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?  

 

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Dentist Haze Videos and Meltdown Videos: Yes, They are Related

There is a trend of videos, that, to put it bluntly, just angers me. I heard of gymnast Simone Biles being filmed while still being affected by the anesthesia after the dentist. Sure, it was funny, but it was funny in a way that laughing at an autistic person in meltdown mode is funny. It’s humor for bullies and haters. Why do people do that?  

Trust me; I come from a place of familiarity and some guilt on this one. I used to laugh at drunk people’s foibles on videos. Fortunately, I realized that most people who are drunk are not in their right mind. Yeah, acting not normal is funny, but if laughing at people in distress is your thing, that is sad in itself. And that is the trouble: laughing at people who are drunk, laughing at people who are affected by dentist haze, and laughing at autistic people in meltdown is as cruel as throwing water on a drowning man. 

Speaking of a drowning man, you remember the teens who laughed while filming a drowning man? He died. Due to their laughter and not helping him, his blood is on their hands. You who laugh at people in distress, you are no better.  

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?

May the Fourth Be With You

My Star wars fascination started early. That might seem weird considering that I was born after the first movie came out (July 17; the movie came out May 25), but it gripped the nation like no other movie had before. It was unlike anything people had previously seen. I mean, most of the actors involved were absolutely sure it would be a flop, that’s how unprecedented it was. Of course, nobody would give George Lucas his due until after the movie came out. Sometimes, you have to bop somebody on the head before they actually get something sometimes. But, on to me.

When I finally had a good look at the movie, there were some great things that the sci-fi overwhelmed. Let’s see; there’s a princess who aids in her own rescue, a sword fight in which the villain strikes down the hero; an antihero who was kind of sexy (hey, I was a kid!), and robots with personalities. Had anyone done a robot with a personality before? That was amazing. (I’m not sure HAL 3000 counts.)

Of course, there are drawbacks. Let’s start with Stormtroopers that miss their targets; not-great dialogue, and almost completely illogical transport vehicles. (Ever heard of the wheel, Star Wars engineers?)

I’ll admit it; I’m a slight geek. But how could you not be some level of geek when science fiction and fairytale elements collide, and it’s so well done? Yeah, George Lucas seemed a little tone deaf when it comes to relationships, but a little coaching could have improved that. The movie, and subsequent movies to follow, are amazing.

April Post 11: Autism Portrayals in Media 

Much of the Autism Awareness talk has died down by now. Even the store displays are showing the leftovers from puzzle piece junk, like keychains and stuff.  

I’ve decided to talk about an issue that seems to plague the portrayals of autistic people in the media. The fact is, nobody is listening to anybody else about how people really are. I know for a fact that it plagues all portrayals, but I am focusing on autism here. I have struggled to find a similar portrayal that falls far short – and needs somebody to explain to these people how – and I found it in Japanese Engrish.  

I’m only giving you this link to the site because it is very offensive, not only to English speakers, but it makes the Japanese look like morons, just because they don’t know the ins and outs that native English speakers do. Now, it’s kind of like this Japanese Engrish unlearnedness that plagues portrayals of autism in the media. Many of us autistic people find most portrayals offensive. So far, the best portrayal I can find is Billy Cranston in the new Power Rangers movie. Otherwise, even little Julia from Sesame Street has some traits that offend autistic people. This comes from people not listening to those of us with autism. 

Now, tell me: would you rather have a portrayal of autism that is accurate and tasteful, or an autism portrayal that is like Japanese Engrish?

April Post 2: Calming Down 

I must admit, that last post was mostly reactionary. It’s terrifying to know you’re the worst-case scenario for a lot of people. Well, maybe they don’t quite know about me. I don’t want to be all hate and vitriol. It’s really dragging my blog down into a negative space. Perhaps we need a new and more accurate version of autism; not one that’s all doom and gloom. That is just why I have decided to mention the new, for 2017, Blue Power Ranger. Billy does a LOT of good things for autistic people, and I haven’t even seen the movie yet! First of all, Billy is a Power Ranger. He is a member of a superhero team. I hear he even contributes to the team’s success. If we can contribute something to the success of humanity, please, let us know. Oh, and another thing: Billy is the Blue Power Ranger. I must admit, I was a little scared that Autism Speaks might take that as a clue to hijack him, but Billy is too positive an image for Autism Speaks’ anti-autistic rhetoric. I mean, Billy contributes to the Power Rangers’ success! That, according to Autism Speaks, that cannot be. To them, autism is the enemy. So, unless Autism Speaks gets itself together and accepts autistic people as they are, then Billy is taking the color blue back from them. And that is the upside of the blue Power Ranger.

Getting the Portrayal Wrong 

I’m remembering a really bad movie I saw last year: Zoolander 2. More importantly, I’m remembering the Razzie award-nominated portrayal of All, the supposedly gender fluid model in an earlier portion of the movie. This is in no way a defense of the portrayal. This is an explanation of what actually is wrong with the portrayals that come up with marginalized people, especially if those specific people are not involved. The problem is this: the portrayal that does not involve actual research, involving actual people, is usually stereotyped, flat, often deviant, and almost always wrong.

Does anybody remember the 1988 movie “Rain Man?” I know that you are probably groaning right now, considering my regular readership. Most autistic people hate Rain Man and many subsequent portrayals of autism that do not involve the actually autistic. This “Rain Man” is a perfect example of what I say – that a first and many subsequent portrayals that are not involving actually autistic people. The only portrayals of an autistic person I have liked are the one by Claire Danes, of Temple Grandin, and Dr. Latham from Chicago Med. (I’m currently wavering on Dr. Latham – it seems a little checklist-driven.) The point is, a person from the margins of society must be involved for the portrayal to be whole. My problems with most portrayals is this:

Stereotypes and Deviancy

My initial problem with a marginalized portrayal is that it’s usually based on stereotypes. Remember the portrayals of blacks in the 1930s? They were usually a Mammy, a singer, or someone usually incompetent. Don’t get me started on how the black female romantic lead had to be light-skinned – or white-looking. Usually, the dark-skinned black person was regulated to the role of prostitute or criminal. It’s sad that I have to look to the 21st Century to see Viola Davis in non-criminal roles – and her resume is not even criminal free (How to Get Away With Murder, anyone?). How long before a regular actor of dark skin can escape portraying a criminal?

Wrongness

It’s absolutely necessary to note, back in Rain Man, that the man who is the real-life inspiration behind the “gold standard” for autism portrayal, diagnosis and future study, was not even autistic. He had FG Syndrome, a genetic anomaly on his chromosomes. It mimics autism, but it is not autism. The reason I look at Claire Danes’ portrayal of Temple Grandin is because it was much more accurate in showing how autism can actually give a different world experience, and might actually – GASP!!! – help the person. It’s a shame that a person along the margins of society cannot be given a proper portrayal unless they come out of the closet and show people how they are.

The Problem

The problem with all this is: people rely on portrayals of others and their own experiences to believe the person when they come out as, say, autistic, or gay, or even with anxiety. Due to these inaccurate portrayals of the trait or condition, they usually do not believe an autistic person unless they act like Rain Man, of more appropriately, “my cousin’s uncle’s brother’s sister’s former roommate’s son – he is autistic.” The autistic person has to literally justify their diagnosis. They have to lower their competency to be believed. They have to act like Rain Man.