Autism and Gaming

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Today I’m going to explore one of my favourite pastimes and it’s benefits for the autistic community- gaming! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Ah gaming- one of the true loves of my life! ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜‰ It keeps me entertained, it’s fun, and ironically helps me to switch off when my brain is cluttered with other matters, drawing me into the game and allowing me to escape from my troubles.

But gaming, whilst fun, hasn’t always been that well received. Concerns are regularly voiced about violence in shooter games, obesity, and the antisocial nature of gaming.ย  In particular relation to the autistic community, expert Tony Attwood has expressed concern at the addictive nature of gaming (especially with regard to specialist interests)ย and it’s potential to isolate autists and discourage them from making social efforts.

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I think it’s fair to say that I’ve wasted a significant portion of my life investing hours upon hours, weeks, months and even years into my craft, but has it all been a waste? Might gaming actually be beneficial?

Some studies have shown that gaming provides a number of cognitive benefits in improving basic mental abilities (think back to the days when brain training was a huge deal in the noughties). Other studies believe that gaming offers a healthier alternative to watching TV as gamers are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods versus a TV viewer (I’ve certainly forgone food and delayed bathroom breaks when I’ve been in the zone!ย ๐Ÿ˜‚). Moreover, research suggests that gaming canย help children developย executive, logical, literary, and even social skills- the latter being particularly beneficial for children with autism.

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One game in particular has shown numerous benefits for autists- Minecraft. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the game, Minecraft is “a game about placing blocks and going on adventures”, where the player uses colourful blocks to create a 3D world in which to play. Experts say that the game encourages and motivates learning, increases perception, boosts creativity and improves hand eye coordination (I do have to wonder how much worse my coordination would be were I not a gamer ๐Ÿ˜›ย ๐Ÿ˜‚).

Contrary to the belief that gaming encourages antisocial behaviour, Minecraftย is helping children with autism build healthy social lives and relationships through the “Autcraft” community. In 2013, Stuart Duncan, a web developer, set up a special server exclusively for people with autism so that they could have a social experience through Minecraft within the safety of this online community. Autists can chat to and game with other players online allowing them to thrive socially in a safe environment where they don’t have to worry about social cues or facial expressions- just fun ๐Ÿ™‚

Never been interested in playing it myself (I prefer higher quality graphics like in the Final Fantasy games), but the game certainly looks promising in helping autists ๐Ÿ™‚

You can watch a Ted Talk below about the benefits of Minecraft for kids with autism:

So there you have it dear Earthlings, I hope you enjoyed this post! ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a good weekend! ๐Ÿ˜€

Aoife

 

Sheldon Cooper- A Case Study

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

So today I’d like to take a quick look at one of the most famous TV characters in recent years- ‘The Big Bang Theory’s‘ Sheldon Cooper.

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Strictly speaking, the show’s creators have said that Sheldon is not specifically autistic (and have been frequently criticized for stereotyping autistic behaviour), however, the evidence is overwhelming that he is a cornucopia of autistic traits. In fact, having seen every episode (and many episodes dozens of times thanks to the constant replays on E4!), I believe that he has demonstrated practically every single common autistic trait, and also many rarer traits which the average viewer may miss.

In case you haven’t seen him in action, here’s a video of some of his best “sheldonisms:”

So let’s take a closer look at who exactly is Dr. Sheldon Cooper?

Sheldon is a socially awkward, routine obsessed, theoretical particle physicist of genius intellect (*cough stereotype*!) who’s array of outrageous quirks have been the cornerstone of ‘The Big Bang Theory’s‘ enduring success. Much of the show’s humour hinges on Sheldon’s OCD, specialist interests (such as trains, physics, comic books and sci-fi), mind blindness and bluntness, with particular attention to his struggles to perceive sarcasm. Sheldon constantly has to be coached on appropriate social behaviour, including one particularly memorable episode where he had to practice smiling to feign support when his friend Raj was being obscenely obnoxious.

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It may surprise you to hear that many autists have struggles with smiling, particularly in forced situations such as in front of the camera (or in Sheldon’s case in an attempt to endear himself). I certainly went through a phase of not knowing what to do with my face in pictures as a child- there’s some pretty awful photos of me from one particular holiday until I copped how creepy it looked ๐Ÿ˜ฌ!

Sheldon has also shown signs of synaesthesia (a phenomenon where one sense is perceived in terms of another i.e. hearing colours, smelling sounds etc- which I will talk about in a later post), a common, but not widely known autistic trait in the following scene:

Immortalized by the line “I’m not crazy; my mother had me tested!” (a line which I have jovially used since my own diagnosis ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), Sheldon can be a lot to handle. His narcissism, OCD, TMI and childish tendencies whilst comedic, often alienate him from friends, family and the world in general.

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As annoying as Sheldon can be however, we have seen huge improvement in his character over the course of the last 11 seasons- he has become more socially aware of others, more in sync with the ins and outs of humour, more comfortable with touch and has even bagged himself a girlfriend who will soon become his wife in the current season finale ๐Ÿ™‚ This character development is particularly poignant as it shows how in spite of the difficulties associated with autism, with time, effort and a LOT of patience, autists can overcome so much! ๐Ÿ˜€

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All in all whilst Sheldon’s character is highly exaggerated with many stereotypical autistic behaviours, I think it’s really important that a character like Sheldon features so prominently in a prime time TV show to help normalize the autistic experience, and more importantly to see the lighter side of things. So often we fail to see the funny side of autism- what can you do but laugh when Disney films trigger a happiness meltdown (wouldn’t know anything about that happening…๐Ÿ˜ฌ๐Ÿ˜‚)?!

Enjoy the weekend Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Autism on Screen-The Good Doctor

Greetings Earthlings ๐Ÿ™‚

Today I’m going to explore the most recent portrayal of autism on screen- the pilot episode for the new ABC drama ‘The Good Doctor‘.

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So what’s it all about?

Well the name is fairly self explanatory- the series follows Dr. Shaun Murphy (played by Freddie Highmore- can’t believe he’s all grown up!), a surgical resident with autism and savant syndrome (Really?Again! ๐Ÿ˜› ) as he sets out to save lives.

You can watch a trailer for the show here- but word of warning, it’s a bit spoilery for the first episode so if you’d really like to watch it- maybe skip the trailer ๐Ÿ™‚

But how does it’s depiction of autism fare?

Granted, this was merely the pilot, but so far the show has portrayed some of the classic symptoms very well- repetitive movements, truthfulness, literal thinking, awkward gait, eye contact issues etc. Like ‘Atypical, the show strives for subtly in Shaun’s idiosyncrasies rather than highlighting the obvious differences to his surgical peers. For example, Shaun struggles to open a ribbon, a simple, subtle struggle that few would associate with autism. Why just this evening I had to ask my housemate to open some freezer bags for me as I just couldn’t seem to crack it!

Unlike other portrayals of autism, I felt that the acting was far more natural, as if I were encountering a real person and not another hyperbolic autist.

For the first time, I felt like I could identify with Shaun as he awkwardly went about- I particularly identified with his descriptions of smells and how he uses different scents for recall (I’m notorious for using unusual identifiers to recall memories!).

However, as the title character is a savant, once again we are seeing an over-representation of a rare autistic trait. Nevertheless in the context of this series, it makes sense that Shaun has a brilliant mind and excellent recall- skills which are essential in the medical field.

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The pilot also touched on a very important issue- the struggle for autists to gain employment. Following the decision to hire Shaun, the hospital held a meeting to debate the validity of his candidacy as a surgical resident given that he is autistic. This meeting largely focused on all the areas where Shaun may fail, with little attention given to how he might succeed.

Given my own struggles to break into the world of employment this past year, one has to wonder if similar debates were held when I left the interview.

 

Why is it automatically assumed that we will not be capable, or that we will struggle in a job? Would such a meeting have been held for any other equally capable doctor in Shaun’s workplace?

Thousands of undiagnosed autists have successful careers, and yet the mention of the a-word could see them doomed to failure.

Companies are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of gender, age, educational background etc., so why does it have to be different for autism? How will you know if we are capable if you never give us the chance?

All in all, I really enjoyed the pilot and will be very interested to see how this show progresses ๐Ÿ™‚ I would highly recommend it- butย be warned it may not be for the squeamish (I’m not particularly, but there was one moment during that episode where I physically recoiled! ๐Ÿ˜› )

Have a good weekend everyone! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Atypical

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

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

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

You can watch a trailer for the series here:

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

So what did I make of it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam: “That’s not a real place”

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

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

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

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

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

Aoife

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