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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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?  

Musings on the New Doctor

 

NOTE: I’ll get to the events of today when I have processed them. Don’t rush me.

Now that I’ve had time to process it, let me give my thoughts on Doctor Who. When I first heard about the 13th Doctor, and saw Jodie Whittaker, my first thought was this:

“Oh. She’s pretty.”

Of course, I’ve been trained to judge a woman’s looks first. But my second thought was this:

“Cool. I have no problem with this.”

Honestly, I don’t. I don’t understand why many men do, though. Maybe it’s the whole “we can’t be distracted by our emotions” thing? I’m not going to go into it.

I started thinking: what if the show runners were grooming its audience for her in the last seasons? That would explain the existence of Missy, the villainous Master’s current form. To know that Time Lords are not gender-locked, nor race-locked (citing the Doctor’s wife, River Song), can lead to more varied casting choices.

Some thoughts I think we need to address:

“But the Doctor has always been a man!”

Yes, previously, but have the Time Lords always been locked into one gender? I have just addressed the issue! Besides, where in the TARDIS do you need a penis to operate it? (Talk about your FCC violation.) River Song knew how to run it.

“But what if the actress gets pregnant?”

How about the Doctor getting pregnant, then? After all, the Doctor does have a granddaughter, which means he/she has a child in his/her future. I’d write it into the script.

Please, let me know other questions to address. I’d like to talk about the 13th Doctor with you.

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?

Seek Help Beforehand

Chester Bennington was found dead of suicide. He was 41. I recently came across a tweet that basically said, “If you only want to talk about mental illness when someone famous commits suicide, you’re part of the problem.” Trouble is, that seems to be the only time people are listening. Most of the time, people shut their ears at anything unpleasant. They want to be unrealistically happy. I consider myself a pretty happy person, but I have also been diagnosed with major depression right along with my autism. (Surprise, surprise – this world drives me crazy.) But mental health should be talked about all the time, not just when something terrible happens to shake you out of your “Happy Haze.”

For me, mental health is a daily management. It’s a sort of demand in order to keep performing at my peak. I include my medicines in my routine. There is no shame in the process. I just take my meds and move along with my day. If there is a problem, I talk it over with someone who can help me. Again, there is no shame in the process. Yeah, I live with the specter of stigma when it comes to mental illness, but I know that I am an adult, and I do not have to take on that stupid stigma myself.

I can tell what people are thinking – what if I go off my meds? Then I become irrationally depressed. That’s why I stay on my meds. I can tell people are thinking this, because every mentally ill person on TV has been through a “go off their meds and go crazy” storyline, usually with a dictation that they cannot cope with society and need to be locked up at least for a time. What a negative, hateful, bigoted LIE! Those with mental illness (I use “mentally ill” and “with mental illness” interchangeably) are perfectly capable of living in society, with their meds. Perhaps this dictation from the media is why Chester Bennington never sought help for himself and is now dead. Perhaps seeing illness as weakness is why Robin Williams never sought help for himself and is now dead as well. Perhaps the fear and stigma surrounding having a mental illness is why so many people never get help for their conditions and let their conditions morph into boatloads of unnecessary drama and, in many cases, unnecessary suicide.

Now, let’s get the myth out that a person who commits suicide is supposed to go through with it anyway. I once considered suicide a long time ago. My mother found out about it, and eventually I got help for my own conditions. That’s how I got diagnosed with major depression. Here’s the thing about it all: Once I verbalized my pain, I changed my mind. Here’s the kicker: eventually, a person will change their mind. Maybe it’s in the throes of death itself, but they eventually change their mind. A survivor of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge himself regretted the act once he went through with it. As he was falling, he prayed to survive. The point of that is, we will change our mind. Perhaps if society made it okay to admit you’re struggling with your own head, we would seek help BEFORE we are falling off the Golden Gate Bridge, so to speak. I want people okay with thinking about unpleasant things. Maybe we can prevent tragedy when we do.