Autism in Stranger Things?

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

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! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Autism in Holby City

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

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

Jules Robertson - IMDb

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

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

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

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

Jules Robertson in Holby City

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

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

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

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

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in Tuner and Hooch (TV Series)

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

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 2021โ€“ ) - 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! ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in Derry Girls

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

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

So what’s ‘Derry Girls’ about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a lovely weekend! ๐Ÿ˜€

Aoife

Autism in ‘The Night Clerk’

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

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

Watch The Night Clerk | Prime Video

So what’s the movie about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in ‘The Imitation Game’

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

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

The Imitation Game (2014).png

So what’s the film about?

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

A trailer for the film can be found here:

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

So how did ‘The Imitation Game‘ fare?

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

The True Story of The Imitation Game | Time

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

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

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

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Backstreet Dreams

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about the representation of autism in the 1990 drama film ‘Backstreet Dreams‘ starring a young Brookie Shields and Jason O’Malley.

BackstreetDreams1990.png

So what’s the film about?

The story follows a young hoodlum named Dean as he navigates fatherhood. Things become complicated when Dean’s son Shane get’s diagnosed with autism, causing his marriage to fall apart, and making Dean a single father. With the help of Shane’s therapist Stevie, Dean forms a connection with his son, finding the strength to leave his backstreet activities behind him.

You can check out a trailer for the film here:

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

Filmed in 1990, this was one of the earlier film portrayals of autism, and as such is very stereotyped in the autistic traits discussed. There’s a lot of mono-tonal speech, lack of eye contact, repetitive behaviours and stimming so nothing really out of the ordinary in this film. That being said, for a child actor in a role this young, it’s tricky to accurately depict the realities of autism unless the actor is themselves autistic. The story also tended to focus more on the impact of autism for Dean rather than Shane, which further distracted from the issue.

Cineplex.com | Movie

On the other hand, it was heartening to see the impact that appropriate interventions and support were having on Shane’s development, something that wasn’t always highlighted in these early films featuring autism. Most early films focus on accepting autism or how burdensome the condition can be, but this film showed a turning point in how it’s not all doom and gloom, and how proper interventions can really improve symptoms and outcomes for autists.

All in all, it was a fairly poor offering both in terms of autism and cinema, but by all means give it a go if you think you might like it!

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

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- The Accountant

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to take a look at a film I’ve been meaning to write about for a while, the 2016 action thriller ‘The Accountant‘ starring Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick.

The Accountant [DVD]

So what’s the film about?

As the name suggests, the film follows an accountant named Chris (Affleck) with high functioning autism and genius level maths skills (yawn! Can we get a new angle please Hollywood?). By day, Chris is a talented forensic accountant and expert cooker of books, but by night, he exacts violent revenge on the criminals he encounters through his work for breaking his moral code (his father put him through grueling military and martial arts training as a sort of coping mechanism/management strategy).

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

 

So what did I make of the depiction of autism?

It was hard to focus on the film at times as the acting was not great- Ben Affleck was basically expressionless throughout the entire film. Not sure why I’m surprised after Affleck’s pitiful take on Batman! The filming schedule for this would have coincided withย Batman vs Supermanย so maybe he was channeling Chris instead of Batman ๐Ÿ˜› Acting aside, this lack of emotion annoyed me. Yes, some autists struggle to express theirย emotions, but that does not mean that we are all emotionless robots or supercharged killing machines.

The Accountant review โ€“ Ben Affleck autism thriller doesn't add up ...

In terms of scientific accuracy, the film is a fairly bland affair. It get’s the basics relatively right with little things like separating foods, routines, stimming behaviours, social awkwardness and lack of eye contact, buuttt as with many other films, it hinges on stereotypes of savantism and mathematical genius. I did however appreciate the angle of Chris’s vigilante retribution for those that violated his moral code- a refreshing take on an autists propensity for rules/black and white thinking (albeit his response to the rule breaking was not the best…). In addition, I did find the military style induction of sensory overload through loud music, flashing lights and self injury to be an interesting new take on stimming and autism management, although a wildly extreme one!

The film however was not well received by the autistic community. The American Journal of Psychiatry for instance criticized it for not balancing clinical reality with the films action and entertainment value. Moreover, many have criticized the film for it’s links between autism and violence. Indeed, some autists can have violent outbursts during meltdowns, however, it’s the cool, calculated intent that is particularly unsettling in this inference.

All in all, The Accountant is a fairly run of the mill action movie that doesn’t deliver a significant portrayal of the autistic experience- if you really want to see Ben Affleck run around as a brooding, emotionless vigilante, you’d be better off watching Batman Vs Superman ๐Ÿ˜›

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

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- X+Y

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜€

This week I’d like to take a look at the depiction of autism in the semi-biographical drama film ‘X+Y‘ (also known as ‘A Brilliant Young Mind‘ in some countries) starring Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins.

In case (like me) you have never heard of it, the film follows the story of Nathan, an autist with genius level skill in mathematics as he trains for and competes in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). The interesting thing about this story is that it is based on the experiences of Maths prodigy Daniel Lightwing, who won a silver medal in the IMO back in 2006, and shows us how he found love, friendship and a sense of belonging through Maths.

You can see a trailer for the film here:

So given that the film has it’s basis in fact, how did it fare in it’s depiction of autism?

For starters, I found it hard to take the film seriously knowing from my research that for a film based on a true story, there were a number ofย  inaccuracies. Nathan was diagnosed with autism at a young age whereas Daniel was a teenager; his mentor was a woman but portrayed by a man in the film; Nathan’s father is killed off whereas Daniel’s is very much living, and perhaps the biggest difference being *Spoiler alert* that Nathan ran out of the IMO exam, whereas Daniel claimed the silver medal!

In terms of the portrayal of autism, I found that in general Asa Butterfield’s portrayal of autism was fairly stereotyped (poor eye contact, literal thinking, particular food preferences, problems with social skills etc.), however in reading about Daniel/watching his teenage self being interviewed, it’s hard to argue with the portrayal. Got to admit, Asa does look quite like him!

Image result for daniel lightwing"

One thing that I found particularly interesting was when another autistic character began to self harm after he did not make it onto the IMO team. This darker side of autism is often overlooked in film. We see the stereotyped struggles such as eye contact, social and sensory problems, however we rarely see an autists struggles with mental health. As I’ve discussed previously, mental health issues are very common among autists. Self injurious behaviours such as cutting can be particularly common, making the depiction of this trait in the film all the more poignant.

 

Image result for x+y"

At the end of the day, the real opinion that matters here is Daniel’s. When asked about the film Daniel was quoted as saying “I cried the first three times I watched it. It says things I was feeling but could not express.”

You can read more about Daniel’s experiences of Asperger’s here:

https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/with-asperger-s-you-put-on-a-mask-to-pretend-you-re-normal-daniel-lightwing-on-how-the-film-of-his-10119675.html

All in all, ‘X+Y’ is worth a watch, perhaps not the most informative film about autism, but an interesting story nonetheless.

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

Have a good weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- I Am Sam

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜€

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.

Image result for i am sam"

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Image result for i am sam"

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Enjoy the weekend! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

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