Autism in Heartbreak High

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from my previous post about Netflix’s film ‘I Used to be Famous‘, this week I’d like to talk about another new Netflix series that has an autistic character- the reboot of the Australian comedy-drama series ‘Heartbreak High’.

So what’s the show about?

The show centres on a group of teenagers in the fictional Hartley High School in Australia after a graffitied “sex map” has been discovered on a wall detailing all of the sordid details of the students sex-capades. Following its discovery, the principal puts the students in a mandatory sex education class called ‘Sexual Literacy Tutorials – or β€œSLTs” (which inadvertently sounds like ‘sluts’) in an attempt to guide the students and calm the PR storm brewing outside.

You can see a trailer for the show here:

Now one of the great things about this show is that it prominently features an autistic character called Quinni, played by autistic actor and activist Chloe Hayden. Quinni is an emotionally intelligent, vivacious and bubbly teenager with ADHD, who loves bright colours, art, stickers, crocs and fantasy novels (one of her specialist interests). Quinni is also a lesbian, which marks one of the first times I’ve seen an LGBT autist in a fictional show, which is quite surprising given that many on the spectrum identify as LGBT+. It was refreshing to not have the classic asexual wallflower that is often depicted on screen. The real twist is that there is actually an asexual character in the show but he wasn’t autistic!

The writers worked very closely with Chloe to create a genuine picture of autism for the audience (she pretty much got to write all of her character). To the untrained eye it is not immediately obvious that Quinni is on the spectrum, she just seems like a chatty, quirky teenage girl. We don’t find out she is autistic until she blurts it out to her annoyed date after seemingly ignoring her attempts at conversation all evening as she was struggling to concentrate due to noise sensitivity in the crowded restaurant. The response she gets is one that all high functioning autists can relate to- questioning, doubtful, comparing us to stereotypes/media portrayals from neurotypical actors etc. This scene was added as the writer’s asked Chloe what happens when she tells people about her diagnosis which you can see below:

As the series progresses we get to see her navigate the rollercoaster of her first relationship. While it starts out sweet with Sasha being considerate of her needs, a typical selfish teenager, Sasha starts coddling her and feeling responsible for Quinni rather than understanding her needs:

The relationship ends in tears when Sasha becomes dismissive of her need for routine and ruins a much planned and anticipated meeting with Quinni’s favourite author for her, triggering a meltdown and shutdown, with Quinni retreating into herself, not speaking for days on end- a sad reality that autists may face.

Personally, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the show (in my opinion it was a little bit too “woke” and the broad diversity of the characters seemed a bit forced), but it is a genuine portrayal of the reality that teenage autistic women face every day and is one of the first times that I’ve seen something of myself in an autistic character on screen in a long time. We need to see more Quinni’s on our screen to properly educate people about the realities of living with autism, and to give the next generation of autists someone to relate to, something that so many of us were lacking in our developmental years.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism & the Rose of Tralee

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Last week in Ireland saw the return of the annual international Rose of Tralee festival, and with it one of the first openly autistic Rose contestants- the Toronto Rose Maysen Tinkler.

But first things first, what is the Rose of Tralee?

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Rose of Tralee is a festival celebrated every year in the town of Tralee in Co. Kerry in Ireland. First held in 1959, the festival was conceived to increase tourism in Tralee and to encourage expats to return home. The festival serves as a pageant of sorts to select the Rose of Tralee- a young woman of Irish heritage who embodies the virtues of Mary the title character in the eponymous song which the festival derives it’s name from. The chosen Rose should be “lovely and fair”, chosen for her personality to serve as role model and ambassador to Ireland for the duration of her reign. The festival is billed as a celebration of the “aspirations, ambitions, intellect, social responsibility and Irish heritage” of modern young women.

Current Rose of Tralee Rachel Duffy from Westmeath

This years festival introduced us to the first autistic rose Maysen Tinkler from Toronto. Maysen, like me, was diagnosed with autism as an adult, finding the diagnosis a relief after years of feeling like an outsider. Refusing to be limited by autism, she decided to enter the competition to challenge stereotypes, providing visibility for autistic women everywhere. If you’re in Ireland (or have a really good VPN blocker) you can see her interview here round the 28 minute mark available until the 23rd of September.

Interestingly, she was not the only potential autistic candidate this year as there were two candidates, one in the Kerry selection and one in the Dublin selection who both discussed their diagnosis to raise awareness about the condition. Jennifer O’ Conner who competed in the Kerry Rose selection even recited a spoken piece she wrote called ‘Autistic Joy‘ about her experiences of autism and the festival over the years and the joy that is often overlooked:

As autism is so poorly understood in women, it’s amazing to have this representation in this international platform for young autistic girls to look up to.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in Stranger Things?

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Following the recent release of Netflix sensation ‘Stranger Things‘ Season 4 Vol., this week I’d like to discuss a possible autistic character that many fans have been discussing online since the season dropped (don’t worry- I’ll keep this spoiler free!).

So before I get into discussing this character, what’s Stranger Things about?

For those of you who may not have heard of Netflix’s all time most streamed TV show, Stranger Things is an 80’s nostalgia sci-fi/horror/drama series set in the fictional town of Hawkins Indiana. Secret government cold war experiments exploring psychokinesis have ripped a portal to an alternate dimension filled with monsters called the ‘Upside Down’, leading to a series of mysterious events in Hawkins which a young group of pre-teens set out to investigate after their friend Will disappears.

Now back to autism.

In the most recent series, one of the new characters introduced in the last season, now appears to be showing a lot of neurodivergent traits- Robin Buckley, played by Maya Hawke (daughter of Hollywood legends Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke).

Robin is a highly intelligent high school student that befriends the main Stranger Things gang in season 3 when Russian scientists build a portal to the Upside Down in a secret lab beneath the mall that she works at. Described as “an alternative girl” when her casting was first announced, Robin has certainly captured the attention of autistic viewers as her character has developed in season 4. Throughout the season, Robin has been very quirky, exhibiting no filter and rambling constantly about random topics, but can also be quite easily distracted, suggesting that like many autists she has ADHD.

She mentions that she has no grasp of social cues and has awful coordination, claiming that she took 6 months longer to walk than the other babies which she says was not normal. Robin also claims to be a terrible liar and regularly addresses her weirdness and tendency to inadvertently come across as mean or condescending, constantly asking her friends if she is being annoying.

During one particularly memorable scene, Robin, a notorious tomboy, is dressed up in tight frilly clothing which she constantly complains about, arguing that the borrowed outfit is itchy, the bra is pinching her, and the blouse is strangling her, which could suggest that sensory sensitivities could be driving her penchant for baggy clothing.

Most autistic fans did not notice much in the line of neurodiversity in season 3, but other keen eyed viewers have noted traits prior to season 4 citing her ability to hyperfocus, her memory, her ability to connect dots the others can’t, her blunt truth bombs and that she is a member of the LGBTQ+ community (which a large proportion of autists are). Robin also remarked in season 3 “I feel like my whole life has been one big error“, a sentiment that many an autist can relate to. It could be argued that perhaps now that Robin is part of the gang, she is far more relaxed and doesn’t feel the need to mask as much as she did in season 3.

Whilst it is highly unlikely that Robin will have an autism story-line given how poorly understood autism was in women during the 1980’s, nevertheless it’s always nice for autistic fans to feel seen when watching our favourite shows. It will be interesting to see how her character develops in season 4 vol 2 and beyond!

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism in ‘Big Girl, Small Town’

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to discuss a book featuring an autistic protagonist ‘Big Girl, Small Town‘ by Michelle Gallen.

So what’s the book about?

The book details a week in the life of Majella O’ Neil, a 27 year old woman with undiagnosed autism living in Aghybogey, a border town in Northern Ireland in the post Troubles era. She lives a life of strict routine with her alcoholic mother- she eats the same dinner every day, wears the same clothes, and watches reruns of Dallas every night after she finishes work in the local chipper (for my international readers- a chipper is a fast food establishment that sells ‘chips’ or fries in addition to an array of other deep fried meats and products). You can check out an audio excerpt from the book here narrated by Nicola Coughlan of Derry Girls and Bridgerton fame:

So how did I find it’s depiction of autism?

As it transpires, the author Michelle Gallen is not neurotypical- she experienced a catastrophic brain injury in her twenties from auto-immune encephalitis which has left her with many deficits and sensory sensitivities that parallel with autistic symptoms. In interviews she appears to describe autistic people almost separate from herself so she doesn’t appear to identify as autistic, but her doctors reckon that she was always neurodiverse as she has had struggles with social situations and understanding her peers growing up.

With a neurodiverse voice at the helm of this book, we’re given a refreshing slant on the classic literary autist. In an interesting twist, each new scene is preceded by Majella’s numbered list items of likes and dislikes (mainly dislikes) relating to the events you are about to read about (e.g. ‘Item 4.1: Fluorescent lights’) which really gives us an insight into the array of bugbears that autists deal with on a day to day basis. The book details many classic signs of autism such as stimming (she’s really into finger flicking and sucking her fingers), sensory issues, impulsivity, OCD, mind blindness, the need for routine and resistance to change, but we also see a lot of the sides of autism that are often ignored such as masking. The book describes how Majella drinks in the people around her and has learned/auto responses to certain questions to navigate conversations- one of the most prominent traits for autistic women. Majella is also just a girl working in a chipper, content with her lot which is a nice deviation from the classic genius narrative πŸ˜›

One of the most striking things about the book is that the author tackles taboo issues such as sex, periods and puberty head on- issues that can be very challenging for autists. In fact, sex is one of Majella’s favourite things, something that is regularly shied away from when it comes to autism. As autists struggle so much on a social and sensory level, most people seem to think that we’re asexual robots, but like autism, autistic sexuality is a spectrum ranging from asexuality to hypersexuality, so it’s nice to see this stigma challenged.

On the other hand, once again we are presented with a book that is marketed as being about an autistic character, yet it does not tackle the issue head on or even mention the elephant in the room in passing (as in The Rosie Project). Much of the promotional material for the book describes Majella as autistic, but it appears that the author accidentally created the portrait of an autistic woman based on her own experiences of neurodiversity:

“I kept being asked this question, What’s wrong with Majella? I knew she was kind of unusual … I decided to read up a bit more on the female presentation of autism, and when I started even the most basic reading of it, I was like, Oh my God. OK. I realized that I created a portrait of an autistic woman, because these types of behaviors were incredibly familiar to me. What’s wrong with Majella? There’s nothing wrong with Majella. She’s an undiagnosed autistic woman. And she’s fascinating.”

On a personal level as a book lover, I was not a fan of the novel (I was very disappointed as the reviews were glowing). I really struggled to get into it and were it not for the benefit of this post for my loyal readers, I would have given up on it after the first 30 pages. I found it needlessly vulgar with a difficult to follow phonetic writing style (to convey the nuances of the Northern Irish accent). Indeed, post-Troubles Northern Ireland can be a very rough and vulgar place at times, but this could have been conveyed just as viscerally with a more traditional, non-profane style of writing. A lot of the sub-plots felt underdeveloped and unfinished at the books close, and the day to day monotony of Majella’s routine and work life wasn’t exactly a thrill a minute- there were times I felt like half the words in the book were food orders from her job in the chipper… Despite the fact that Majella thinks a lot like me, I found it really hard to like her and identify with her, and I just didn’t get that same sense of kinship as I did from reading about Allegra in Cecelia Ahern’s ‘Freckles‘.

All in all, this book provides a good insight into the thinkings of a neurodiverse mind, but it’s not a story that I would recommend.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

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

Autism in ‘Freckles’ by Cecelia Ahern

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to discuss a book I recently read while on holidays- ‘Freckles‘ by Cecelia Ahern.

Freckles by Cecelia Ahern

So what exactly is ‘Freckles‘ about?

Freckles‘ tells the story of Allegra, a young traffic warden in Dublin city, nicknamed ‘Freckles’ due to the abundance of freckles on her body. One day, Allegra get’s into an altercation with the owner of a Lamborghini who tells her that she is the average of the five people that she spends most of her time with. This sends her into a spiral questioning the people in her life and how they have moulded her, sending her on a journey of friendship and self discovery.

You can catch a clip of Cecelia talking about the book here:

So how does ‘Freckles‘ relate to autism?

After reading ‘Freckles‘ (and being unable to put it down), I really feel that both Allegra and her father strongly come across as being on the autistic spectrum. I truly felt for the first time ever that I was reading about someone just like me, like I’d never identified with a literary character so much in my life (with the exception of Hermione Granger). Allegra is very rule and routine orientated. She loves being a traffic warden- the rules are all black and white and she has her set walking circuits and routines. If even one thing is different or she is a few minutes late, she becomes completely disorientated and her whole day get’s thrown off kilter. She remarks multiple times that she is often misunderstood by people, finding that she says the wrong thing in social scenarios. Allegra also stims and has shown some self injurious tendencies. As a child, she became obsessed with connecting her freckles with pen to trace the constellations, later using sharp implements to carve them which left scars that she would in later life run her hands over to trace the constellations in times of anxiety. Allegra can also be quite impulsive and a little bit of a loner, among a number of other quirks throughout the book.

Nicky Byrne reveals the important part he played in sister-in-law Celia  Ahern's latest novel - VIP Magazine

Autism is never directly mentioned in the book, and it’s not clear either if Cecelia had an autistic perspective in mind when writing, but regardless of that, the book is a great insight into a female character who possesses a number of autistic traits πŸ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in Derry Girls

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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

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

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ˜€

Aoife

Autism and Gender Identity

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from my previous post about autism and sexuality, this week I’d like to discuss an emerging area of research interest- autism and gender dysphoria.

In recent years, research is mounting that suggests that there is a higher prevalence of gender dysphoria and diversity among autists compared with the neurotypical population i.e. they don’t identify as the sex they were assigned at birth. It has even been estimated that transgender individuals could be 3-6 times more likely to be diagnosed as autistic! 😱

As a cis-gendered woman I cannot personally comment on this issue (apart from thinking it would be a great idea to switch gender at will to avoid dealing with womanhood as a preteen πŸ˜› ), but based on these statistics I would just like to draw some awareness. Life can be hard enough as an autist or an individual with gender dysphoria alone, but when you marry the two, rates of depression and anxiety are reported to be much higher.

While the reasons for gender dysphoria are wide and varied, for autists, there may be a larger biological component as to why many may feel they have been born into the wrong bodies.

As I have discussed previously, MRI scans of autists brains have shown that men with autism have anatomically similar brains to neurotypical women, and women with autism have anatomically similar brains to neurotypical men which could lead to gender confusion. In addition to this, high levels of foetal testosterone in utereo have been linked to the development of autism in recent years. This exposure has been proposed as a possible reason that autistic women may suffer from gender dysphoria, but this does not explain why autistic men may wish to transition. Interestingly the current evidence does indeed support a prevalence of autistic traits among trans-men vs. trans-women. Research is ongoing to investigate the link between gender dysphoria and autism.

Whilst the current evidence suggests that gender dysphoria and autism may be linked, it is important to remember that they are not mutually exclusive. It is useful to know that there may be a link, but bear this in mind when seeking support.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Menopause

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from my post about periods and autism, this week I’d like to explore another taboo aspect of life on the spectrum- autism and the menopause.

Apologies once again to my male readers!

I may be too young to give a personal slant on this subject, but I’d like to create some visibility for the often overlooked adult female members of the spectrum. Public discussions surrounding autism are so often centered on childhood, potential issues for adult autists can be forgotten.

The change brings many difficult physical and emotional changes for women such as hot flashes, memory issues, mood swings, sexual dysfunction and issues with mental health. Now imagine how these changes might impact an autist who is already sensitive to change and temperature, sleep disturbances, struggles to manage their emotions and can be predisposed to mental health difficulties?

The autistic life is already a roller-coaster, but throw in the menopause and the cart may just fly off the tracks.

Our knowledge of autism and the menopause is very limited as autism as a diagnosis in itself is only emerging from it’s infancy. Some of the first women to be diagnosed with autism are only now reaching menopause, so there is little available research about their experiences of the change. Of the studies that do exist, experiences of menopause for autistic women vary, however, many reported worsening of autistic symptoms. Some women reported that it they found it extremely difficult to mask their struggles and suffered serious deterioration in their mental health.

We clearly need to start a conversation about menopause and autism so that we can properly develop tools and supports to help women navigate this challenging time of life.

For those of you going through the menopause, have a look at this blog post about “Menopautism” from journalist Jane Renton writing about her experiences of the change as an adult with Asperger’s syndrome:

You can also find some useful additional resources for managing the menopause here:

https://www.aspireireland.ie/cmsWP/information/women-girls/menopause/

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Periods

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Continuing on from last week’s post about autism and puberty, this week I’d like to talk about autism and periods. I know, I’m about to alienate about half of my readers (sorry guys!), but this is a very important topic to cover for the often overlooked autistic female demographic.

Periods can be challenging for lot’s of women, however, for autists the experience can be somewhat of an ordeal. There can be a lot of overwhelming sensory issues where periods are concerned- new smells, sensations, and sensory issues related to the use of feminine hygiene products. Autists struggle greatly with change, and periods can be quite unpredictable over the course of our lives due to stress, hormonal changes, childbirth and eventually menopause (which I will discuss in a separate post at a later stage). As a result of this, female autists can develop a number of behavioural issues related to menstruation such as increased aggression and repetitive behaviours, not to mention changes in mood and mental health. Throw in a side of cramps and it’s no picnic!

In addition to the mental and behavioural toll, research has shown that periods are biologically much tougher on the autistic body. Studies have shown that women on the spectrum have higher levels of testosterone than their neurotypical peers (likely caused by dysfunction in the hypothalamus in the brain), leading to a number of menstrual related issues such as severe acne, hirsutism, irregular periods, polycystic ovary syndrome and dysmenorrhea. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is also highly prevalent in autistic women. Autists are also known to have high levels of inflammation in the body, which can further aggravate menstrual symptoms. Periods can even cause an increase in seizures in autists who also suffer from epilepsy due to hormonal fluctuations.

So what can you do to help a young autist through her period?

  • Educate them clearly about their changing bodies– autistic women can be particularly vulnerable, so they need to know exactly how their reproductive system works and the importance of consent. Use clear language that can not be misinterpreted or taken too literally. Understanding their body will also help them to better normalize menstruation so it is far less scary. As discussed in my last post, autistic women enter puberty much earlier than their peers, so it is essential that they are educated sooner rather than later about their changing bodies.
  • Check out autism friendly books about puberty/periods– there are a number of books available targeted at growing autists to help them navigate this challenging time. There are even books specifically about periods for young autistic women that may help.
  • Chat about different feminine hygiene options– as no two autists are the same, so no one option is better or worse when it comes to feminine hygiene products. There are far more options available these days to young women than just sanitary towels and tampons- they even make absorbent period underwear which could be very helpful for girls with sensory issues.
  • Setup a calendar/diary to track periods- the unpredictable nature of life and unexpected change can be particularly frustrating for autists. While periods can oftentimes be unpredictable and don’t always run on time, a calendar can nevertheless be very helpful to prepare an autist for upcoming periods and establish a routine. Knowing that an event is approaching can help to offset the scariness of it.
  • Break the taboo– reassure them that periods are a normal part of life and that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Periods may be overwhelming for autists, but they are by no means alone in their menstrual struggles.

Hope my female Earthlings at least enjoyed this week’s post! πŸ˜‰

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

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