Autism on Screen- Backstreet Dreams

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

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.

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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.

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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! 🙂

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in ‘The Rosie Effect’

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

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

So what’s the sequel about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Halloween

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

In light of the week that’s in it, I’m going to discuss how Halloween festivities can impact those on the autistic spectrum 🙂

Halloween is designed to be a scary time all around, but if you’re on the spectrum, Halloween can be even more unsettling than you might think. From a sensory perspective, Halloween can be difficult to navigate with the noise from explosive pyrotechnics, the bright lights, open flames, itchy costumes and the unpredictability with potential jump scares and strangers in costume waiting around every corner. On another level, masked faces can also pose a problem given how autists struggle on a normal basis to read social cues and facial expressions.

But just because Halloween can be challenging for an autist, doesn’t mean that it still can’t be fun. Here are some of my top tips for navigating the scary season:

Plan your costume ahead of time– some costumes are made from quite cheap materials which can be quite irritating to an autists sensitive skin, so it’s always best to get your costume ready in advance/get them to wear it round the house to make sure that they will be comfortable in their outfit. Try incorporating specialist interests into the costume as this will help your child feel more at ease as they navigate Halloween festivities. Pro tip– have a backup option with something comfy that you know your child will be happy to wear in case something goes wrong.

Do makeup trial runs– Halloween makeup can be quite irritating and sometimes smelly, so it’s a good idea to do a trial run, particularly if you’re planning anything with liquid latex (you would not believe the smell- I covered half my face in the stuff for a Phantom of the Opera look one year and the smell was so bad it burned my eyes all night!)

Discuss costume options with friends in advance: Children with autism may be scared or may not recognize a friend in makeup/wearing a mask. If they are heading out with a group of friends, have a chat ahead of time so that they will be prepared for the choice of costume and won’t find the change so unsettling.

Get an autism awareness card– for nonverbal autists that are unable to say “Trick or Treat”, you can get some fun Halloween cards that will explain this to show when you knock on a door, which can help make the night a little easier. Check out this this one below for example:

Halloween Autism Awareness Cards - Autism Dog Services

Use sensory aids such as earplugs and sunglasses: These can help to take the edge off the loud noises and bright lights. If you’re feeling self conscious, why not try and incorporate them into your Halloween costume- Halloween is the one night of the year where you can look like an oddball and no one can judge you for it 😉

Head out early– if your child is uncomfortable in the dark, or you want to reduce the chances of them getting overwhelmed by the amount of people out and about, take your child out for early Trick or Treating. Alternatively, you could organize some indoor activities or a mini Halloween party with familiar friends to put your child at ease.

Halloween may be scary for an autist, but it doesn’t mean that you still can’t have fun 🙂

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a wonderful Halloween! 🙂

Aoife

Autism and Ageing

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

As I am approaching a new decade in the coming days (eep!), this week I’d like to explore the topic of autism and ageing.

For the most part when talking or reading about autism, children with autism are the focus, but what happens when the child grows up? Autism is a lifelong condition, it doesn’t just magically go away once you’ve turned 18! Sadly, it is around this time that many services are taken away from autists and we “age out” of the system.

So what happens now? What do we know about ageing and autism?

As autism is still a relatively young diagnosis, there is limited data about about the impact ageing has on an autist. The first autists were diagnosed in the 1940’s, so the long term data is only now starting to emerge. So what does it indicate?

The data so far is a little bit mixed about outcomes for autistic adults. Some studies indicate that autism improves over time, but many of these have focused on outcomes for younger autists, all of whom were diagnosed and received interventions during their developing years.

Other studies indicate that autism in fact get’s worse with age where features such as communication, flexible thinking and social awkwardness become more severe over time. This study however focused purely on adults with autism, most of whom received their diagnoses later in life, so it’s hard to predict if their outcomes would have improved with age had they received support and useful interventions at an earlier age.

These studies also fail to take into the account the outcomes of the “lost generation” of autistic adults in the world, walking through life as I did, knowing something wasn’t quite right about me, but unable to put my finger on it.

Speaking from my own experience of autism over the last 30 years, my outcomes have improved dramatically over time. In particular, things have most improved in the years since receiving my diagnosis, as I now finally understand myself, and have been able to adjust my lifestyle accordingly 🙂

On a slightly more morbid note, recent studies have indicated that autists have a shorter life expectancy than neurotypicals (18 years younger!😱 ), as we are at higher risk for accidents, cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental health issues!

However, the risk may be indirect correlating to our tendency towards maladaptive behaviours and lifestyles, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it if you’re keeping on top of your health and fitness 🙂

Finally, age has also been implicated as a factor in the risk of developing autism. Multiple studies have shown that there is a correlation between parental age and autistic risk i.e the older you are, the greater the risk that your child may be autistic.

I wouldn’t worry too much about this though- we’re not so bad 😛 🙃

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Emergency Services

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Following the recent violent shooting of an unarmed, 13 year old autist by police in America during a meltdown (thankfully he is recovering in hospital), this week I’d like to discuss the importance of adequately educating our emergency services and first responders about autism.

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In this situation, Linden Cameron’s mother called 911 for assistance as Linden was experiencing a bad meltdown due to separation anxiety, and needed help to de-escalate the situation with the minimal amount of force. Shortly after arrival however, the police shot Linden multiple times instead of using lesser means of force (they claimed that he was armed, but this was not the case).

While the issue of police brutality in the States is an entirely separate debate, this incident really highlights the need to properly educate the emergency services about autistic behaviours.

Autists can’t always regulate their behaviours and emotions, especially when they are in distress. Loud noises and flashing lights from emergency vehicles can further impact this stress from a sensory perspective and make situations worse. Autists are also quite sensitive to touch, and as such, physical interactions could cause an autist to attack a responder. 

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Here are some tips to keep in mind when interacting with a distressed autist/suspected autist:

Patience- always be patient when dealing with an autist and give them some space. Try to void making quick movements or loud noises that may distress them further. They may have difficulty communicating with you, so give them plenty of time to process and respond.

Try to use clear, concise language– avoid confusing sentences or turns of phrase that they might interpret literally (e.g it’s raining cats and dogs). They may already be struggling to process their situation, and too many words could be even more overwhelming.

Avoid touching an autist– unless absolutely necessary. Touch sensitivities could escalate the situation and an autist may react violently in defense.

Watch out for potential triggers that may escalate the situation– be conscious of potential sources of distress such as sensory sensitivities which could further agitate an autist. 

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Listen- take advice from caregivers (if present) or the autist themselves (as some autists may be able to communicate during a meltdown on some level). They will have a better understanding of their individual needs than you do. 

At the end of the day however, there is no substitute for a proper training program for emergency responders/law enforcement. Many autism charities run these programs such as AsIAm here in Ireland.

You can read more advice for the emergency services here:

http://asiam.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/emergency_servicesFinal.pdf 

Hope you found this post helpful dear Earthlings! 🙂

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Language Barriers

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to discuss the joys of navigating language barriers on the spectrum.

Language barriers can be hard enough to deal with at the best of times, but throw in the glorious social awkwardness and mortification that autism brings and you’re in for a real treat!

Over the years, I’ve visited many non-English speaking/non-tourist regions in Europe, and my encounters have been a right barrel of laughs (in hindsight- not so much at the time 😛 ) given that I have only a few remaining French phrases from my schooldays! There really is nothing quite like going to a pharmacist and trying to communicate the massive insect bite on your eye without words! 🙈

Granted, Google translate and similar services have made it considerably easier to communicate than it would have been 15 years ago, but even so, things can still get wildly lost in translation. I’ve found ordering food to be somewhat of an ordeal with language barriers (even with translate in hand), a task already made difficult in English by my various food aversions!

I once had an interesting experience in an Italian pizzeria while trying to order a portion of chips (as I don’t eat pizza). I looked up the translation with an accompanying picture, showed it to the server and waited for my food, delighted that I had successfully navigated the transaction without a word of Italian. When my food came out however…it was a pizza…with chips on top!? Talk about a crime against humanity! I tried to communicate that the order was wrong buuut I awkwardly got stuck with the pizza… and with every other restaurant closed for the afternoon, I had no choice but to pick what few chips I could off the top that were not contaminated by the cheese! 😛

Language barriers are a veritable nightmare- but here are a few tips for navigating this minefield:

Do your research– before heading on a trip, try to plan out the best places to eat, tourist attractions, shops etc. You can see menus ahead of time and translate them (as roaming charges can make the internet less accessible than it may be at home for Google Translate) or find English speaking restaurants to offset any awkward situations. Pro tip– go old school and download and print off maps for key sites/restaurants on your trip. If you find the Google Maps arrow as confusing as I do, this may be prove very useful!

Use Google Translate audio to text translation- this is a useful feature where you speak and the phone translates to the desired language, which can be really helpful when you’re in a flap. If it doesn’t work, you get the added bonus of a great laugh out of it’s misinterpretations! 😂

Request menus in your native tongue– a restaurant may not always have one, but there’s no harm in asking, even if you feel awkward doing so. Pro tip– just point at the menu item if you’re unsure of the translation. Don’t make a tit of yourself and risk ordering the wrong thing when you don’t have to 😉

Ask for help/don’t go anywhere without your translator– determined to be independent and not burden anyone, my pharmacy experience above would have been much easier if I had asked my translator friend to accompany me! 🙈

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

What I Wished I Knew About Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like talk about some of the things I wished I had known about autism when I was first diagnosed. There’s so much to learn about the autistic spectrum, but here are just a selection of things I personally wish I had known:

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Autism is neurological not psychological– This is something that really stems from a lack of proper education about autism in the world. Because autism is so behaviour orientated, there is often a lot of onus on the psychology of the condition, and as such, people can be very dismissive of it. “If you just did this..”, “if you just tried to fit in…”- it’s not that simple. The autistic brain is wired completely differently to the neurotypical brain. There are chemical differences, differences in multiple structures in the brain, even differences in the number of brain connections. Behavioural changes can be made and coping strategies developed, but we need to be aware of the biological aspect- you can’t just swap out your brain for another. I wish I had understood that my own brain was hardwired to drop me into unfortunate situations growing up!

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Autism is a different way of thinking– The autistic brain is built differently, so therefore it thinks differently. It doesn’t mean that autistic thinking is not “normal”, just different. 

Autism is a spectrum- I know this one may seem silly as we’ve all heard of the autistic spectrum, but I wished I had known what being on the spectrum really meant. I had often heard the phrase “oh so-and-so is on the spectrum”, but took it to be a catch all term for people who were a bit odd, didn’t quite learn like everyone else, didn’t quite act like everyone else- basically people who weren’t quite “normal”. I never understood the minutia of the spectrum, that there were high functioning and lower functioning forms of autism. I wish I had known that traits were highly variable, that not everyone with autism is the same and that every case is unique. Perhaps if I had known this, I would have been far more understanding and less dismissive of my fellow autists growing up.

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Autists do experience empathy– We just may not be the best at expressing it. In fact as I’ve previously discussed, research suggests that we feel emotions on an even greater scale than neurotypicals. 

Autists want love– Asexuality is often thought to go hand in hand with autism. As I’ve previously discussed, most autists want to be loved, we’re just not sure how to communicate that or navigate the complexities of romantic relationships. Yes, there are a number of asexual individuals on the spectrum (as there equally are in the neurotypical population), but as with the spectrum of autistic traits, there is also a spectrum of sexuality. 

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That I wasn’t alone– For much of my life I felt like I didn’t fit in, like the world just didn’t understand me. I was always saying or doing the wrong thing, regularly subjected to looks of disappointment and dismay followed by lectures about my behaviour. When I would meltdown, I was ridiculed or punished as I sat there baffled by my own reactions, unable to explain to myself or others what had happened. Everything changed once I got my diagnosis; suddenly my behaviour was not so abnormal after all. There were articles, books and blogs filled with thousands of similar stories to mine. There was a name, an explanation, a community- I never have to feel alone again.

That I was “normal” (whatever that means) – As a result of being undiagnosed and misunderstood, I was constantly berating myself for not conforming to the accepted “norm”. The world told me that I was weird, that I was “wrong”, where nothing I ever seemed to do outside of academics seemed to be “right”. Had I truly known and understood that there is no such thing as “normal”, had I, and the world, known that being autistic is “normal” for millions of people, my life could have been so much simpler.

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Hope you liked this post dear Earthlings! 🙂 

Enjoy the weekend! 

Aoife

Autism and Handwriting

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to talk about something that you may not be aware is an issue for autists- handwriting.

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Experts have noted that a large number of autists have difficulties with handwriting skills and in particular tend to have worse quality in forming letters than their age matched neurotypical peers.

Seems a trivial issue I know, but the affliction of “doctor’s scrawl” can be incredibly frustrating, and particularly challenging for written examinations.

In my childhood I picked up handwriting itself fairly easily (I was so proud that I was one of the few who could write their name before they started school! 😎), however, when it came to learning joined writing- that was an entirely different kettle of fish!

I was ABYSMAL (still am to be fair, unless I try hard! 😛 ). Everyone else in my class had no issue with handwriting, but just as with knitting, skipping, cycling and tying my shoelaces, I fell way behind. My mother even bought me loads of special inky/gel pens to try to encourage and improve my technique. Granted, I got there in the end (well sort of…it’s still an untidy scrawl, but it is joined up!), however, it was extremely frustrating to develop this skill.

So why is handwriting such a struggle?

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Based on the research it seems that the difficulties autists experience with handwriting are related to hand muscle strength and poor control of finger movements. Moreover, many of the regions of the brain associated with handwriting such as the superior frontal sulcus and the cerebellum, are altered in the autistic brain.

Some autists may also suffer from a co-morbid condition known as dysgraphia- a neurological condition that impacts handwriting and coherence (I’ll write a separate post on this at a later stage) which would explain why some autists struggle with handwriting tasks more than others.

So is there anyway to improve handwriting issues?

Time, practice and patience are key when it comes to handwriting difficulties, however encouraging an autist to use their hands more for such activities as colouring or working with play doh will help to improve finer motor skills, which will in turn help to improve issues with handwriting.

I also found in my experience, as simple as it was, that the pens my mother bought were quite useful in helping me to develop my joined writing skills. Although the inkier pens can be a little messy, there was far less resistance as they moved across the paper, allowing me to develop and better control my handwriting.

If however handwriting is proving particularly challenging, from an academic perspective it may be helpful to look into getting a scribe for exams or to ask your teacher if they will accept typed homework (I’ve strangely never had the same coordination issues with typing as I’ve had with handwriting!🤷)

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂

Have a great weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Atypical (Season 2)

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Following on from last years discussion of the Netflix smash ‘Atypical‘, I wanted to see how the second season fared in it’s portrayal of autism 🙂

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In case you need a reminder, ‘Atypical‘ focuses on autistic teenager Sam as he navigates his senior year of high school. The show also focuses on Sam’s wider family and friends so that we are not given a mere one dimensional look at the reality of living with autism.

Picking up where the last season left off, ‘Atypical‘ follows Sam through the latter half of his senior year in high school, charting his girl trouble, struggles with change, and his fears and ambitions for life after school. The season in particular focuses a great deal on the difficulties Sam experiences with change as he comes to terms with the consequences of his mother’s affair, needing to find a new therapist, his sisters transfer to a private school along with an assortment of other changes associated with the end of his school days.

You can check out the trailer for season 2 here:

Just like last season, I highly enjoyed this refreshing and endearingly comedic portrayal of autism. The acting was again excellent and I believe that the show gave a well rounded view of the autistic experience.

What I liked in particular about this season was Sam’s support group. In order to prepare himself for “the abyss” or his future after graduation, Sam joins a group for high-school seniors with ASD’s. The good thing about this group meant that it allowed for other autistic characters and their traits to shine through in the series.

In addition to this, many of these group members were themselves on the spectrum (as the first series was criticized for not making greater use of spectrum actors) which meant that we actually saw a realistic portrayal of several spectrum characters! 😀 This was great for showcasing autistic women, especially as one of the characters was shown to have “super empathy” after stealing Sam’s art portfolio to keep him from going to college as he was afraid of becoming a starving artist! 😂 Additionally the struggles to regulate tone were also evident in this group- a common trait with limited awareness.

Furthermore the season highlighted a growing area of importance- first responder autism training. Sam get’s overwhelmed when he attempts to sleep over at his friend Zahid’s house and leaves for home in his PJs. He is subsequently arrested for his odd behaviour in his attempts to “stim” and calm down, even after Zahid tells the officer that he is autistic. Here in Ireland, autism charity AsIAm are particularly dedicated to offering training to a number of services in the public sector for encounters such as this one:

https://asiam.ie/our-work/asiam-public-sector-training/

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However, there was one major issue in this season, which we Irish found highly irksome- the mispronunciation (or absolute butchering) of Kilkea, Athy, Co. Kildare (https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/banter/trending/irish-netflix-viewers-bemused-by-atypical-characters-pronunciation-of-kildare-athy-and-kilkea-37308271.html). This town was pronounced as kill-kay-ah, ath-ee, county kill-daahr. For the record- it’s pronounced kill-key, a-thigh, county kill-dare (literally no reason to mispronounce the last one! 😛 ).

I didn’t even realize where they were talking about until they said Ireland at the end! Perhaps the scriptwriters would do well to double check their place names in future 😛

All in all I highly enjoyed the sophomore season of ‘Atypical‘ and would highly recommend this quirky comedy for a weekend binge watch 🙂

Aoife

Ask an Aspie

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Have you ever had any burning questions about autism that you’d like answered?

Is there any aspect of autism that you’d like to know more about?

For the past 18 months, you’ve listened to my ramblings about life on the spectrum, but now I’d like to turn it over to you guys! 🙂

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For some time now I’ve been meaning to start a series called “Ask an Aspie” to allow you the opportunity to ask me questions/address the spectrum topics that you want to know more about 🙂

So write me a comment or send me an email and let me know what YOU want to know most about! 😀

Enjoy the weekend Earthlings! 🙂

Aoife

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