Autism in Stranger Things?

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Following the recent release of Netflix sensation ‘Stranger Things‘ Season 4 Vol., this week I’d like to discuss a possible autistic character that many fans have been discussing online since the season dropped (don’t worry- I’ll keep this spoiler free!).

So before I get into discussing this character, what’s Stranger Things about?

For those of you who may not have heard of Netflix’s all time most streamed TV show, Stranger Things is an 80’s nostalgia sci-fi/horror/drama series set in the fictional town of Hawkins Indiana. Secret government cold war experiments exploring psychokinesis have ripped a portal to an alternate dimension filled with monsters called the ‘Upside Down’, leading to a series of mysterious events in Hawkins which a young group of pre-teens set out to investigate after their friend Will disappears.

Now back to autism.

In the most recent series, one of the new characters introduced in the last season, now appears to be showing a lot of neurodivergent traits- Robin Buckley, played by Maya Hawke (daughter of Hollywood legends Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke).

Robin is a highly intelligent high school student that befriends the main Stranger Things gang in season 3 when Russian scientists build a portal to the Upside Down in a secret lab beneath the mall that she works at. Described as “an alternative girl” when her casting was first announced, Robin has certainly captured the attention of autistic viewers as her character has developed in season 4. Throughout the season, Robin has been very quirky, exhibiting no filter and rambling constantly about random topics, but can also be quite easily distracted, suggesting that like many autists she has ADHD.

She mentions that she has no grasp of social cues and has awful coordination, claiming that she took 6 months longer to walk than the other babies which she says was not normal. Robin also claims to be a terrible liar and regularly addresses her weirdness and tendency to inadvertently come across as mean or condescending, constantly asking her friends if she is being annoying.

During one particularly memorable scene, Robin, a notorious tomboy, is dressed up in tight frilly clothing which she constantly complains about, arguing that the borrowed outfit is itchy, the bra is pinching her, and the blouse is strangling her, which could suggest that sensory sensitivities could be driving her penchant for baggy clothing.

Most autistic fans did not notice much in the line of neurodiversity in season 3, but other keen eyed viewers have noted traits prior to season 4 citing her ability to hyperfocus, her memory, her ability to connect dots the others can’t, her blunt truth bombs and that she is a member of the LGBTQ+ community (which a large proportion of autists are). Robin also remarked in season 3 “I feel like my whole life has been one big error“, a sentiment that many an autist can relate to. It could be argued that perhaps now that Robin is part of the gang, she is far more relaxed and doesn’t feel the need to mask as much as she did in season 3.

Whilst it is highly unlikely that Robin will have an autism story-line given how poorly understood autism was in women during the 1980’s, nevertheless it’s always nice for autistic fans to feel seen when watching our favourite shows. It will be interesting to see how her character develops in season 4 vol 2 and beyond!

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Brain Zaps

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Leading on from my previous post about autism and anxiety, this week I’d like to talk about the phenomenon of brain zaps which autists may experience.

So what exactly are brain zaps?

Brain zaps (also know as brain shakes/shocks/shivers/flips) are a poorly understood phenomenon where it feels as though the brain is undergoing an electrical shock or a shaking/shivering/vibrating sensation. I personally have experienced these from time to time as a vibrating sensation in my brain, where it feels like your brain is literally shaking in your skull. Others report that it feels like a zap has gone off in their head and they can hear a hissing or a ringing sound in their ears. In some cases people experience bursts of light and can feel faint and disorientated afterwards. They are not harmful to the brain but they can be distracting and uncomfortable, especially for autists who are already sensitive to sensory stimuli.

So what causes them?

Like many neurological sensations, they are somewhat of a mystery, but they generally tend to occur in response to withdrawal or missed doses of certain drugs such as anti-depressants, ecstasy and MDMA, and medications for anxiety and ADHD – many of which are prescribed for co-morbid mental health conditions in autists. As these drugs alter levels of key calming inhibitory neurotransmitters such as serotonin and GABA (levels which are naturally dysregulated in the autistic brain), it is thought that low levels of these neurotransmitters may cause over-excitement in the brain, leading to abnormal firing between the neurons causing localized minor seizures i.e. brain zaps.

Don’t be alarmed by the term seizure here- this theory has not yet been confirmed and there is no evidence that brain zaps have a negative impact on our health.

On the other hand, brain zaps can also occur in response to high stress and anxiety. When you experience chronic stress, the brain is hyperstimulated as your worries swirl round and around in your restless mind. Completely overworked and overexcited from stress, your neurotransmitter levels fluctuate causing lower levels of calming GABA and higher levels of glutamate- the primary excitatory neurotransmitter. Such changes may over-excite the brain resulting in a localised seizure/brain zap as described above. Autists may be particularly susceptible to brain zaps in this manner as we experience higher levels of biological stress than our neurotypical peers, not to mention that our neurons are naturally hyper-connected, our neurotransmitters dysregulated and our brains hyperstimulated as a result.

Interestingly, a recent study has suggested that lateral eye movement may be a triggering factor for brain zaps. This is particularly intriguing for autists as evidence suggests that we process most visual information in our periphery, so our natural inclination to avoid direct eye contact could trigger brain zaps.

There are no treatments for brain zaps, but while they may not be the most pleasant sensation, they are generally nothing to be worried about and can be mitigated with proper management of stress and your prescribed medications.

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

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in the Eurovision Song Contest

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to talk to you about one of my specialist interests- the Eurovision Song Contest, as this year one of the entrants is on the autistic spectrum! ๐Ÿ˜€

So, first things first, what exactly is the Eurovision Song Contest?

The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) is an annual international songwriting contest organized by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) that was first established in 1956 as a means of bringing divided European nations together through music in the wake of World War II. Originally, only 7 countries participated, but over the years musicians representing 52 countries have competed across Europe, Israel and Australia (don’t get me started on the logic for that one…)

Each participating country submits one original song under 3 minutes in length, and performs the song live on stage to the world, competing to win a trophy and the chance for their nation to host the contest the following year. There are two semi finals and one grand final, all held over one week, usually in May. The voting is a 50/50 split from audience televotes and panels of industry experts from each participating country.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Eurovision is very popular in Europe with an average annual audience of just under 200 million viewers. Over the years it has grown from a simple song contest to a huge spectacle with elaborate staging and often crazy performances from bread baking Russian grannies, to metal monsters, dancing drag queens, to flapping puppets (sorry again for that one Europe!), to powerful songs that unite us and capture the hearts of an entire continent.

Eurovision has also brought many acts to worldwide fame such as ABBA (Sweden 1974), Daรฐi Freyr (Iceland 2020/2021), Riverdance (Eurovision 1994’s interval act), Cรฉline Dion (Switzerland 1988) and most recently Mรฅneskin representing Italy in 2021. A host of other established acts have represented their countries (or failed to do so) over the years, including Cliff Richard (UK 1968/1973), Julio Iglesias (Spain 1970), Enya (Irish song selection 1973), Olivia Newton John (UK 1974), Katrina & the Waves (UK 1997), Bonnie Tyler (UK 2013), Cascada (Germany 2013), Darude (Finland 2019), The Rasmus (Finland 2022) and even Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote a failed song for Lulu in 1969 (who won with a different song that year) for the UK national selection! My native Ireland retains the title of most all time Eurovision wins (7 in total, including 3 years undefeated between 1991-1994), so naturally Eurovision was a big deal when I was growing up ๐Ÿ™‚

We get it, you love Eurovision Aoife, so where’s the autism link?

This year, the Australian delegation (we’ll let the geographical issues slide for a few paragraphs) are sending autistic singer Sheldon Riley to the contest in Turin, Italy with his song ‘Not The Same‘ where he talks about his struggles in life, and particularly his struggles growing up with Asperger’s Syndrome. You can check out the song here:

Diagnosed at 6 years old, Sheldon was told that he would never be “normal”, that he would never achieve his dreams, never have a job, friends or a romantic partner. Instead, he has defied the odds and went on to compete in several song competitions in Australia in addition to America’s Got Talent. As part of his stage persona, Sheldon incorporates elaborate crystal masks into his performances to hide his face to allow him to focus on his singing as he often feels judged for his appearance, a shield to allow him to perform, taking autistic masking to a new level. With his participation in Eurovision however, Sheldon finally feels confident to start ditching his mask to embrace who he really is. You can also hear Sheldon talking about his experiences of autism to BBC in the video below:

Sheldon isn’t however the first autist to take to the Eurovision stage. In 2015, Finland sent the rock band Pertti Kurikan Nimipรคivรคt comprised of disabled musicians with Down Syndrome and Autism. To this day it holds the record for the shortest ever song performed at Eurovision:

On another level, Greta Thunberg’s mother, Malena Ernman, who is an outspoken advocate for autism awareness, represented her native Sweden in the Eurovision in 2009!

Whilst these are the only confirmed examples of autists competing in the Eurovision, it’s quite possible that other past artists may also have been on the spectrum (knowingly or otherwise) but they have not revealed their diagnosis.

Fun Fact– yours truly contributed to last years 4th place Icelandic entry as part of an online virtual choir of 1000 fans, so you could say that one other autist has appeared on the Eurovision stage (in a roundabout way ๐Ÿ˜› )

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

Have a lovely weekend and enjoy the competition tomorrow night if you’re watching!

Aoife

Autism in ‘Big Girl, Small Town’

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to discuss a book featuring an autistic protagonist ‘Big Girl, Small Town‘ by Michelle Gallen.

So what’s the book about?

The book details a week in the life of Majella O’ Neil, a 27 year old woman with undiagnosed autism living in Aghybogey, a border town in Northern Ireland in the post Troubles era. She lives a life of strict routine with her alcoholic mother- she eats the same dinner every day, wears the same clothes, and watches reruns of Dallas every night after she finishes work in the local chipper (for my international readers- a chipper is a fast food establishment that sells ‘chips’ or fries in addition to an array of other deep fried meats and products). You can check out an audio excerpt from the book here narrated by Nicola Coughlan of Derry Girls and Bridgerton fame:

So how did I find it’s depiction of autism?

As it transpires, the author Michelle Gallen is not neurotypical- she experienced a catastrophic brain injury in her twenties from auto-immune encephalitis which has left her with many deficits and sensory sensitivities that parallel with autistic symptoms. In interviews she appears to describe autistic people almost separate from herself so she doesn’t appear to identify as autistic, but her doctors reckon that she was always neurodiverse as she has had struggles with social situations and understanding her peers growing up.

With a neurodiverse voice at the helm of this book, we’re given a refreshing slant on the classic literary autist. In an interesting twist, each new scene is preceded by Majella’s numbered list items of likes and dislikes (mainly dislikes) relating to the events you are about to read about (e.g. ‘Item 4.1: Fluorescent lights’) which really gives us an insight into the array of bugbears that autists deal with on a day to day basis. The book details many classic signs of autism such as stimming (she’s really into finger flicking and sucking her fingers), sensory issues, impulsivity, OCD, mind blindness, the need for routine and resistance to change, but we also see a lot of the sides of autism that are often ignored such as masking. The book describes how Majella drinks in the people around her and has learned/auto responses to certain questions to navigate conversations- one of the most prominent traits for autistic women. Majella is also just a girl working in a chipper, content with her lot which is a nice deviation from the classic genius narrative ๐Ÿ˜›

One of the most striking things about the book is that the author tackles taboo issues such as sex, periods and puberty head on- issues that can be very challenging for autists. In fact, sex is one of Majella’s favourite things, something that is regularly shied away from when it comes to autism. As autists struggle so much on a social and sensory level, most people seem to think that we’re asexual robots, but like autism, autistic sexuality is a spectrum ranging from asexuality to hypersexuality, so it’s nice to see this stigma challenged.

On the other hand, once again we are presented with a book that is marketed as being about an autistic character, yet it does not tackle the issue head on or even mention the elephant in the room in passing (as in The Rosie Project). Much of the promotional material for the book describes Majella as autistic, but it appears that the author accidentally created the portrait of an autistic woman based on her own experiences of neurodiversity:

“I kept being asked this question, Whatโ€™s wrong with Majella? I knew she was kind of unusual โ€ฆ I decided to read up a bit more on the female presentation of autism, and when I started even the most basic reading of it, I was like, Oh my God. OK. I realized that I created a portrait of an autistic woman, because these types of behaviors were incredibly familiar to me. Whatโ€™s wrong with Majella? Thereโ€™s nothing wrong with Majella. Sheโ€™s an undiagnosed autistic woman. And sheโ€™s fascinating.”

On a personal level as a book lover, I was not a fan of the novel (I was very disappointed as the reviews were glowing). I really struggled to get into it and were it not for the benefit of this post for my loyal readers, I would have given up on it after the first 30 pages. I found it needlessly vulgar with a difficult to follow phonetic writing style (to convey the nuances of the Northern Irish accent). Indeed, post-Troubles Northern Ireland can be a very rough and vulgar place at times, but this could have been conveyed just as viscerally with a more traditional, non-profane style of writing. A lot of the sub-plots felt underdeveloped and unfinished at the books close, and the day to day monotony of Majella’s routine and work life wasn’t exactly a thrill a minute- there were times I felt like half the words in the book were food orders from her job in the chipper… Despite the fact that Majella thinks a lot like me, I found it really hard to like her and identify with her, and I just didn’t get that same sense of kinship as I did from reading about Allegra in Cecelia Ahern’s ‘Freckles‘.

All in all, this book provides a good insight into the thinkings of a neurodiverse mind, but it’s not a story that I would recommend.

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

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Hormones

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about the role that hormones (or horror-mones as my younger cousin used to call them) and fluctuations in hormone levels may play in autism.

So first off the basics, what exactly is a hormone?

We’ve all heard of them, but not all of us are aware of how they work.

Hormones are powerful biochemical messengers that travel through the blood in the body influencing a number of bodily changes and functions such as growth, mood, metabolism, puberty and reproduction to name but a few. Secreted by the endocrine glands of the body (e.g. adrenal glands, thyroid, pancreas etc.), it only takes a small amount of hormone to trigger large changes in the body, so fluctuations in normal hormone levels can have serious consequences for bodily functions.

So what impact do hormone changes have for autists?

Research suggests that a number of hormonal imbalances can contribute to autistic behaviours. The primary hormones thought to contribute to autism are oxytocin and vasopressin- also referred to as the “love” or “social” hormones. These hormones are involved in social bonding, trust, sexual behaviours and processing of sensory information. Studies have revealed that autists have lower levels of both of these hormones, and that treatments designed to increase these hormones may help improve social behaviours.

Most recently, new evidence suggests that growth hormone and the digestive hormone ghrelin may contribute to autism. A recent study showed that children with autism have lower levels of these hormones compared with their neurotypical peers. Ghrelin has a wide range of physiological functions such as stimulating the release of growth hormone, memory and learning, the formation of new brain synapses between neurons (i.e biochemical junctions joining one brain cell to the next) and it is involved in triggering satiety after meals (guess that explains why I’m always hungry ๐Ÿ˜› ).

As many of these functions are disrupted in autism, low levels of these hormones likely contribute to their pathology. Moreover, ghrelin is thought to have a protective effect against reactive oxygen species in the brain which are also thought to contribute to autism (as I’ve discussed in previous posts) so reduced ghrelin levels could reduce the brains protection against these chemicals.

Hormone fluctuations are also thought to cause sleep issues for autists. The amino acid tryptophan is needed for the body to produce melatonin (aka the hormone that controls sleep and wakefulness), an amino acid which research has shown can be either higher or lower than normal in people with autism. Ordinarily melatonin is released in response to darkness (to induce sleep) with levels dropping during daylight hours (to keep us awake). However, studies have shown the opposite in some autists, where higher levels of melatonin are released during the daytime and lower levels at night- which certainly explains why I often have the urge to nap throughout the day ๐Ÿ˜›

In addition to these, higher stress hormone levels are thought to be the driving force behind a number of autistic behaviours such as meltdowns, shutdowns and issues with anxiety. As Iโ€™ve discussed in a number of previous posts, stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released in response to stressful situations from the hypothalamicโ€“pituitaryโ€“adrenal axis or HPA axisThis is a complex interconnecting network that comprises the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal gland (i.e. HPA) to control our response to stress- a network that is hyperactive in autists. Following exposure to a stressful situation, stress hormone levels should return to normal, however, research has shown that stress hormone levels tend to persist in autists, which can make us more susceptible to stress related outbursts and meltdowns. In other words, weโ€™re constantly living in a state of fight or flight. Long term activation of the stress system can lead to a number of health problems such as poor mental health, weight gain, sleep issues, digestive and cardiovascular problems to name but a few- many of which are regularly comorbid with autism.

Sex hormones are also thought to contribute to the development of autism. Research in recent years has indicated that exposure to higher levels of testosterone and/or oestrogen in the womb may predispose developing babies to autism- this is known as the sex-steroid theory of autism. It’s thought that these elevated hormone levels likely interact with genetic factors that may affect the developing brain. There is a particular trend among women who suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) as the ovaries produce abnormal amounts of testosterone.

Moreover as I’ve discussed in previous posts, hormone imbalances are also thought to contribute to changes in behaviour in autistic women due to fluctuating hormone levels at different points in their menstrual cycle. In addition, behavioural changes are also associated with autistic women going through the menopause.

With the interplay of all these different hormone fluctuations, it’s no wonder our brains are a little muddled trying to cope with the constant change (as if we don’t find change hard enough! ๐Ÿ˜› )

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Was Kurt Cobain Autistic?

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ ), 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 โค

Kurt Cobain | Blogged about here | Sally | Flickr

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Happy 5 year Anniversary A Is For Aoife Not Autism!

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜

Happy Anniversary!!๐Ÿฅณ

Wow- I cannot believe it’s been 5 years!๐Ÿ˜ฑ Where has the time gone?!

205 posts, roughly 1000 regular readers, 123,000 views and 94000 visitors from almost every country on the planet! ๐Ÿคฏ

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 ๐Ÿ™ˆ)!

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 ๐Ÿฅฐ

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

Here’s to the next 5! ๐Ÿฅ‚

Have a lovely weekend everyone!

Aoife

Autism in ‘Freckles’ by Cecelia Ahern

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

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

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

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! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Travelling on the Autistic Spectrum- When Things Go Wrong

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Leading on from my previous post about managing autism while travelling, after a recent mishap with a suitcase in the airport on my way to Italy, this week I’d like to talk about when things go wrong.

Ordinarily, travelling on my own through an airport is no great hassle for me. I’ve done it loads of times before with no issue, however, with all the disruptions to travel since the start of the pandemic, flying has become a little bit more stressful. Due to reduced capacities on public transport, I started out my journey on the wrong foot by driving the 2 hours to Dublin up a very busy motorway on a Friday afternoon- not the most calming of scenarios given some of the issues autists can have driving. Arriving in the terminal after a lengthy search for a free parking space (despite pre-booking), I made my way directly to bag drop off to relieve myself of the ginormous suitcase I was carrying, laden with goodies from home for an overseas relative.

That’s when things started to go awry…

The suitcase wobbled and rolled off of the self service scales as it was recording the weight, so the label the machine printed off displayed an incorrect value. I proceeded to put the bag on the drop off conveyor… buuuttt it wouldn’t take my suitcase! Now as we are in Covid times, there were crowds of people round me travelling, but not a lot of staff to ask for help from at these desks in order to reduce interactions. So I tried to re-weigh and reprint my tag a second time to find that my bag was 0.8 kg over the limit, leading me to frantically kneel down in the middle of the floor, pulling out shoes and baked goods to shove them in my carry on. I was enduring this stress while still wearing my coat and a face mask, so the heat from the situation was rising, not to mention I was still coming down from the stressful drive, was tired, hungry, and in need of the bathroom- so my sanity was hanging on by a thread! Once I had reduced my weight sufficiently, the machine then refused to print another label for my luggage, and tried to charge me โ‚ฌ60 for the pleasure! ๐Ÿ™ˆ

Sooo I frantically searched for a an attendant to advise me, who did not have a solution only that I join the massive queue at the ticket desk…aannnnd then the meltdown hit! Thankfully it wasn’t more than a few tears, and once I communicated that I was autistic to the attendant, she was very nice and supportive ๐Ÿ™‚

But the saga wasn’t quite over yet! As I proceeded towards the ticket desk for assistance, another attendant saw me and asked where I was going with my suitcase (as the desk was in the opposite direction to the drop off). I communicated my issue and this no-nonsense lady firmly told me to stop crying! Believe me, I wouldn’t be crying in my thirties over something so stupid as an overweight suitcase if I had the choice ๐Ÿ˜› She eventually steered me direct to the drop off and fired the suitcase on the conveyor with a final parting order to stop crying. Five minutes later, I was sitting calmly in McDonald’s, my crisis was over and the mortification set in ๐Ÿ˜ณ

Granted, this experience was resolved quickly and could have been a lot worse (I’ve had a 24 hour delay on a previous family holiday), but it was still an extremely stressful few minutes!

Based on this mortifying experience, here are some modified tips for dealing with autism while travelling when it’s too late for prevention:

Take a moment to collect yourself– if you feel like a meltdown could be coming on, take a step back. My stress over increased airport traffic with international travel opening up pushed me to keep going, but I should have paused to take off my coat, grab a snack from my bag, and try the suitcase again.

Take a break in a sensory friendly room (if available)– Irish airports have pioneered sensory friendly rooms for travelling autists to enable you to take some chill time to come down from stressful scenarios. If a space like this is available, take some time out.

Approach a member of staff for help– if you feel that you are struggling and are in a position to communicate your struggles, reach out to a member of airport staff and they should be able to help make your journey a little easier. Dublin Airport, among others, has a special lanyard that you can get to alert staff that you are autistic if you are in need of assistance, so the training is there for staff to help you in your time of need.

Take a break from your face maskface masks can be quite problematic for a lot of autists, but are a requirement for travel at present. If you’re getting overwhelmed from wearing the mask for too long, go to the bathroom for a few minutes to pull down your mask and take some deep breaths privately. Pro tip– spend as long as you can in the food court as you will not be required to wear your mask in this area.

Bonus tip– If you’re using a self service scale, place your bag on it’s side, not on it’s wheels- learn from my mistakes ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜‰

Perhaps the best tip I can offer is to make use of autism assistance programs where available. I have not previously used this service as I have not needed it, and also because other airports like Shannon Airport advocate the use of bright orange hats to quickly identify an autist, which as an adult, this concept would make me feel like a bit of a sore thumb ๐Ÿ˜› Check out if the airport you are going to has an assistance program for autists that you can avail of so that in the event that something does go wrong, you will be taken care of. Once I was able to communicate that I was autistic, the staff were happy to help, but other autists may not be able to communicate this mid-meltdown, so make sure to check out assistance programs ahead of time to ensure that the help is available to you in the event that things go wrong ๐Ÿ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

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