Autism on Screen- Atypical

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

So today I’m going to place Netflix’s latest original offering ‘Atypical‘ under the microscope.

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The series has been widelyย discussed within the autistic community this week, but in case you haven’t heard about it- ‘Atypical‘ is a coming of age series which follows Sam, an eighteen year old boy with high functioning autism as he sets out to find a girlfriend.

You can watch a trailer for the series here:

The series has received mainly positive reviews from critics (Forbes claim it to be the greatest series Netflix has ever made- uh, ‘Daredevil‘ anyone? ๐Ÿ˜› ), but some have critiqued the stereotypical nature of the character of Sam.

So what did I make of it?

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Show creator Robia Rashid, who herself has experience of autism in her personal life, conducted a lot of background research and hired autism consultant Michelle Dean to review all scripts and cuts- and in my opinion, it shows!

I found ‘Atypical’ to be a quite enjoyable and endearing series. I particularly enjoyed the coming of age angle, taking us away from the typical child/awkward adult portrayals that we see all too often on screen. It’s refreshing to see autism from the perspective of a teenager on the spectrum, a particularly turbulent time in the life of a change resistant autist (even more turbulent if navigated undiagnosed as in my case).

And guess what- the creators didn’t resort to savant stereotypes! ๐Ÿ˜€

Granted, Sam is highly intelligent with an excellent memory, but these traits are subtly infused within the fabric of his personality. I particularly found the acting from leadย Keir Gilchrist, who based his portrayal on his experiences with autistic friends, to be quite excellent, especially for an actor of his age.

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However, as excellent an actor as Gilchrist may be, many have criticized the show for casting a neurotypical actor in the main role. On the other hand, show creators did feature actor Anthony Jacques (seen on the right below), who is himself autistic. Alas, while described as a “supporting” character in many reviews of the show, he briefly appears in only two episodes.

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Nevertheless Jacques’ character of Christopher forms a refreshing addition to the cast with his quirky enthusiasm, representing a higher functioning bracket of the spectrum.

Perhaps the thing I enjoyed most about the show was how it focused not just on how autism impacts Sam’s life, but it also gave equal screen time to the impacts of autism within his wider social circle. We see the toll that autism has placed on Sam’s parents and their marriage, the responsibility that Sam’s younger sister burdens herself with and the reactions of friends and others in the community towards Sam.

As much as I personally enjoyed the show however, there were times where Netflix veered towards the stereotypical. For example, I felt that Sam was a little too literal in his thinking/responses:

Zahid (Sam’s friend): “I’m taking you to Poon-city!”

Sam: “That’s not a real place”

We have our moments yes, but not everything is quite that literal.

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I also found issue with how Sam always speaks in measured monotones- a common autistic stereotype. Whilst, yes, this is characteristic of some within the autistic community, it is not for all. My tone of voice for example can be anywhere from high pitched to a deep drawl depending on the mood I’m in (or an opportunistic head cold ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). This stereotype crops up time and time again in on screen portrayals and it is really starting to bug me! ๐Ÿ˜›

Once again as I watched this show, I felt as though I were seeing yet another carbon copy autistic person dance across my screen. The show talks about neurodiversity, but the character of Sam is, to my eye, far from diverse.

Perhaps Netflix would do well to feature an autistic female lead if the show is renewed for a second season.

All in all, ‘Atypical‘ is a mostly enjoyable affair so check it out if you have a spare 4-5 hours for a weekend binge watch ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Cube

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Today I’m going to talk to you about the portrayal of autism in the 1997 Canadian sci-fi horror film ‘Cube‘ (not the fun TV show! ๐Ÿ˜› ).

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I came across this (apparently) cult film last year when I was researching films featuring autism for a college assignment and decided to check it out.

The film focuses on a group of strangers who wake up in (surprise surprise) a giant cube comprised of a series of interconnecting rooms, each rigged with booby traps with the potential to kill the occupants of the cube. For example, there is a room that upon triggering a motion sensor will cause a wire grille to close in on the unwitting victim and slice them to pieces…

It’s a pretty grim film…

In order to leave, the group must work together to figure out how to escape their deadly prison and crack the puzzle that is the cube.

This film was definitely not my cup of tea (if I were a tea drinker! ๐Ÿ˜› ), but hey if you’re into the sci-fi horror genre then check out the trailer and see what you think!

But what has this film got to do with autism?

Well, wouldn’t you know it, the invisible puppeteers who control the cube hand selected their prisoners so that they could combine their skills to navigate the maze, and who did they select? None other than an autistic savant…!

Why?!

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This character is key to the prisoners escape as his mathematical skills enable them to calculate how the cube moves so that they can navigate their way to the exit in relative safety…or so they thought!

Buuut I won’t spoil it for you in case you want to see it! ๐Ÿ™‚

Sooo aside from yet another stereotypical mathematical savant, how is this films portrayal of autism?

The actor is actually pretty good showing lack of eye contact, stimming and repetitive movements, colour sensitivity etc.; however, once again I felt as though I was watching the same stereotypical character I’ve seen in dozens of films before.

Autism is a spectrum, each character we see on screen should be unique; but I guess Hollywood has yet to get the memo!

These scriptwriters seem to be stuck in a repetitive cube of their own! ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜‰

Until next week Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Sensory Screenings

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Ah the cinema- giant screens, surround sound, confectionery counters, reclining chairs; a perfect treat in many respects (until you need to dash for the loo, or eat too much sugar! ๐Ÿ˜› ).

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But for many people with autism, a trip to the cinema can present a number of sensory challenges- the brightness of the screen and overly loud audio can be quite distracting for example.

In recent years, a number of cinemas have begun to host special sensory screenings for children with autism.

In case you hadn’t noticed from all of the autism on screen posts I write, I’m a bit of a film buff, so naturally when I saw that my local cinema was hosting a sensory screening of ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul‘ I had to give it a try! ๐Ÿ™‚

For anyone thinking of seeing the film, it’s not as good as the previous ones- the cast change didn’t really work! ๐Ÿ˜›

So what’s different about a sensory screening?

A sensory screening differs from the average cinema experience in the following ways:

  • A special sheet of acetate (it reminded me of a giant plastic pocket) appeared to cover the usual backdrop to reduce the screen brightness
  • There are no trailers (woohoo ๐Ÿ˜€ !)
  • Sound levels are reduced
  • The lights remain on throughout at a dimmed level

This last part was quite nice actually as I did not emerge from the cinema with the usual vampire-esque response to daylight! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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So what did I make of the experience?

Well, to be honest it was a little weird for me at first as someone who frequents the cinema quite regularly. I wasn’t expecting the lights to stay on, but you adapt pretty quickly. It was quite a pleasant transition to go from dark to light scenes without feeling blinded! ๐Ÿ™‚

This did however, make it a little bit harder to see any of the night-time scenes which I found a tad distracting.

But all in all I found the experience quite nice and would highly recommend it for anyone who struggles with sensory issues ๐Ÿ™‚

However, I would have a slight critique to make in the choice of sensory films that are shown. Any films that I have seen advertised as sensory friendly here in Ireland fall into the family friendly/childrens category. While it is brilliant that many children with autism are afforded the opportunity to attend these screenings, we often forget that children with autism grow into adults with autism, adults who may want to watch the latest Marvel or James Bond movie, or a racy rom com in sensory comfort.

As they say- a lot done, more to do.

Enjoy the weekend everyone! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Aoife

 

 

Autism on Screen: Forrest Gump

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Today we’re going to have a look at the portrayal of autism in the multi-award winning 1994 classic ‘Forrest Gump‘.

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I know, it’s not a film that specifically mentions autism, but it’s on a list of films featuring autism by the Autism Research Institute so we’ll have a look anyway! ๐Ÿ™‚

In actual fact, ‘Forrest Gump‘ was based on a book of the same name by Winston Groom (1986) in which the title character is an autistic savant with great mathematical ability! I’ll have a read of this at some stage and discuss it in the future ๐Ÿ™‚

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So what’s ‘Forrest Gump‘ about?

In short, the film details the life and adventures of one Forrest Gump native of Greenbow, Alabama. Slow witted, but kind hearted, Forrest find’s himself in the midst of some of the most pivotal events in modern American history, showing everyone that mental disability does not preclude you from living a most extraordinary life.

For anyone who has yet to see the film- here’s a little trailer:

So how does ‘Forrest Gump‘ fare in it’s portrayal of autism?

Whilst ‘Forrest Gump‘ may not intentionally portray autism as in the book, nevertheless Forrest displays many autistic characteristics consistent with a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. He does not always display socially appropriate behavior, as demonstrated by the memorable scene in the White House where he tells JFK that he has to pee! Forrest doesn’t always make eye contact, has some specialist interests (such as Jenny and Ping Pong) and can often ramble on, speaking in monotones as is often associated with AS. Forrest also demonstrates that he is a literal thinker in the film, often leading to some of the more humorous moments.

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Interestingly, the film depicts Forrest in a more realistic light than in the book. Whilst he is described in both as having a low IQ in the 70’s, Forest is not portrayed as a stereotyped mathematical savant in the film.

FINALLY! A bit of realism! ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜‰

Although entirely fictional, this film delivers the audience an encouraging message of hope. In spite of his mental limitations, Forrest goes on to lead not just a “normal”, but an extraordinary life.

Forrest’s tale truly shows us how, as I’ve often remarked in this blog, you should never allow autism to hold you back. An autism diagnosis can be a challenge yes, but it does not mean that you can’t live a “normal”, happy and fulfilling life ๐Ÿ™‚

To quote Sally Field in this film:

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Enjoy the weekend everyone! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

 

Autism on Screen-Mozart and the Whale

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

To mark the end of autism awareness month, today I’d like to tell you about a film that in my opinion, is probably the most realistic representation of autism on screen- the 2005 romantic-comedy-drama film ‘Mozart and the Whale.

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(This film is also called ‘Crazy in Love‘ in some parts of the world)

The film follows the turbulent relationship between Donald (Josh Hartnett) and Isabelle (Radha Mitchell)- two adults with Asperger’s syndrome who meet at an autism support group.

Check out the trailer below:

What makes this film stand out from the crowd is that the film illustrates two very different pictures of AS and two different levels of functionality.

Donald, contrary to the OCD stereotype, lives in a hoarders paradise surrounded by birds (and their droppings…), and works as a taxi driver as he is unable to navigate job interviews to make use of his university degree. Isabelle in contrast lives in a highly organized environment, hairdressing by day and painting by night; maintaining a relatively normal social life and appearing to outsiders as merely eccentric.

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In watching their interactions, a clear difference emerges in their expression of ย AS. In addition to this, the background support groups also provide us with different pictures of autism with no two characters appearing the same.

Autism is unique, and this film remains true to that.

Another key element to this film is that of gender and autism. Other films such as ‘Snow Cake‘, have a tendency to portray women using the male experience of the condition, however, in this film we can see that there is a clear difference between autistic men and women.

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Unlike Donald, Isabelle appears relatively normal to an outsider, albeit eccentric. She performs better socially and in the workplace, and largely appears to be in control. The film also hints at Isabelle’s developed social coping skills when she says:

I can’t keep from shocking people so I make it work for me.

As someone who made great efforts in college to turn qualities that were once perceived as weird into (hopefully) endearing eccentricities, this remark completely resonated with me.

However, like many women with autism, Isabelle struggles with issues of mental health and she is seeing a therapist. This film gives us a true insight into the realities faced by many women living with AS.

This film has divided some critics as to it’s accuracy in it’s portrayal of autism. On the one hand, it has been praised by many critics as one of the truest cinematic representations of autism, however, others have criticized the film for portraying the leads as having savant skills (Donald is mathematical; Isabelle has artistic and musical savant skills).

I know, I sound like a hypocrite as I often give out about this over-representation,

BUT

the characters in ‘Mozart and the Whale‘ are based on a true story!! ๐Ÿ˜€

The film is loosely based on the love story of Jerry and Mary Newport, two people with AS who are savants!

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You can read a bit more on their story over on Goodreads:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/163483.Mozart_and_the_Whale

Fun Fact about the Film:ย The screenplay for ‘Mozart and the Whale‘ was written by Ron Bass- the same screenwriter for ‘Rain Man‘!

This fact is made even more interesting by the fact that ‘Rain Man‘ is often considered inaccurate, while ‘Mozart and the Whale‘ is perceived as the most accurate.

In comparing both films, we can really see a clear change in attitudes towards autism in the intervening 17 years. We move from a dramatic and stereotyped vision of autism to a friendlier, more accurate portrayal of the autistic condition.

If you want to watch a film about autism, this is the one to see.

This film definitely get’s Aoife’s ‘A’ of approval ๐Ÿ˜‰

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Aoife

Autism on Screen- Snow Cake

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

In continuation from the previous post, today I’m going to have a look at a female character with autism in the 2006 indie romantic-comedy drama (that’s a LOT of genres! ๐Ÿ˜› ) ย ‘Snow Cake‘.

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As discussed in my last post, gender bias is often an issue when it comes to women on the spectrum. Autism is viewed as a predominantly male condition, and as such this is reflected in Hollywood portrayals of autism.

Weโ€™ve all heard of โ€˜Rain Manโ€™, but โ€œRain Womanโ€ is rarely seen.

Snow Cake‘ is a really interesting example of this seemingly rare portrayal of autistic women on screen.

Starring Sigourney Weaver and the late Alan Rickman, ‘Snow Cake‘ explores the unusual relationship between Linda (a woman with high functioning autism) and Alex- a man who comes to visit Linda after her daughter Vivienne is killed in a car accident in which he was involved. Feeling guilty that he survived the accident, Alex set’s out to meet Linda and bring her some gifts that Vivienne had bought prior to her death, finding himself reluctantly drawn into her world.

You can view a trailer for this film below:

Before I get into the discussion of this, there is one line in the film (that can be seen in this trailer) that stands out for me:

I know all about autism- I’ve seen that film!”

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Granted, this line was likely included as a slight from the screenwriter, (a parent to an autistic child), towards public perceptions of autism, buuuutttt it does reinforce the importance of not believing everything Hollywood tells you of autism- something that one need bear in mind as to the portrayal of autistic women in this film in particular.

In terms of scientific portrayal of autism, the film gives a fairly accurate depiction of the symptoms.

BUT!

There is one major flaw…

Linda displays mostly male characteristics of autism!!

This is a common problem in on screen portrayals of autistic women as much of the information available to actors refers to male experiences of autism. For example, Diane Kruger was advised by a man with autism for her portrayal of Asperger’s syndrome in the series ‘The Bridge‘. When AS was featured in an episode of ‘Grey’s Anatomy‘ many years ago, a behind the scenes featurette revealed that the actress based her performance on a boy she knew with autism!

For her role in ‘Snow Cake‘, Sigourney Weaver conducted a lot of research into the role and was actually coached by a woman with autism- Ros Blackburn. Aside from her endearing eccentricities however, the character of Linda does not differ greatly from other films featuring male characters.

The problem here may lie in the script for the film, as screenwriter Angela Pell is mother to a boy with autism, and her writing would have been heavily influenced by her experiences.

However, the film does provide a good reflection of the reality of autism in that Linda is not a savant or overtly intelligent as is often over-represented.

In addition to this, Alan Rickman interestingly chose not to research autism ahead of filming in order to accurately reflect the reactions and frustrations that an outsider would experience in an encounter with an autistic individual, adding a further dimension of realism to the film.

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All in all, gender issues aside, ‘Snow Cake‘, while not the most riveting of films (wasn’t my cup of tea) does paint quite a realistic picture of life with autism.

Happy Friday everyone! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Autism on Screen- My Name Is Khan

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

In the next part of my autism on screen series, I’m going to explore the portrayal of autism in the Indian drama film ‘My Name Is Khan‘ (2010).

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A dual Hindi and English language film, ‘My Name Is Khan‘ follows Rizwan Khan, a Muslim man with Asperger’s syndrome, who set’s out on a journey across America to tell the president that he is not a terrorist following a sectarian attack on his family in the wake of the events of 9/11.

Check out the trailer below! ๐Ÿ™‚

So how does this film measure up in it’s portrayal of the realities of AS?

The film opens with a disclaimer stating that the film makers have endeavored to depict AS as authentically and sensitively as possible, however, as this is a work of fiction, they acknowledge that certain creative liberties were taken in the portrayal of autism- so as with ‘Rain Man‘, take the film with a grain of salt!

That being said, I found this film to be generally quite accurate from a symptomatic perspective. Granted, Khan appears slightly weirder than the average person with AS and many of his symptoms are exaggerated, but overall I felt that this was a solid onscreen portrayal of autism.

In particular I felt that this film gave a good representation of repetitive behaviors and sensory sensitivity.

Throughout the film, Khan can be seen fiddling with some stones in a repetitive manner.

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I may not carry stones around with me, but I am constantly fiddling with my jewelry in a similar manner. It’s a compulsive action- I have this constant need to reach out and feel my chain between my fingers. There’s something incredibly soothing about the motion, especially when you’re particularly stressed. Actions such as these are referred to as stimming or self stimulation. I’ll dedicate a post to stimming at another stage ๐Ÿ™‚

As regards sensory sensitivity, I thought that the film presented more of a normalized and subtle reaction to sensory stimuli than most films featuring autism, particularly in relation to Khan’s sensitivity to the colour yellow (there’s a particularly funny moment where he changes direction on the street to avoid looking at someone wearing a yellow top!).

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When I first watched this film, I thought that this had to be an exaggeration, but in actual fact, as I mentioned in the last post, boys with autism really struggle to process the colour yellow! Scientists think that this may result from a sensitivity to luminance in autists. Alternatively this may occur as yellow is one of the most heavily sensory loaded colours, as it engages multiple colour detection cells (called cones) in the eye.

Comparing this film to ‘Rain Man‘, there is quite a difference in how autism is portrayed. There was a far greater focus on everything that is good about Khan rather than areas of disability in his life, which can often be exploited in film for dramatic effect. Unlike ‘Rain Man‘, modern films about autism, such as this, haveย the added benefit of over twenty years of research and observation of the autistic condition, leading to more accurate depictions/attitudes to difference on screen.

Unfortunately however, Khan is depicted as quite intelligent (even called a genius), with superb memory and a savant-like ability to fix any mechanical item known to man, further promoting the stereotype of the autistic savant. These traits however, are somewhat muted in comparison to ‘Rain Man‘, giving a slightly more realistic portrayal of autism.

So there we are- hope you all enjoyed this piece ๐Ÿ™‚ I would highly encourage you all to watch this film at some stage. Autism aside, this is an amazing film- one of the best I’ve seen in a long time! In the latter half of the film, you start to forget that Khan is in any way different, finding yourself swept up in this powerful story of love, loss and acceptance.ย Having watched only the trailer to re-jog my memory, I really want to see this film again myself! ๐Ÿ˜€

Weekend plans sorted! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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Aoife

Autism 101-Sensory Processing

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

So today I’m going to briefly introduce you to the issue of sensory processing for people on the spectrum. This is a very broad topic, but I’ll expand on the issues in more detail at a later stage ๐Ÿ™‚

Many individuals on the autistic spectrum struggle to process every day sensory information. Sounds, textures, smells, lights, even colours (boys in particular struggle to process the colour yellow) can overload the nervous system and greatly upset us, effect our behavior or even trigger a meltdown.

But why?

In autism, our senses can be either hyper or hypo sensitive (sometimes even both) to stimuli at different times. Our senses are heightened- smells are stronger, sounds are louder. As a result of this, stimuli reverberate all the more intensely in our brains.

Think of the brain as a computer server at exam time where everyone is logging in at once. Too much information has been entered into the system, but the server can only cope with so much. The entire system becomes overwhelmed and the server crashes.

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Here’s just a quick video simulation of sensory overload.

Warning for those on the spectrumthis video contains flashing lights, bright colours and loud, sudden noises

For me personally, I have many (mild) issues with sensory processing. Smells, tastes and textures are a daily struggle. For example, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat a salad as the smell alone makes me want to throw up- I’m dreading what pregnancy may one day bring! ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜‰

Loud or irritating ย noises, (especially repetitive ones), too can be a challenge. Don’t get me started on the shock I get when a passing bus makes that giant hiss/woosh sound or a car honks the horn unexpectedly!! ๐Ÿ˜›

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Most days, you’re lucky and the offending stimulus passes quickly, but other times it can get the better of you. I recently had a near meltdown on holiday from a cocktail of excessive heat, hunger, exhaustion and social frustration.

Top Tip– Keep on top of your hunger/thirst. I’ve discovered this past year that an excess of either will make me act really loopy! ๐Ÿ˜›

When you’re hit by sensory overload, it feels as though your head is caught in a vice grip. Your mind is screaming, unable to focus on anything else but the source of discomfort.

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The worst part of it I find is coming across as a complete basket case when overloaded. You don’t get the most sympathetic of looks when you complain about a persistent noise- few can understand how it’s making your brain hurt.

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So what does science have to say about sensory processing?

Sensory integration involves three basic sensory systems:

  • The tactile system (touch)- comprises a series of nerves passing information from the skin to the brain
  • The vestibular system (sound)- comprises a series of structures in the inner ear involved in movement detection
  • The proprioceptive system-a series of receptors in the muscle (proprioreceptors) which feed information to the brain about the body’s position

These three systems share a close but complicated relationship which allow us to experience, process and respond to different stimuli. Dysfunction in this network can cause hyper/hypo sensitivity, in addition to problems with coordination, behavior and academic issues.

Evidence from brain imaging studies has also shown that autists experience stronger responses in the brain to sensory stimuli in areas that process sensory information and the amygdala- an area that is involved in attention, emotional reactions and threat response.

But why is this?

Several studies have found evidence of hyper-excitability and hyper-connectivity in the autistic brain.

Evidence shows that in many cases of autism, the neurons located in the sensory cortex of the brain are more sensitive and excitable than others. This is kind of like how a person can be more ticklish in some parts of the body than another- the nerves in the underarm are more excitable than those of the arm.

The autistic brain has also shown signs of hyper-connectivity, where regions of the brain are excessively connected- like an overloaded plug!

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This amplifies memory formation, sensory processing and causes an autist to be hyper-emotional, which can make the world painfully intense. Scientists have theorized that autists prefer safe, controlled and predictable environments as a coping mechanism to actively avoid this pain.

Finally, studies have indicated that sensory issues, in addition to a number of other autistic behaviors, may be linked to neurotransmitter (chemical messengers between body and brain) levels in the body. As previously discussed, some neurotransmittersย are dysregulated in autism. Evidence suggests that in cases of autism, there are higher levels of excitatory neurotransmitters, and lower levels of inhibitory (i.e. calming) neurotransmitters. These high levels of excitatory neurotransmitters cause neurons to fire excessively, which can influence sensory perception and processing.

I’ll expand a little bit more on the individual sensory issues at a later stage ๐Ÿ™‚

Enjoy your week everyone ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Rain Man

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m going to change things up a little today with a new series examining the portrayal of autism on screen.

Film scholars have remarked that the portrayal of autism on film is generally inaccurate and highly stereotyped, so I’ve decided to take a closer look at things from a personal and scientific perspective ๐Ÿ™‚

So let’s start at the very beginning with perhaps the most famous portrayal of autism in cinema- 1988’s ‘Rain Man‘.

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For those of you who have not seen the film, ‘Rain Man’ย focuses on the relationship between brothers Charlie and Raymond ‘Rain Man‘ Babbitt as they embark on a cross country road trip to Los Angeles (Raymond refuses to fly unless it’s with Qantas- the safest airline in the world!). Charlie grew up without any knowledge of Raymond, only discovering his existence upon learning that his father’s multi-million dollar fortune had been bequeathed to the mental institution in which he resides. And so Charlie sets out to be Raymond’s carer in order to access the fortune, but *SPOILER ALERT*- ultimately has a change of heart. Classic Hollywood ending.

Here’s a trailer for anyone who’s thinking of watching it ๐Ÿ™‚

โ€˜Rain Manโ€™ is often considered to be the main reference point for autism on film, as it prompted the breakthrough of autism into the wider conscious of the public. Prior to this, characters displayed autistic like traits in film, but autism itself was not discussed- likely due to the fact that the diagnostic criteria for autism was only just emerging in the late 1980’s. The term ‘Rain Man‘ has also become synonymous with autism and other mental disabilities in popular culture, as seen in this example from the film ‘Miss Congeniality‘ (2000):

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As a “female rain man”, I find this highly insulting, so try not to brand autistic people using the term ๐Ÿ˜›

Winner of ย 4 Oscar’s, ‘Rain Man’ has been highly critically acclaimed- but does the film match up to the reality?

Rain Man‘ is generally thought to be an accurate portrayal of the autistic condition in scholarly papers. Indeed, there are many areas in the film in which Raymond perfectly demonstrates some of the classical signs of autism- sensitivity to touch, restrictive and repetitive behaviors, specialist interests, coordination issues, deficits in social communication, autistic meltdowns etc.

Interestingly while I thought that I would not be able to relate to Raymond from previous viewings, I found that his literal thinking had me written all over it. There’s a scene in the film (which you can see in the trailer) where Raymond stops in the middle of the road on a pedestrian crossing after the light flashes “DON’T WALK”! I have a terrible habit of dawdling at pedestrian crossings. Oftentimes I can see that the road is clear, but still I’ll wait for the green man (although this may be related to getting clipped on the ankle by a car crossing the road in Dublin as a teenager! ๐Ÿ˜› ). However, I’m not as bad as I used to be since learning to drive; hesitation gets you nowhere on a roundabout after all! ๐Ÿ˜‰

The story where Raymond inadvertently burned Charlie in the bathtub as a child (which led him to be institutionalized), also brings back many memories from my childhood. There have been many cases where I have inadvertently harmed my siblings- why just yesterday I threw a foam roller at my sister in an attempt to help her stretch out her legs, only for it to whack her in the throat…oops!

Bad Aoife! ๐Ÿ˜›

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But my intentions were good!!

Acting without thinking is something that I tend to do an awful lot of (probably why I overthink and don’t act when it comes to love ๐Ÿ˜› ). My mother had to keep a really close eye on me growing up after she found me attempting to push hair-clips down my sisters throat…I have no real answer for why I did that, but based on similar experiences, I’d say scientific curiosity probably had a role to play! ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜‰ We’ll explore curiosity and impulsivity a little bit more in the coming weeks.

On the other hand however, this film has largely perpetuated the stereotype that autists typically have superb memories and savant skills. As I’ve stated previously, these traits are rare, and the vast majority of autists do not possess them. The same goes for card counting- a family friend actually inferred that I should be able to do it once! ๐Ÿ˜›

In addition to this, Raymond is also described as ‘high functioning’ in the film, BUT Raymond is incapable of living independently. Whilst the definition of what constitutes high functioning autism varies, for many, Raymond does not fit the high functioning category and therefore does not come across as a true reflection of autism.

One of the biggest issues here I believe, is the fact that the character of Raymond is based on Kim Peek- a “megasavant” who did not in fact have autism, but FG syndrome (a rare genetic syndrome characterized by intellectual disabilities, low muscle tone and an abnormally large head).

Kim_Peek_on_Jan_16,_2007.png

Bit hard to write a film about autism when the inspiration doesn’t actually have autism if you ask me! ๐Ÿ˜›

On top of this, Dustin Hoffman famously prepared for the role by observing autistic adults for months in psychiatric institutions. However, Hoffman by his own admission describes Raymondโ€™s character as an unrealistic grouped composite of high functioning autists he encountered during his research.

With this in mind,ย don’t believe everything you see in the movies folks! ๐Ÿ˜‰

When I first got my diagnosis, this film naturally came to mind, however, I really struggled to relate what was presented on screen to my reality. Indeed, ‘Rain Man‘ reflects some of the realities of autism, but not all. ‘Rain Man‘ is an excellent film with superb acting from Dustin Hoffman, but it comes from a time before the ‘spectrum‘ when knowledge of autism was limited.

So when it comes to films about autism remember-ย autism is a spectrum; one size does not fit all ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

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