restrictive getting used to the sensation of the blanket on my body and learning how to move onto my side beneath it. It sometimes feels like someone is sitting on your chest at times, but in a good way!

After an adjustment period, I did find that my mind was much slower at night when I lay beneath it. The heaviness mimics that heaviness you experience just before you fall asleep which can be quite hard to resist. In general I found it a lot easier to sleep with the blanket on, and if I did wake during the night, the added weight made it very easy to slip back into sleep again. On the downside however, it can be a lot harder to get out of bed in the morning trying to push off the extra weight if you aren’t a morning personπŸ˜‚ I’ve had some pretty epic naps using the blanket as the weight keeps it from moving and prevents any nasty draughts from getting into your cosy burrito.

It will be quite interesting to know going forward how the blanket may work in a meltdown situation for me in the future.

Weighted blankets are not for everyone however, as they can be difficult for kids to get in and out of bed without the help of an adult They are also not easily transportable for travel so it isn’t the best idea to get a child dependent on them for sleeping. You can however buy weighted lap pads or weighted vests that can be much easier to use for children with autism and ADHD.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend,

Aoife

Autism in ‘The Rosie Effect’

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

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

So what’s the sequel about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Grief

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

As my family and I have recently experienced the loss of my dog Jasper (the vet found a large mass on his spleen and he had to be put to sleep πŸ˜₯ ), this week I’d like to talk about autism and grief.

jasper

Everyone deals with grief differently, it’s an individual experience. For autists however, as with many aspects of our lives, grief can be a lot harder to navigate. Emotional processing is at the core of the experience, and for an autist that struggles with emotional regulation, grief can be all the more overwhelming. Meltdowns, shutdowns, violent outbursts- we feel our emotions so much more intensely than neurotypicals that grief can truly bring us to our knees.

In my experience, grief doesn’t even have to be associated with death- grief for the loss of a friendship, a job, a prized toy can be just as tough to deal with. I’ve whiled away many an hour curled up in a ball grieving lost friendships or missed opportunities, especially where specialist interests are concerned (you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve cried my eyes out over forgetting to press the record button on some Harry Potter TV special back in the days before high speed internet/catch up TV services!πŸ˜‚).

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Grief is never easy, but here are some of my top tips which I’ve found helpful when coping with grief:

Express your feelings– one of the worst things that I did after the death of my dog Oscar 9 years ago was to bottle it all up. I knew that he was dying with cancer 2 weeks before he was put to sleep, so logically I thought that I had to move on straight away. I’d had time to prepare so once he was gone, I felt like I was expected to go back to normal straight away. I felt like I had shed so many tears in his dying weeks that it wasn’t “socially acceptable” to mourn him any more. So I buried my tears and feelings and about a month later I imploded- I even snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to cry by his grave πŸ™ˆ Don’t be like me, lance that boil; don’t let it fester!

Take comfort in music– I know I often come back to this one, but for me music truly helps to process my emotions. I can’t always identify or verbalise how I’m feeling, but music often acts like some sort of mental key to help me get there.

Write it out- Again, I know I proffer this offering a lot, but like music, writing soothes the mind. If you can put words to what you’re feeling at all, it will really help you to make sense of your grief, and help you to move forwards.

Let your tears fall– when you cry as often as I do, the phrase “stop crying” is never far from the lips of those around me. But crying is the needle to my boil- my brain needs it to drain my mind of the neuroelectrical storm of overwhelming emotion. My mind hits emotional capacity and tears are the only way to drain it. In a society of stiff upper lippers it can be hard to feel like you’re allowed to cry, but if you need to, let them roll. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older it’s that there’s no point in holding them in- like a blocked toilet they’ll resurface eventually (and when they do, it won’t be pretty!)

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The most important thing to remember about grief is that it does get easier. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually- there is no true timeline. Bit by bit, the pain will get easier. πŸ€—

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings and that you’re all keeping safe and sane(ish) during this difficult time! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Working from Home

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

As the lockdown continues, this week I’d like to discuss the topic of working from home and autism.

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Although the prospect of working in a comfortable environment away from the social jungle of the workplace can be quite attractive, working from home may pose other challenges for autists. As discussed in previous posts, an ordinary working day can be difficult enough for an autist, but the lack of a regular working routine, the stress of remote video meetings/phone calls, and difficulty focusing on work when surrounded by home comforts, may spell trouble.

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Like many, I have spent the past few weeks working remotely from my family home. Thankfully prior to this crisis, I have regularly been afforded the opportunity to work from home, so this transition has not been as much of a shock to the system as it may have been for other autists.

Working from home isn’t always easy, but by putting the right structures in place you can easily navigate this minefield.

So here are some of my top tips for working from home:

Set aside a specific workspace: setup a corner of the house, a specific room or a desk space from which to work from. Remove any potential distractions from this space, setup your laptop/screen, add a few pens- get everything you’ll need for your working day ready. This will give you more structure and make it easier to work. Try to keep this space separate from where you spend your leisure time- you don’t want to feel like you’re in work mode when you’re watching Netflix late at night.

Work regular break times into your schedule: organize set break times throughout the day- coffee at 11, lunch at 1, a 3pm snack, whatever works for you. It can be hard for an autist to detach when you get into the zone (especially when working solo), but several hours of uninterrupted work are not good for your mental or physical health. Pick your break times and stick to them, giving further balance and structure to your day.

Get out of your PJs- I know it’s tempting to sit there in your comfy clothes (especially given many autists sensitivity to clothing), but you need to get up and get dressed. It will give you better routine and structure to differentiate between work and play- and it will also remove the stress of being caught in a state of dishevelment if an unscheduled work call catches you off guard πŸ˜‰

Try to schedule work meetings– Communication with colleagues is all over the place these days with entire companies working remotely, and the stress of unexpected calls and the stream of instant messages pinging in the background can be quite distracting for an autist. If you can, try to set aside set times for when work conversations/team catchups can be held- this will help give you further structure and routine

Ask if you can keep your camera off– If you’re really feeling shy and uncomfortable, ask if you can keep your camera off during a meeting. Lot’s of people are having issues with slow internet and will need to turn their cameras off, so don’t feel obliged to if you’re really uncomfortable with video conferencing. It’s not always an ideal solution for teams that need to visually gauge team mates responses, but if you explain your struggles to your employer I’m sure they will understand, especially in these trying times. Just try not to fall asleep on the job… πŸ˜›

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Enjoy the weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Alpacas

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

This week I’d like to talk about something a little more floofy- alpacas! πŸ˜€

Last week I went on an alpaca walk at a nearby alpaca farm and it got me thinking about the therapeutic benefits of alpacas for people with autism. But first things first, here’s a few facts about alpacas:

  • Alpacas are members of the camelid family (llamas, camels, vicuΓ±as, and guanacos) native to South America
  • There are two kinds of alpacas, the suri and the huacaya. The huacaya (in the pictures above) have fluffy coats where as suri alpacas have long wavy hair that kind of looks like dreadlocks
  • Often confused with it’s taller relative the llama, alpacas and llamas can crossbreed to make ‘huarizo’
  • Their fleece is hypoallergenic (it makes lovely wool) and really soft- which makes it quite pleasurable for the sensory sensitive
  • They communicate by humming and have only one set of prominent bottom teeth for eating vegetation- it’s just gums along the topπŸ˜‚

So how can alpacas benefit autists?

Many studies have shown that animal therapies can be quite beneficial for people with autism and ADHD where being around and stroking animals releases endorphins, decreases stress and anxiety, and lowers blood pressure. Case in point- last week during a hospital visit my blood pressure was a little bit high from the stress of being there, but after the nurses got me thinking and talking about alpacas, my pressure dropped to normal!πŸ˜‚

Image result for alpaca gif

Alpacas are particularly suitable as therapy animals due to their gentle, friendly and fluffy nature. In recent years with the rise in alpaca breeding and popularity, the Cognitive Alpaca Learning Methods (CALMs) has been developed to harness the calming nature of alpacas to work with children and adults on the spectrum. As alpacas are sensitive creatures that react to fear and aggression, CALMs students are taught to put their emotions in check whilst learning how to handle and take responsibility for the alpacas. After a few sessions students tend to absorb the alpacas calming aura which has led to improvements in behaviour and demeanor, even reduced numbers of meltdowns- some autists undergoing this program have gone from having 5-10 a day to 1-2 a week! 😱 Moreover, alpacas can act as β€œsocial lubricants” wherein they provide autists with a source of conversation which can encourage better engagement.

You can find out more about alpacas and their therapeutic uses in these links:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b078wl24

https://www.pukkapacas.com/calms-therapy

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Inclusive Hiring Programs

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from my previous posts about autism and the workplace, I’d like to briefly talk about the latest trend of inclusive hiring programs for people with autism.

As previously discussed, between 75 and 85% of people with autism cannot find/maintain employment, despite many being highly educated.

It’s not that an autist can’t do the job, there just may be some difficulties with the social /sensory aspects of the workplace (not to mention struggles with interviews) which sadly, many employers do not care to accommodate.

Thankfully, times are changing, and many companies have realized the value of and are beginning to tap into the autistic skill set. Roughly 50 companies in the United States now have a workforce comprising mainly autists! :O

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One company in particular which has been making headlines is Microsoft’s ‘Autsim Hiring Program’.

In the last couple of years, Microsoft have devised this program “to attract talent and build an inclusive approach to support individuals on the autism spectrum that will contribute to the way [they] work as a company in building and servicing [their] products.” Microsoft view autists as an “untapped pool of talent” and are evolving their hiring approach to improve diversity within the company.

What’s particularly interesting about this program is the unique interview process. Instead of the usual sink or swim interviews that we are accustomed to, Microsoft have developed what they consider to be an interview “academy” of sorts. This academy combines the traditional interview with a workshop which will allow a potential hire to show them what they’re made of and to fully demonstrate how they can be an asset to the company.

You can check out more about the program in the link below:

What I really like about the company is their attitude to the future in that they would hope that this will one day not just be a program, but will be the natural way that companies hire and recruit new talent. So much rides on a face face to face interview, even more so for autists. One slip of the tongue can make or break you, but having a skill based element to candidate screening could make such a difference to an autists career. bitmoji-20181205103427

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings, and that your Christmas preparations are coming along nicely πŸ˜€

Have a great weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

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