The Good Doctor Steps Forward. Now Let’s Take Another Step.

Now, I’ve had time to process the fact that “The Good Doctor” has taken a step forward: in the hiring of an actually autistic actor. To be blunt, he played the patient of the day. It’s really good, guys. I am happy you’ve hired somebody who has true insight into autism. The reason is this: a lot of people outside the autism spectrum get major tenets of autism wrong. For example, we’re still fighting the “No Empathy” stereotype even today and probably tomorrow. But I digress. Bravo, Good Doctor. 

What I am now waiting for is a series recurring or regular autistic actor, a la “Speechless.” Speechless has the Good Doctor beat in the series regular Micah Fowler, who of course plays J.J. DiMeo. Sure, he has trouble delivering his lines, but the character has built-in supports and more than enough nonverbal expression to carry himself around the obstacles the actor and character face. It is sensitive, funny and even has a filled-out set of characters for the siblings, parents and aides. The reason I wax about “Speechless” in a post about The Good Doctor? I know The Good Doctor can make the same jump in some way or another. Perhaps in a consultant or recurring patient? It is quite doable.  

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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.  

Must I Have an Art Studio to Be Depressed? and Other Stereotypes of Depression

A take down of various stereotypes dealing with pop culture’s misgivings about clinical depression, as presented by this Buzzfeed article. 

Now, I try not to talk too much about myself, but sometimes my own personal experience and the portrayals of that experience in pop culture and media can be so unduly, undoubtedly different. These are not all the misgivings and stereotypes in Hollywood Depression, but they are ones I can address easily. For example: “First of all, depression always looks beautiful — beautiful characters crying, staring out windows, taking a listless shower, etc. etc. etc., beautifully.”

Now, let’s get one thing straight: not everything is a wonderful plate of listless ennui fashioned for some invisible camera. Sometimes depression is eating too much, or eating too little. Sometimes, it’s the ugly cry. Sometimes it’s being too depressed to even cry. You ever think about that?

Characters with depression are pretty much always reduced to being ~sad~.”

Have you ever considered that people with depression are not always sad? We are not a single emotion. It’s like a person, on the flip side, with mania. People with mania are not always happy. I often find myself putting out a fake smile, or a genuine smile at times, but I still find myself often angry, often sad, yes, and even often happy. Again, we are not cartoons.

“Most of the time, depression is triggered by Dramatic Plot Elements.”

This was not true with me. Depression, in my case, came upon me slowly, in the night, under cover of darkness. It was slowly and undetected, until it was almost too late. I did not even remember showing signs of depression or major red flags, until my mother came to me after just receiving a call about something I had written. (More about that later.)

And because of that, depression always culminates as a big blowup or breakdown.

No, no huge blowup, no huge breakdown. As a matter of fact, when my depression was discovered, I had barely any feeling left in my body, and although I could not communicate it at the time, I was starting to see things under a cover of hazy gray. No, there was no gigantic yelling and screaming fit.

Or if a character valiantly pretends they’re fine and doesn’t succumb to their depression, the audience is obviously supposed to think they’re strong and brave.

This goes back to the fact that “Strong and Brave” people are uncharacteristically portrayed as not having any feelings. This is a tenet of toxic masculinity, or perhaps of not showing any vulnerability. Perhaps this stereotype is what often leads to suicide

In fact, most of the boring parts of dealing with depression are erased.

Of course, because they’re not either “beautiful” or “dramatic,” but they’re real life. Why don’t you ever show the real side of depression, Hollywood? Try showing not having the energy to lift a hairbrush? Or, just looking in the mirror with barely any energy to open your eyes?

Depression is treated as an alluring or mysterious trait that draws the attention of a love interest.

Oooh, romance! The fix-all for any sadness! That is an insult to anyone and everyone with clinical depression. If romance and/or sex was the cure, the clinics would do that. Besides, this points out an insidious stereotype that depression is rational. Depression is not rational. It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain.

AND THEN THAT LOVE INTEREST ALWAYS ~FIXES~ THE PERSON WITH DEPRESSION.

As above, this is not only wrong, it is insulting. Chester Bennington had the great wife, the great kids, and yet he still took his life. Depression is not rational.

If treatment IS explored, it’s always super easy and straightforward.

Well, often treatment is a long, tedious process. It often goes with trying to find the right medicine, the right therapist, the right clinic. Nobody ever tells you that. Again, depression is not rational.

Speaking of therapists, they’re usually portrayed as pretty useless.

What did talking out and working out the issues ever do for anyone, right? Wrong. Working out and talking out the issues has often averted wars. Why does it not work for people willing to talk, listen and be honest?

When treatment is shown in a positive light, it’s always super linear and FAST.

This is wishful thinking. We always want the quick fix, the easy solution, the fast-working drug. If those worked, we would do that. It is also insulting to those who need more research, more diagnosis, more help.

There aren’t many examples of high-functioning people with depression, rather than people whose depression completely derails their life.

Now, I currently have a “high-functioning” form of depression. You know what I feel about the functioning label, but when people are handling their troubles well, apparently they are not worthy of the Hollywood stereotype. Even people who actually are handling their depression must be derailed and sent back to the mental ward to show the seriousness of the problem.

Pretty much every depressed character is also suicidal at some point.

Now, I may have been suicidal at one point, but I am not suicidal anymore. In fact, when I was getting my diagnosis, I was actually beginning to climb out of the pit of suicidal ideation. I was regretting my decision. Then, a diagnosis was given and I received more help.

More often than not, a character with depression fits a specific stereotype.

I know this particular type. You know, the girl who wears black all the time? In my day, we called them goths; you might call them emo. I must tell you the truth: the goths in my particular high school were actually quite happy people. I thought about going goth for a time, because I bought this stereotype, but as I look back, the people in black actually seemed very pleased. Maybe there’s a thing for being yourself?

Also, take a look at me. I am currently wearing a bright pink dress with yellow, orange and purple patterns on it. I have brown hair that was once blonde, green hazel eyes, somewhat tanned skin (for Kentucky, anyway,) and big curves. I own a rainbow of clothes I rotate regularly. I have a Pomeranian dog, who loves me to death, and a mother who encourages a happy home. What is goth about this particular depression sufferer?

And let’s be real, even with positive representations of depression, more often than not, the characters are white.

Even though I am white, this fact is true: people with depression are not. Trouble is, you kind of have to be white to be noticed by Hollywood. Maybe that’s why most persons of color think mental illness is “white people s***.” This stops a huge number of people from getting the help they need, simply because they think it’s a tool of The Man to keep them at the bottom of the heap.

Medication is treated like this evil, personality-zapping stuff you should avoid at all costs.

Again, not true in my case. As a matter of fact, the medicine I take actually helps me function better. Before I took medicine, I liked Pearl Jam, Green Day and rock music in general. After I started taking medicine, I still liked Pearl Jam, Green Day and rock music in general. My personality has not changed.

And depressed characters are always super creative and artistic.

I certainly WISH! If I was super creative, artistic and talented, don’t you think I would be in a different kind of existence? Like, actually making money instead of living off the government?

For some reason, going through depression always ends in some sort of cheesy life lesson.

If there is one thing about depression, it does not really give you some life lesson. If there is any lesson, it is this: sometimes you have to fight for what you want, whether it’s love, money, or even your life.

And finally, most of this is covered in the span of a Very Special Episode — or, if we’re lucky, a small arc — then forgotten about forever.

Don’t even get me started. Depression is not something to be forgotten about. I am reminded every time I eat breakfast. I have been with my diagnosis for twenty-two years! There is no reason for me to stop working on my health.

All in all, I am utterly disgusted that I have to address mental illness stigma and stereotypes seventeen years into the twenty-first century! When are we ever going to learn?

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?  

 

Revisiting Mental Illness Stigma on TV

Now, I’ve been watching the TV show OutDaughtered. For those not in the know, the father has been dealing with a form of depression. He has been getting encouragement to get professional help, and it takes a final exposure of the mother’s pain to do it. That’s all I’m going to say on this one. 

I’m not saying there is a perfect show about dealing with mental illness stigma. What I am saying is, this show kept the stigma to a minimum. It was mentioned a few times, but it was kept in a more visceral sense, and it was definitely fought with. That’s what I want when dealing with mental illness stigma – fighting it like the plague.  

It’s a funny thing, how different TV shows deal with mental conditions. I know I criticized The Carmichaels in the past about their handling of mental illness stigma, and they are about a black family. To ME, PERSONALLY, these things are completely unrelated. If OutDaughtered were about a black family, or The Carmichaels were white, I would have dealt the same reviews. I still think they ought to fight stigma as much as they can. Somehow, I still believe The Carmichaels would have revisited the issue with mental illness stigma had they not been canceled. As I have said before, I liked The Carmichaels. I just wish they would have fought the stigma of mental illness more.  

 

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.  

Stigma on TV: The Carmichaels Edition

I’m getting real mad at The Carmichael Show. This is what facing mental illness stigma is like. 

Well, the episode started with the matriarch crying by herself in the kitchen, while nobody else knew. The elder son’s girlfriend, who is a therapist, caught her, and the matriarch would not let her help her. They went out to the living room, where the girlfriend told the men (and got called a snitch), who began a discussion about depression. The discussion following reeked with stigma. There was talk of weakness, of not talking about it, of saying it only happened to rich and (implied) white people, and even self-medication with weed. It literally took holding the day’s plans hostage to actually get her to go to therapy. She eventually went to therapy, but admitted she lied about everything. It took a fight out front in the living room and admitting the pressure she put herself under to get her to go to therapy again.  

Anyway, I summarized the episode because I’m still processing the information. It makes me mad because if this is what we with mental illness face going into various communities, it’s no wonder so many of them are going to jail! Now, I’m not blaming the African American community at large for the crimes of a few. That is not the problem. The problem is stigma. The problem is hate and discrimination against the “crazy” (and yes, that word was used at one point), which will get them locked up in jail or prison before they get help. The largest mental health institution in the United States is the Cook County Jail in Chicago. Perhaps if people were encouraged to seek help for their problems, maybe they would not wind up in jail! It often takes TV shows like The Carmichael Show encouraging getting help to get people to get help. Unfortunately, I feel they dropped the ball on this one. Why not fight the stigma?