Hollywood Autism: It Is Definitely Wrong

I have noticed that there are many stereotypes associated with autism, and I intend to knock every one of them down every single hour of my life if I have to. I have a list of these stereotypes, along with a response on each one of them.  These stereotypes are often applied to characters who are not canonically autistic (like Sherlock Holmes 2010 and Sheldon Cooper), so they get the diagnosis, too.

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Here are several stereotypes: 

Stereotype: Autism is a White Person’s Disease 

Almost every portrayal of autism is marred by the fact that it absolutely HAS to be portrayed by the people in power. As a result, most of them are white. This might lead most people to believe that autism is simply a consequence of something in white civilization. As a matter of fact, the only non-white portrayal of autism I knew of until I did a Wikipedia Search were of Billy Cranston, of the Power Rangers movie, and Isidore Latham of Chicago Med, of a Very Special character arc.  

Stereotype: Autism is Male Only 

This is shown in the disparity of male-to-female portrayals of autism. Of the 67 listed Film Characters listed as autistic, only 12 are female. Most people think that, due to the mostly male portrayals of autism, especially in more popular film and television shows, that autism is more male. As a matter of fact, there are women I have spoken with online who are still awaiting a paper diagnosis simply because they are female!  

Stereotype: Autism is Rain Man 

Now, Rain Man was a groundbreaking movie in its time. It brought awareness to a little-known diagnosis back in 1988. But we have moved beyond Rain Man. Autism diagnoses are being given out at a proper rate. People do not have to meet all the criteria of autism in order to get a diagnosis…or do they? More on that later. 

Stereotype: Autism is Savant Syndrome 

Now, this might be wishful thinking on the part of the parents, who want their children to be something more than the tragedy that people make difference out to be, but most autistic people I know have no savanthood. As a matter of fact, the most recent television portrayal, Freddie Highmore’s The Good Doctor, had to differentiate between autism and savant syndrome, to literally spell it out and drop a house on the viewing audience. This stereotype is common among the non-official portrayals, as seen in the Progenitors Section. 

Stereotype: Autism is a Lack of Empathy 

How many times do I have to tell people this? Just because they express something differently does not mean they have something more or less!!! Autistic people express themselves quite differently from others. It is a hallmark of the condition. Just because we aren’t born with a capacity to “read between the lines” when someone is talking, does not mean we cannot feel what others feel. If you want us to read between the lines, teach us! 

Stereotype: Autistic People are Cold and Uncaring 

Again, another stereotype that relies heavily on the fact that some things must be taught. If a person must be taught to be warm, why not see and teach them? (In the case of Rick Sanchez, I think he drinks because he cares so much for most members of his family.) This stereotype also goes to the parents, and in my own case, I can tell you it is wrong. My mother is one of the warmest people you will ever meet. She taught me how to be warm and expressive.  

Stereotype: Autistic People Can’t Communicate 

This is a folly on the part of most neurotypical people. Just because we communicate differently, does not mean we aren’t communicating. Far from it. The tugging of the autistic person on your shoulder? Communication. The stimming? Communcation they are uncomfortable. The refusal to go into a certain place? Communication. The crying? Communcation. The meltdown? Communcation. We are communicating; YOU ARE NOT LISTENING. 

Stereotype: Autistic People Are Violent 

This goes back to the meltdown that is imminent when a person is overstimulated. This can easily be avoided by simply asking the autistic person, “Are you okay? Do you need to go somewhere?” Or similar questions. They are simply trying to escape.  

Stereotype: Autistic People are Math Geniuses 

The stereotype that does not ring true with me at all. I am NOT a math genius. I need a calculator for the simplest of math problems. This is one I fell victim to my entire life. I thought I was stupid because I was not a human calculator. This also helped me realize that there are stereotypes in media portayals of autism. 

Stereotype: Autistic People Have Marilu Henner Memories 

Of WHAT, exactly? Just because we remember different things about events and people does not mean we remember everything. If I had a Marilu Henner Memory, I would be able to use it! 

Stereotype: Autistic People Have No Sense of Humor 

This is also something that can be taught. Get off your high horses and do it, people! I learned humor through my family, and I can wield it expertly. 

Stereotype: Autistic People Can Melt Down at the Drop of a Hat 

Again, not true. There are usually signs that the person is about to melt down. Are they stimming? Do they look uncomfortable? Have you asked them if they are okay? As a matter of fact, there is this really radical, out-there method of finding out if autistic person is okay. It goes like this: 

YOU: “Are you okay? Do you need help?” 

Most of us are verbal and will answer truthfully.  

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Now that I’ve hopefully cleared up some misconceptions about autism, are there any more I need to clear up? Tell me.  

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Get Me Out of This Stinking Cradle! I’m Not a Baby!

As I’ve been roaming around online, I’ve come across a disturbing thing: A person faced what has been called infantilization of autistic people. The commenter got a flat-out accusation of lying because she was not “innocent” and “sweet” like an autistic should be. I wanted to go to this person and ask whether or not she understands that autistic children grow up, but sadly, I can’t. This is a problem among people who think of autistic and other disabled people as children. This usually denies us rights that neurotypical adults enjoy all the time.

Now, what are these rights supposed to be? Well….

THINGS CHILDREN CAN’T DO THAT ADULTS CAN, UNLESS ALLOWED

  1. Make Decisions
  2. Hold Bank Accounts
  3. Have Sex, Even in Marriage
  4. Get Married
  5. Anything Sexual
  6. Have a Relationship outside Parent/Child unless allowed
  7. Control their own finances
  8. Dress themselves
  9. Feed themselves
  10. Have their viewpoints considered
  11. Be listened to
  12. Answer their own questions
  13. Have their own interests, including Special Interests
  14. Vote their own way

…And the list goes on and on.

Now, I don’t say we ought to let those who clearly can’t take care of themselves be loosed upon the world with that responsibility. What I am saying is, teach the children age-appropriate responsibility. And do NOT assume that the person is not “getting” the concept now means they will not get the concept later, or even sooner. What I am also saying is, ask yourself if it is appropriate to the person’s age to handle the responsibility you are trying to teach them. Most of the time, it usually is. Adulting should be taught to autistic people. Adulting, that is, handling adult tasks and responsibilities, is usually appropriate to the autistic adult.

Back to the “innocent” and “sweet” way that autistic adults “should” be, according to the person who thinks they should. What makes you an expert on autism? Why do they have to be children? Don’t you know every child eventually grows up? You don’t think an autistic person can be forty years old? Boy, you are in for a shock. I was born in 1977. Do the math.

I don’t need to tell you how I carry myself as an adult. Besides, you would probably think I am lying when I say I am autistic because I am not some sweet little baby you can put in a cradle and control. Why do I even have to justify my autism to you? You won’t listen, anyway.

“Good Doctor” Reactions

I am going to put “The Good Doctor” to the test. How stereotypical is it? How real is it? Also, does Freddie Highmore try to create a nuanced autistic man, or does he simply put on the Autism Costume? 

That is what I intend to find out. 

10:00 – A simple routine. Good start.  

10:01 – Mess the hair up. OK. 

10:02 – What’s with the line on the ground? 

10:02 – Saved from the bullies…and we have PTSD. 

10:03 – San Jose Airport: Noisy as can be. 

10:04 – Loud crash. Boy is hurt. 

10:04 – Correcting a doctor. OOOH. 

10:05 – “Not Rain Man. High-functioning. Capable of handling his affairs.” Enough with the labels, doc! 

10:06 – Tamlyn Tomita? She looks great! 

10:07 – Savant Syndrome? OK. I can see that. 

10:08 – Another doctor or two. Good. 

10:10 – Sherlock called – he wants his Mind Palace back. *Visualizations* 

10:11 – Trying to communicate his medical emergency….grabs the knife. The boy’s mother finally communicates his intention. 

10:12 – The doctors are arguing. Trying to give consent. 

10:13 – Another doctor. 

10:14 – Alcohol, tubing, gloves. More visualizing. Incision, tubing in, boy is saved! 

10:15 – Boy saved! 

*Commercial Break* 

I promise I am watching. My rapid-fire reactions are part of my style. 

*Back to Show* 

10:18 – Phone call from hiring manager (?). Trustee and hiring manager debate. 

10:19 – Another flashback. Father is not understanding. Abuse. Pet rabbit dead.  

10:20 – A glitch seen. Listen, OK? 

10:21 – Surgery on man. Pustule exploded.  

10:22 – Echocardiogram pushing, no one listens, tries to rush the ER. 

*Commercial Break* 

10:27 – Going through the hospital. Relax, it’s a revolving door. 

10:28 – Rain. More about the dead rabbit. Looks like a meltdown.  

10:29 – Talking about a surgeon’s needs. “No qualified others without autism.” Comparisons of discrimination. “How will the patients react?”  

10:31 – Sean (the doctor) is described as “the weird guy.” Sean found. Medical jargon. Recommended test found nothing.  

*Commercial Break* 

10:37 – “Sean.” Watching an echocardiogram. Subtle defect. Piece of glass described as hypothesis toward problem.  

10:39 – Youtube video saves the boy’s job, maybe? 

10:40 – Trustee finally sees Sean at work.  

10:40 – Flashback: Sean and his brother on an abandoned bus. A present? A toy knife seen in the episode beginning.  

10:42 – The toy scalpel is revealed. So is the mentioned piece of glass. 

*Commercial Break*  

I find the “symptoms” there. I am also finding a more nuanced character, though I might be wrong. I need to consult with other autistic colleagues. 

10:46 – Finally, meeting with the hirer. Now he can show up for the interview.  

10:47 – The boy is being discussed. Still trying to convince the board he’s capable. “Letting things get personal…?”  

10:48 – Doctor is trying to make conversation with Sean, Sean’s not doing that well. Call-out on the doctor. OUCH. 

10:49 – Well, “I would love to make you happy, but…” Boy, does this doctor hate him.  

10:50 – FINALLY, Sean can speak.  

10:51 – Flashback. Oh, boy. Children on top of a train. Brother falls! No movement.  

10:53 – Struggling to speak and communicate well. Finally hitting his stride near the end. Ms. Tomita’s character welcomes him in. 

10:55 – The doctor is dressed and scrubbed. Gloved. Safety spectacled.  

10:56 – Flashback. “You can do anything.” Begin the operation.  

10:57 – Giving mad props. Now an arrogance callout. He wonders if it works, in so many words.  

10:58 – The Season Preview.  

*Show Over* 

All in all, I liked the show. The portrayal of autism is getting there. Obviously, it’s not there yet, but it’s getting there. I understand that this is somewhat of a checklist of sorts, being the introduction of the character, but it seems to be nuanced. I’m getting a second opinion, in case this is inaccurate.  

The Autism Costume 

I have been trying to find realistic portrayals of autistic women on television and in movies. Trouble is, I can’t seem to find them. This troubles me. All of the portrayals I have come across have been, to a certain extent, somewhat stereotyped and basically somewhat some neurotypical’s experience of what “autism” is supposed to look like. It’s as if they are putting on the Autism Costume, a stereotypical portrayal of what somebody else thinks autism looks like. 

How do I explain the Autism Costume? Well, basically, the Autism Costume was initially set by Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of autistic individual in “Rain Man.” Ever since, the Autism Costume has been, more or less, dominated by this portrayal. There’s hand-flapping. There’s no eye contact. There’s repetitive behavior. There’s fixations, and they’re always portrayed as near-psychotic. There’s bad fashion, dominated by comfort and sameness. Plus, there’s meltdowns. There’s always meltdowns. And the meltdowns are usually violent or injurious.  

Let’s see how I myself fit into this Autism Costume. Hand-flapping? Nope, I don’t do that. Lack of eye contact? Well, I can look into people’s eyes just fine. I taught myself. Fixations? I call them special interests, and can talk about more than just them. And I have no indications toward psychosis. Repetitive behavior? I do have some repetitive things, like generally the same breakfast, but I can vary my routing when I want or need to. Comfort and sameness-dominated fashion? Nah. I have a larger amount of wardrobe colors than my mother! Meltdowns? Well, I had a minor meltdown during the Charlottesville tragedy, but before that, my last meltdown and shutdown was in 2006. Violent meltdowns? Nope.  

So, as you can see, the Autism Costume can be a very inaccurate thing. I mean, I have a fear that I am “not autistic enough” to be believed, because I do not fit into the Autism Costume. As a matter of fact, our local autistic group has just about nobody who fits into the Autism Costume. 

What can we do to destroy the Autism Costume? First, we can believe people when they tell you they have autism. “But you don’t look autistic” is a common reaction, because the person reporting the diagnosis usually does not fit into the Autism Costume.  

Second, we could learn more about autism, from actual autistics. We could get more nuanced portrayals, of we could get more information about autism from people who actually experience it. Again, if you were a bird and needed to learn flying, would you better learn it from an ornithologist or an actual bird? The same thinking can be applied to autistic people. If autistic people were allowed to live and be autistic, maybe we could get some more realistic portrayals of autism in society doing this or that? I’m just saying.

Now, I’m not saying autistic people do not have Costume behaviors. But if the Costume behaviors are all you see, how can you see the people who do not fit the costume?  

 

Autism Warrior Moms and My Mom

I do not consider my mother an autism warrior mom. Warrior moms and my mother are very different. Take autism warrior moms. They prescribe restrictive diets. They have “therapists” beat the children, starve the children and hold their children’s favorite things above their heads until they exhibit neurotypical behavior. Of course, I am referring to Applied Behavior Analysis. They don’t give any rewards until the child passes for neurotypical in the therapists’ eyes. They even pump caustic bleach up the child’s rectum in hopes for a “cure” for autism. And when their children finally grow up and rebel, they often murder the child, and society takes their side.  

My mother was not the usual autism warrior mom. Sure, she’s a warrior and a mom, but she knows that things are there to protect me, not her ego. She never did things like restrictive diets, ABA and CD/MMS to Make Cambria Neurotypical Again. Of course, I was never neurotypical in the first place. She also told me that. I exhibited signs of difference as a baby. Sure, she fought for me to have speech therapy and social training, but not really passing for neurotypical. She explained to me that I was learning how to act in public. In private, I could be myself. She taught me basic life skills, like cooking, cleaning and paying bills. (Of course, with pre-cut frozen vegetables and basic sauces, cooking is really quite easy for me.) Eventually, I will learn to drive. I want to drive badly, so my mother can focus on getting better. What I am trying to say is, I can generally take care of myself, which is more than I can say for most “warrior mom” children out there.  

The difference between my mother and “warrior” mothers is, there was a modicum of acceptance concerning my mother. Once she learned about autism for the first time, she prayed and asked God for guidance. (As you all know, we are Christians.) I think she never really knew about ABA, but I don’t think she would have approved of the techniques. When I had to stim, I did – even if it meant running up and down the hall six times. I am not traumatized by her upbringing.

Dealing with Disappointment from Some Things

I recently talked about the stigma showing in a recent episode of The Carmichaels. As I was thinking in the past few days, I came to the realization that some people might get the wrong idea on my opinion of the entire show, that I don’t like the entire show. Well, in my humble opinion, that’s just silly. Of course I like the show. It’s hilarious, discusses the issues of the day, and has David Alan Grier. What could not be more likable? It’s just like the Benedict Cumberbatch and autism debacle I fell into a little while ago. I like Benedict Cumberbatch a LOT. Why do you think the commentary surrounding autism and autistic people hurts so much? I mean, name screw-up jokes about him are not funny. You’re not John Travolta or a Starbucks Cup. The point is, just because something gets a little problematic does not mean you cannot like it. Critical thinking is needed at this point. I mean, just because something may disappoint you in one instance does not mean you should abandon it altogether. Give it a chance to redeem itself. I believe there is a point where you do need to give up on something, but it is much farther away than you think. Sometimes, you need to separate yourself from liking a certain point of the person, without kicking a person or show to the curb. It’s not easy, but you have to decide if you give up on something that disappoints you or not. As a matter of fact, I do like Benedict Cumberbatch and The Carmichaels. They may have disappointed me, but they have still proven themselves good and entertaining. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.  

Autism Reality Show: A Reality Show No One Wants, But One We Need 

I Just read an article about a TV show concerning an autistic character. According to the review, it is simply the same “Experts because they know someone autistic” who gets a LOT of autism wrong. The show has not even come out on Netflix yet, and I’m disappointed. Maybe it could apply to one autistic character or person, but not a great majority. See, there is autism in all races, cultures, genders and sexualities.

I somehow think that the best interpretation of autism on TV is one which groups several autistic people together, of different ages, races and genders, and simply follows them around. You know, an autism reality show. No inspiration porn, no neurotypical censorship, no getting autistics wrong. Just autistic people, navigating a world that is not for them. But I think nobody will take it. Neurotypicals like to get autistic people and put them in a little box. Trouble is, if you don’t fit in this little box, you’re not autistic. Even professionals withhold help because women and people of color, and successful people too, do not fit into this little box. They withhold help in the form of refusing to diagnose autistic people with their autism. This is why we need an autism reality show in the form I described.

Besides, if you were a bird who could fly, would you rather not learn how to fly from a bird?