Autism on Screen- Scrubs

Greetings from lock-down dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

As I try to fill my hours in these dark days, like many people, I’ve been spending more time working my way through my TV/film backlog. In the midst of this, I’ve come across an old episode of the acclaimed medical comedy Scrubs (Season 4 Episode 18) which featured an autistic child.

Binge Watchin' TV Review: Scrubs

In this episode, Dr. Cox’s highly competitive childhood friend Ron comes to town with his son and arranges a play date. During the course of this play date, Dr Cox is dismayed to find that Ron’s son Nathan is far superior in his block building skills to his son Jack. Taking this, Nathan’s lack of eye contact and avoidance of touch/hugs into account, Dr. Cox realizes that Nathan is likely autistic.

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While this episode is not the most accurate portrayal of autism with such stereotyped traits (the character’s on screen appearance is only fleeting so it would have been difficult to show a true representation), I wanted to talk about the episode nonetheless for the way that Dr. Cox handled the situation.

The episode did not focus in on the medical drama or exaggerated autistic traits, but kept it simple yet effective in the sensitive delivery of the suspected diagnosis from one friend to another. There was also a greater focus on the fact that early diagnosis is a good thing to give autists the best chance to thrive- a refreshing change as so often media portrayals stick with the negatives.

Here’s a clip from this poignant scene:

 

In reality, John C. McGinley (who plays Dr. Cox) is father to a child with Down Syndrome and is an active ambassador for this cause, playing an integral part in the Special Olympics “R-word: Spread The Word, To End The Word” campaign in recent years. As such, it appears that he drew from his own experiences of special needs in his delivery here which really added to the authenticity and tenderness of this moment of true friendship.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Stay safe!

Aoife

Autism and COVID-19

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Stay safe everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

My Autistic Fight Song- Rosie Weldon

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

As many of you may know, I love to read, and so I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to read an advanced copy of ‘My Autistic Fight Song‘ by Rosie Weldon.

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This enticing memoir charts Rosie’s journey through higher education, her autism diagnosis and her struggles in the workplace as she strived to achieve her dream of becoming an accountant.

You can find a trailer for the book here on Rosie’s Youtube Channel:

 

So what did I make of the book?

Reading this book was a very interesting experience for me as someone who has yet to engage with another female autist in the flesh. I’ve read many abridged accounts and watched many interviews with other female autists, but this was the first time I really was given a raw insight into the mind of someone other than myself.

In some ways I could have been reading my own story. My experience of autism has been significantly milder, but yet many of our experiences align. Both diagnosed in our twenties, both encountered challenges with social anxiety, both found comfort in music, Harry Potter and the confines of a secluded bathroom stall. It was fascinating to see into Rosie’s thought process, her thinking so often mimicking my own- growing up, it would have been nice to have come across this book to let me know that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t so different after all.

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Perhaps most interesting was Rosie’s experiences of the workplace. As I have discussed previously, only a small percentage of autists find full time employment. Rosie’s perseverance in the face of adversity in the workplace was inspiring. She was fiercely determined not to be another statistic, and this determination made her dream of being an accountant a reality.

It was also most heartening to see the support that Rosie received from her employers along the way- they did not see her autism as a challenge and instead found ways to work within her comfort zone, such as moving noisy machines to a different room. Having struggled in the workplace myself in a role where I was not adequately supported, I’m glad to see that not all employers see autism as a burden.

For anyone looking for an insight into the mind of a female autist, “My Autistic Fight Song” is the perfect bedtime read πŸ™‚

Rosie also has her own blog where she talks about autism which you can check out here: https://www.rosieweldon.com/

If you’d like to read ‘My Autistic Fight Song‘, the book will be available to buy from April 1st (conveniently timed for Autism Awareness Month) πŸ™‚

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Coping with Disappointment

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

As I was unable to travel on a much anticipated break to the north of Italy last week due to the coronavirus outbreak (just my luck!), the subject of disappointment has been weighing heavily on my mind.

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Disappointments, whilst an unfortunate fact of life, are oftentimes more difficult for autists to cope with. As we feel emotions on a much greater scale than neurotypicals, naturally, we oftentimes find disappointments quite tough. Neurological impairments in emotional processing can make it difficult for an autist to wrap their head around the sinking feeling of disappointment which can trigger meltdowns and shutdowns depending on the level of disappointment.

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I’ve not always had the greatest experiences with disappointment in my own life. Growing up, something as simple as a friend cancelling plans, or missing an episode of CSI could bring me to tears; if it were something greater like a bad test result or not being chosen for a team, I could isolate myself for hours melting down as if it were the worst thing in the world.

Thankfully as I’ve grown older, it’s been a lot easier to navigate disappointments- I’ve been surprisingly calm about missing my holidays last week for example.

 

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Here are some of my top tips for coping with disappointment:

Write it out– when your mind is overwhelmed by your disappointment, I’ve found that verbalizing your feelings in writing can really help to relieve the pressure in your head.

Contextualize the situation– try to see the bigger picture through your disappointment. Will this matter in a few days, weeks or months? Things may feel like the end of the world after a disappointment, but as my mother always says- “it’s not cancer!”

Focus on the good-I know it seems obvious, but focusing on the positive side of things and the things that you have going for you can really help to pull you out of a funk and divert a potential meltdown.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Self Injurious Behaviors (SIBs)

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to discuss an issue that impacts roughly half of all autists at some point in their life- self injurious behaviours or SIBs.

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So what are SIBs?

Self-injurious behaviours are simply behaviours where a person physically harms themselves. This can manifest as self biting, hair pulling, skin picking, hitting, head banging (not the good kind 🎸), cutting etc.

So what triggers this sort of behaviour in autists?

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Research suggests that there are a number of potential physiological and psychological reasons for self injury:

Biochemical factors- Some studies have indicated that neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin may be associated with self injury. This may be particularly relevant given that these neurotransmitters are often dysregulated in autism which may predispose us to such behaviours.

Stimulation– Like stimming, some research suggests that SIB’s may be a repetitive behaviour in response to a lack of or an increase in sensory stimulation. Some autists may self harm to increase their alertness in times of low stimulation; other’s my harm in response to stress or anxiety to dampen their emotions.

Pain- Ironically, SIBs can be a response to pain as a means of reducing it. Beta endorphins (opiate like substances in the brain) may be released following self injury which can dampen the pain response. Moreover, self injury may act as a diversion from the pain that an autist may be experiencing in another region of the body, or in response to a sensory stimulus that causes pain (e.g the noise of a fire alarm may register as painful to an autist).

Communication and Frustration– Some autists may be unable to communicate an emotion that they are experiencing and may resort to SIB’s out of frustration or in a non-verbal attempt to communicate that something is wrong, boredom, excitement etc.

Control-Β As in the case of eating disorders, self harming may provide an autist with a sense of control when life spins out of it.

 

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SIB’s can be deeply distressing for a friend or parent to witness, but when mild, they are often not cause for concern. If these behaviours are escalating however, there are a number of interventions such as medications, CBT, autism support dogs (I’ve seen amazing videos of dogs calming down autists/using their paws to intervene and stop self hitting) and encouraging replacement behaviours such as wearing rubber bracelets and necklaces to divert self biting and skin picking impulses.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- X+Y

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

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 ofΒ  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!

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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.

 

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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! πŸ˜€

Have a good weekend!

Aoife

Autism and the Catherine Noone Controversy

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

This week, I’d like to talk about a highly controversial incident that’s happened this week in Ireland in the run up to our general election on the 8th of February.

 

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Fine Gael election candidate Catherine Noone has gotten herself into hot water this week for making the following comment about Taoiseach (aka our prime minister) Leo Varadker while out on the election trail:

“He’s autistic like, he’s on the spectrum, there’s no doubt about it. He’s uncomfortable socially and he doesn’t always get the in-between bits.”

In the wake of these comments, she initially denied them before a tape emerged of the conversation. Since then, Catherine has apologized profusely to the Taoiseach, which he has accepted, and she will not face suspension or sanction from their political party.

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This entire incident has naturally caused outrage among the autistic community in Ireland that autism was used in such a derogatory way.

The biggest issue here is Catherine’s lack of education about autism and her sweeping stereotypical comments. Most people have a certain percentage of autistic traits, but that does not mean that they are on the spectrum. Moreover, someone can be perfectly at ease in social situations, but can still be autistic.

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In my opinion, I found it quite insulting that this statement would imply that I, as an autist, am like the Taoiseach. I do not appreciate being lumped in the same camp as a man with such a serious lack of empathy for the people over whom he governs. The housing and homelessness crisis, our abysmal health service (despite being a trained medical professional), the death of rural Ireland – the country has been falling apart while the salaries of his cabinet have increased. As I have discussed previously, contrary to popular belief, autists are quite empathetic. We may not always know how to convey empathy, but it does not mean we are devoid. Few autists could sit back and allow what’s happened to Ireland in the past few years as our clear cut understanding of right and wrong would forbid it. To imply that I am anything like an unfeeling politician is extremely hurtful.

To be fair, this lack of empathy is fairly typical of most politicians- but I’m not one for stereotypes πŸ˜›

The world needs to be properly educated in the range of ways that spectrum traits can manifest, maybe then we would be far less quick to resort to derogatory stereotypes.

Hope you enjoyed thisΒ  post dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism Friendly Shopping

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Shopping can be quite an overwhelming experience for an autist- the hustle and bustle, bright lighting, loud noises, strong smells etc.

As autism friendly events are all the rage at the moment, I decided to take some time to check out Lidl’s weekly autism friendly shopping hours.

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So what’s so special about Lidl’s autism friendly shopping experience?

Every Tuesday from 6-8pm across all Irish stores, Lidl takes the following autism friendly measures:

  • Reduced lighting
  • No music or announcements
  • Lower till scan sounds
  • Priority queuing
  • Offers additional help if requested
  • Assistance dogs are welcome (sadly none of these cuties were around during my visit 😦 )

They also include a sensory map for kids which can be downloaded from their website to show you the layout of the store to familiarize yourself with it, even providing a key to indicate where there may be strong smells, cold areas, and items that you shouldn’t touch:

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This map would also be of benefit for anxious adults on the spectrum, albeit the ‘do not touch’ symbols on the alcohol, pet food and cleaning products is a bit insulting. These symbols could be challenging for literal, rule-abiding adult autists- who says we don’t like to drink/cook with alcohol, have pets to feed or need to clean a toilet πŸ˜›

So how was my shopping experience?

I’ve lived and shopped on my own since college, so I’m perfectly at ease with the hustle and bustle of a busy shop (except for Lush in Dublin- so narrow, crowded and impossible to find what you’re looking for that I have to say a prayer before I enter πŸ˜› ). Nevertheless, I found the whole experience quite soothing.

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My eyes didn’t recoil from the harsh transition from the darkness of the carpark to dazzling supermarket lighting, but rather gently adjusted to the dimmed lights. Even the freezer lights were turned off to reduce the sensory impact. The quietness of the store was similarly soothing. I could slowly walk around the store at ease, my mind clear to focus on the items in front of me.

I was really enjoying my experience, however, it was cut short abruptly without any warning.

Lidl’s autism friendly hours are 6-8pm on a Tuesday. At 7.45 I looked up from my phone to be blinded by the store lighting which had been turned on early. Granted, shops aren’t a sensory problem for me, however, had another autist been in the shop at this time it could have been a whole other story.

What if someone had started their shop at 7.30 under the assumption that they had a solid 30 minutes to get a few bits?

This begs the question as to why the hour ended early? Autists are very literal andΒ  would assume that when something is advertised to last until 8pm that that is when it ends- not 15 minutes earlier with no advanced warning. At this point in the evening, there were no children in the shop, so was it assumed that there were no more autists doing their shopping? My presence meant that there was one confirmed autist still shopping, who’s to say there were not others?

If the decision to end the hour early was based on the number of children in the store, it is highly insulting to adults on the spectrum. People still consider autism to be a childhood disorder, but it is lifelong. We keep forgetting that the child with autism will one day grow up. These autism friendly evenings appear to be mainly geared at children, but adults with autism may choose to shop during these hours too and this must be considered.

Aside from their disregard for accurate timekeeping, Lidl is nevertheless the perfect spot to go for an autism friendly grocery spree! πŸ˜€ If arriving later in the hour though, especially for adult autists, perhaps it would be worthwhile flagging it to a member of staff or carry a sign or something to avoid getting caught out like I did πŸ˜› πŸ˜‚

bitmoji-20200108115511Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Happy 3rd Anniversary!

Greetings Earthlings!

Happy New Year!! πŸ˜€ Hope that you and yours enjoyed the holiday season as much as I did πŸ™‚

Here we are again- another year’s blogging under my belt! 😲

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No one is as shocked as I am that I have now been writing this blog for THREE whole years, and even more so that you’re all still enjoying my ramblings! πŸ˜‚ I am so appreciative for your continued readership and support. Reading your messages and comments about how my words have helped you has meant so much to me these past 3 years πŸ™‚

I’ve got some brand new ideas cooking away so roll on 2020! πŸ˜€

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Aoife

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