Autism in Stranger Things?

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

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! 🙂

Aoife

Was Kurt Cobain Autistic?

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to discuss something that I’ve been wondering about for a while, whether Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain was on the autistic spectrum.

As a teenager in the mid noughties, I discovered the music of Nirvana during a particularly turbulent time in my life (the joys of being an undiagnosed teenage aspie). Kurt’s words brought me great comfort as he verbalized so many emotions that I was struggling to identify. Reading more about his life, I really identified with his life and felt a sense of kinship- his experiences of bullying and struggling to fit in as a teen, his shyness and intense sensitivity, his struggles with mental health and how he was so often misunderstood by the world.

After receiving my Asperger’s diagnosis in 2014, I became more familiar with autistic traits, and I often wondered if maybe Kurt had been on the spectrum- a question that many people have pondered on various messaging boards across the internet. Kurt was a quirky individual, often aloof and preferring social isolation, regularly rejecting social norms as many autists are prone to. He was an extremely sensitive individual who often struggled to balance empathy and apathy as he cared so deeply about the world and everyone in it. His struggles with addiction are well documented, something that is increasingly associated with autists. Kurt also suffered from an agonizing, unexplained stomach complaint. Many autists suffer from co-morbid digestive issues, issues that can be exacerbated by intense stress- the kind that would be worsened by such a meteoric rise to fame like Kurt’s.

The Dispatch - CDE News - Nirvana

Interestingly, Kurt’s widow Courtney Love is mildly autistic- if Kurt was indeed on the spectrum, this could explain their intense connection and turbulent relationship. Some of my closest friends are on the spectrum and the sense of connection I feel with them is completely different to my other friendships- we understand each other more than anyone else ever could, like matching locks and keys clicking perfectly together.

Having recently finished Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl’s memoir ‘The Storyteller‘ (for any Nirvana or Foo Fighter’s fans I highly recommend it 🙂 ), Dave’s personal stories from life on the road with Kurt have really reaffirmed for me what I had long suspected. In the book, Dave talks of how the huge crowds that gathered to see Nirvana in tiny venues at the peak of their fame would drive him to breaking point, constantly crawling onto the stage and interrupting the set. Kurt would reach a point in the show where he would become completely frustrated and seemingly overwhelmed with the feral fans and he would proceed to break things around him like instruments, soundboards, anything he could find to vent his frustrations. As Dave described in the book, when Kurt got frustrated, things were going to get destroyed. To the media, this seemed like a deliberate rock and roll statement, but Dave assures the reader that it was no show.

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music: Amazon.co.uk: Grohl, Dave:  9781398503700: Books

Reading these passages felt so much like someone describing an outsiders view of a meltdown. So many times during a meltdown I’ve felt the intense need to pick things up and throw them or break them just to disperse some of the pent up emotions from sensory overload (my maths book was thrown at the wall soooo many times when I couldn’t understand my homework!). When your brain is overloaded from sensory input, it pushes you to physically output energy to try to redirect your overload and expend some of the excess energy coursing through your brain. Stimming is the classic example, but sometimes the physical urge manifests in other ways like throwing things, punching, kicking etc.

Kurt’s quotes and lyrics have always resonated strongly with me. As many of you may have noticed, my homepage is emblazoned with his immortal words: “Trying to be someone else is a waste of the person that you are.” Kurt’s lyrics are ablaze with the pain of someone who always struggled with their identity, never felt at ease, never felt like they belonged. In the song Dumb, Kurt gently lilts “I’m not like them, but I can pretend,” a sentiment that resonates with so many of us autists. Perhaps his life could have turned out differently had there been a better understanding of neurodiversity during his lifetime ❤

Kurt Cobain | Blogged about here | Sally | Flickr

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! 🙂

Aoife

Happy 5 year Anniversary A Is For Aoife Not Autism!

Greetings Earthlings! 😁

Happy Anniversary!!🥳

Wow- I cannot believe it’s been 5 years!😱 Where has the time gone?!

205 posts, roughly 1000 regular readers, 123,000 views and 94000 visitors from almost every country on the planet! 🤯

I am truly humbled by your continued readership and support over the last 5 years. When I first started out I never dreamed that my audience would grow very much from it’s humble beginnings as a side project to keep me entertained as I was searching for employment. I don’t think I’ve managed to keep any other project tipping away for this long- except perhaps when I spent 8 years persistently trying to find a way to get 100% completion on ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone‘ for PlayStation 2 (turns out the game itself was glitched all along 🙈)!

Sorry I’ve been very quiet lately but the weeks leading up to Christmas were very busy and stressful so I’ve been taking some downtime, but I hope to be back on schedule with a brand new post next week 🥰

Thank you all so much once again for your continued love, support and encouraging comments ❤

Here’s to the next 5! 🥂

Have a lovely weekend everyone!

Aoife

Autism in ‘Freckles’ by Cecelia Ahern

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

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

Freckles by Cecelia Ahern

So what exactly is ‘Freckles‘ about?

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

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

So how does ‘Freckles‘ relate to autism?

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

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

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

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism on Stage: ‘What I (Don’t) Know About Autism’

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to shake things up a bit and talk to you about a unique play about autism called ‘What I (Don’t) Know About Autism‘ based on the best selling book by Jody O’Neill.

What I (Don't) Know About Autism by Jody O'Neill

So what’s the play about?

The play takes you on a journey through autism with each scene exploring a different aspect of life on the spectrum such as education, interventions and treatments, socializing, getting a diagnosis etc. told through a combination of song, dance and narrative, with built in question times for the audience to ask their own questions from the cast- a mix of both autistic and neurotypical actors. The play is a celebration of autistic identity, whilst also giving non-autistic audiences a deeper insight into the autistic experience.

Here’s a clip of Jody discussing her story and the play:

The play is unique in that it is a “relaxed” performance so to be more autism friendly. This means that the audience lights will remain on, warnings will be given ahead of loud noises (to allow for earplug insertion), audience members are allowed to come and go as they need and if they need to make noise or move around, this is also permitted. The performance is also captioned and the scenes are labelled and crossed out on a white board when they are completed so that the audience can keep track of the 80 minute run time. Here’s a quick video about the relaxed structure:

So what did I make of it?

The play is a unique and entertaining insight into the autistic experience and I thoroughly enjoyed my online viewing. It was so real and relatable without the overt Hollywood dramatics that one often finds when seeing autistic stories played out in a theatrical setting. There were no tricks, just reality to help us all understand autism a little better, and to appreciate and embrace neurodiversity. Myths were debunked, questions were answered and the play did not shy away from some of the difficult realities of autism, giving a well rounded, heartfelt and educational play about the autistic experience.

What I (Don't) Know About Autism: An Autistic Review - AsIAm.ie

It’s hard to give any further details without spoiling the show for you, so if you think you might like to see it, you can catch the recording online through the Abbey Theatre website until the 20th of November on demand.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! 🙂

Aoife

Autism and Early Intervention

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to talk about a recent landmark study showing the importance of early intervention for long term outcomes for autists.

For many years, studies have reported great benefits for autists when early interventions are taken. The research suggests that the earlier interventions are put in place, the better the outcomes for autists. Putting the right behavioural therapies in place as early as 18 months, such as applied behavioural analysis (APA), can be effective in improving language ability, social interactions and IQ for autists. Other programs advocate practical social interventions, peer intervention programs and active family involvement.

Recently, a new type of early intervention has been in the news showing really interesting results. An Australian clinical trial was conducted on a group of autists that showed early behavioural signs of autism to assess the impact of preemptive interventions long before any autism diagnosis (the group were all between 9-14 months old). The intervention used in this study is called iBASIS-VIPP (Intervention within the British Autism Study of Infant Siblings- Video Interaction to Promote Positive Parenting. Talk about a mouthful!). This intervention is a parent led, video aided therapy which is used to improve social communication and development in infants by helping parents to understand their child’s communication style and to learn how to adapt to it. Parent-child interactions were filmed during 12, 2 hour sessions over a period of 5 months and discussions were held focusing on both child and parent behaviours and how to address them to improve social interaction.

So what did the study find?

Results showed significant reductions in the severity of autistic behaviours throughout early childhood. The most interesting finding however, was that this preemptive intervention had greatly reduced the odds for meeting the diagnostic criteria for autism than those who received normal care from 21% down to 7%- that’s 2/3 reduction! 😲 In other words, use of iBASIS-VIPP in early childhood greatly reduces the severity of autism symptoms, and the odds of receiving an autism diagnosis.

Although given how many of us pass through the radar undetected, implementing a program like iBASIS-VIPP on a wider scale is easier said than done. Some early signs may be too subtle to detect, so later bloomers may not reap the same benefits. Nevertheless, early intervention, where possible can have serious lifelong benefits for autists.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! 🙂

Aoife

Autism in Tuner and Hooch (TV Series)

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

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 2021– ) - 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! 🙂

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Twins

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to talk about a really interesting research area- autism and twins.

Oh my God two Aoife’s! 😲

Haha don’t worry there’s only one me- I don’t think the world is ready for me to have a clone!

But have you ever wondered what happens if an autist is a twin? Researchers have- they’ve been examining autism in pairs of twins for years and the results have a lot to tell us.

The evidence shows that in up to 90% of twins where one sibling is autistic, the second sibling is also on the spectrum. Identical twins share the exact same DNA (although fun fact, they have different fingerprints due to varying blood flow levels to each baby in the womb! 😀 ), so given that the root of autism is thought to be largely genetic, it makes sense that they would also be identical in this regard.

Interestingly, as no two cases of autism are the same, this holds true for identical twins. Severity can vary greatly among twins, so while both may be autistic, they may each have very different traits. Social trait severity in particular can vary between twins. In one study for example, one twin was nonverbal while the other had no speech issues. This demonstrates that while genetics may cause autism, they don’t always influence traits and severity, so just because your DNA says that you’re autistic, doesn’t mean that your quality of life is defined by your genome. That being said however, the reason for these differences has slightly baffled researchers as identical twins share the same DNA and environment, so the differences in severity is intriguing.

In the case of fraternal twins who do not share the same DNA, there is also a high chance that both twins will be autistic. It’s thought that this may happen as both twins share the same womb, they are exposed to the same in utero environmental factors such as stress, diet, drugs, maternal age etc.

The factors for autism development are many and varied, but twin studies certainly give us a lot of food for thought.

Let the Olsen Twins' Teen Movies Be Your Summer Style Guide

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! 🙂

Aoife

Autism in Derry Girls

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

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 🙂

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

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

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂

Have a lovely weekend! 😀

Aoife

Autism in ‘The Night Clerk’

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

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 😛

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! 🙂

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

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