Tag Archives: movies

Why I have been avoiding shows about autism.

Last year I watched The A Word and did a review for each episode, but this year I have not even caught up on the first episode of series two yet. This is in part due to me being busy and having a lot of other things to watch, but it is also due to the fact that I find it quite hard and cringe-inducing to watch shows/films that seek to portray autism. That’s also why I never got around to watching Atypical, despite thinking that I should write something about it. So why have I been avoiding shows with autism in them? And should I keep doing so?

There has been a bit of patten in recent years with The A word, The Good Doctor, Atypical and the Accountant among others all being released to media praise, and a backlash from autistic people. It normally goes something like this: The show/film comes out and gets widely praised for having an autistic character, autistic people let themselves hope it will be done right, watch the show/film only to find out it`s been badly done and is mostly just stereotypes, and react badly to it. We write blogs and post online about why the film/show is getting things wrong, and urge people not to take what that program is showing them as a realistic image of what autism is, then the show`s/film`s creators respond by saying that the show/film is not meant to represent everyone with autism, and can not tell everyone’s story, and that’s the end of it until the next show/film.

Firstly to address some of those points: of course each show and film can only tell one story, and is not meant to represent everyone, but some of the stories we see in film and T.V. do not seem to represent anyone; they are just stereotypes brought to life on screen. Plus you only have to look at the Rainman effect to see what power films and T.V. have over how people see autism and autistic people. Even now, well over twenty years since its release, it is still one of the first things some people go to when they think of autism. It`s not that it`s a bad film, it`s just that lots of people don’t want to look any further in to a subject once they have seen one film or T.V. show on it. They think they understand it now and can talk about it like experts. The truth is autistic people understand that one show or one film is not going to show everything there is to know about autism, but sadly a lot of non-autistic people do not seem to understand this. Therefore those shows/films have a power that most others do not; they will help shape and create non-autistic peoples` views and perceptions of autistic people for years to come.

So when a new T.V. show comes on the air autistic people tend to have a mix of feelings; we want it to be good – why would we not after all? But we also worry that it will be bad. If it is bad then some of us will feel we have to react to it; to keep watching through the cringingly bad attempts to show how autistic people talk, think and feel, to keep watching even if it passes the point of being offensively bad. And sometimes it is worth doing that – you can`t write about something or hold it to account if you have not watched it. You can dislike an idea, but to call out a show or film you do have to sit down and watch it. You have to think about why it`s bad, write that down, edit it and post it somewhere, and that’s the thing – sometimes it just does not feel worth while doing that.

It is always worth autistic people speaking up and challenging poor portrayals of autism on T.V. If we do not do this then who will? And like I said those portrayals, if left unchallenged, will dictate how non-autistic people view autism. But still, having to watch through them can sometimes be trying. It`s hard enough to have to watch bad films and T.V. without falling asleep or drifting off to find something better to do, but when you have to watch bad TV/films that also try and fail to show autism it becomes even harder to get through. It`s hard to put the feeling in to words; it`s not always that things are offensive, although sometimes they are, it`s more that it can just be downright painful to watch sometimes. I am sure we have all seen a film or T.V. show that got stuff badly wrong when showing autism, and if you have then you will know the feeling I am talking about.

It can feel like autistic people are having to say the same things over and over again when talking about how autistic people are shown on T.V. We pick up on the same issues time and time again, and talk/write about them, and yet not much seems to change.

So is it worth watching and reviewing these shows/films?

It`s always worth talking and writing about how autism is portrayed in film or on T.V. Even, or perhaps especially, if it is a bad portrayal. Of course anyone can review anything, but the views of an autistic person must hold more weight when talking about autism on screen. That being said no one is ever obligated to review a show or film. Once you start writing about things like that it can start to feel as if you need to watch everything to keep up with what’s going on, and give your views on every new T.V. show that comes out. But you might not want to; you might be fed up of watching TV/films that frustrate you, but also you might just not have time to keep up with everything. Right now autism is a pretty big deal on T.V. There are new shows coming out about it all the time, and it would be hard for anyone to keep up.

In short yes it is important for autistic people to speak up if we see a bad, negative, or flawed image of autism on T.V. and also to say when people get stuff right, but it`s also totally understandable if we need a break from doing this from time to time. I will try and catch up on The A word, and despite my talk of bad portrayals of autism on T.V. I will keep an open mind going in to it. And while I can`t watch and talk about every show that deals with autism, I do try and read as many reviews of these shows by autistic people as I can.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

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Autism, and the confusion around receiving gifts …

Sometimes being given a gift can be awkward for anyone; they might be given something they don’t like and have to try and pretend that they do like it. But for people with autism even being given something they do like can be awkward: knowing how to react, what to say, how you should look, and things like that is not something that will come naturally to most autistic people. So why can receiving a gift feel awkward? And what can you do about this?

What do you do and say if someone gives you a gift? This might sound like an easy question to some of you – you just say thank you and then open it. But the fact that you are meant to say thank you is one of those unwritten rules that can be so hard for people with autism, and they might just not think so say thanks. This might be even more likely if the gift is not given on their birthday, but is a random gift. They are not in the mindset of being given something, and it will take them by surprise, and saying thank you just might not occur to them. That’s not because they are being rude, it`s just because saying thank you is not something that is automatic to them as it might be to someone who is not autistic. I know that when I was younger often I would not think to say thank you without being prompted, and once someone had pushed me to say it I would often feel embarrassed, and try and get out of saying it.

But even now that I do know to say thank you I still find it hard on Christmas morning to know if I should say thank you after each gift, or just once at the end. Should I say thank you after a big gift, but at the end if its just a few small things? Would it be odd to thank someone after each gift if you are sat next to them and opening the gifts one by one? Or is it rude to not say anything? Does it matter? I genuinely do not know.

I tend to say thank you at the end. I open anything I happen to get and then thank whoever gave it to me once everything is open. But even then I feel unsure. How long should I look at each thing for? I am going to spend a lot of time looking at them in detail later on, but is it OK to just turn something over in your hands once and put it to one side after someone has spent money on it? Even if you plan to look at it later on? Again I am not sure. I tend to do this, but I do not know if it’s the right thing to do or not.

Added to that for me – and I am sure for other autistic people – is the fact that it can be hard at times for people to read my face, and tell how happy or not I might be about whatever they have given to me, and even when I speak my voice may well be flat. I might look up with a blank face and say in a none-too-excited voice that I am very happy with what I have been given. It would be hard to blame someone if they though I was lying about that. Lots of autistic people say that they find it hard to put emotions in their face or voice – that’s not to say they will not be there from time to time, it`s just hard for us to force emotion to be visible.

There is also the fact that once someone has given you something you are no longer in the background; you become the centre of attention for a while as people watch to see how you will react. This in turn makes you think more about how you react, and makes you doubt and second-guess yourself more.

Like everything in life there is an unwritten etiquette to being given gifts, and like all unwritten rules they can be hard for autistic to people to understand. What I tend to do when I am given a gift is to say thank you once I have been given it, and again after I have opened it. If it’s a birthday or Christmas I will open them all then say thank you after that. I don’t know if this is the right thing to do, and it`s hard to really ever be able to tell; as with a lot of things you just need to do what you think is right, or what comes naturally to you. Being given a gift is meant to be a fun thing, and whoever is giving it to you most likely would not want to think of you being worried about what you are saying or doing in response.

You can find my book here  : http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum.html/ 

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

The Rain Man Effect

One of the things that annoys autistic people the most, I have found, is when they tell somebody they have autism, and the person responds with `do you mean like Rain Man?` or something along those lines.  I hadn’t seen the film itself until very recently, but after I watched it I thought I`d write this blog.

 I suppose what it`s really about is whether it`s the portrayal of autism in a film which people dislike, or something more than that.  I personally think that it was quite a good film, and I don’t have any real issues with its portrayal of autism.  The fact is that autism affects everybody differently, and there is no reason that Dustin Hoffman`s character would not have acted and behaved in the ways that he did.  You could take argument with some of the generalisations made by the professionals in the film, but it is a film made, and based in the late eighties when people knew much less about autism than they do now – so it is not particularly unrealistic for medical professionals in the film to make sweeping statements.

 What I think most people take issue with is actually nothing to do with the film itself; it`s the fact that people who may have seen the film once, or maybe even have only seen snatches of it, think that they now know everything they need to know about autism.  They think that everybody on the spectrum will behave in that manner.  It is their only real reference point for autism.  It is that lazy attitude that I think people dislike; as if watching one film tells you all you need to know.

Nowadays there are a lot more portrayals of autistic people in the media.  A few years ago all you used to really see was the random autistic characters who were put in to detective shows so that they could conveniently note down car number plates, or remember details from years before.  These seemed to be characters who were created by people with no real knowledge of the condition – simply recycled versions of older characters.  There was a point a while ago when having characters who were supposed to be quite funny, with obvious traits of Asperger’s`, became quite a popular thing.  I don’t find that offensive, as making people laugh is one of the best ways to get through to them, and make things stick in their minds.  Now you have programmes like Derek and The Bridge; with characters who aren’t point-blank called autistic, but blatantly are.  I would recommend these two shows as a good place to start if you want to learn more about autism, because they portray two people who are on the one hand completely different to each other – extreme ends of the spectrum –but in reality deal with a lot of the same issues.  Also, Derek is obviously male, but displays what is normally perceived to be a very female version of autism, whereas the main character in the bridge portrays what is typically thought of as a very masculine profile of autism.; perhaps the reason why, to the best of my knowledge, neither of them has ever been diagnosed with autism on the shows.

Now I am not saying that if you go away and watch these shows you will have a full understanding of autism, because that would be nonsense.  I don’t think you can ever have a full understanding of anything just from films and books – you need to do research.  And more important that any of those things, you need to talk to autistic people in real life.  The Bridge, Derek, and Rain Man, amongst others, are good portrayals of autism, but because the spectrum is so vast, and complex none of them give you a complete picture.

You also get characters like Roy Cropper in Coronation Street, who is almost a mix of male and female profiles of autism,  Again, I don’t think there has ever really been anything said about whether he has autism or not, but it is fairly obvious to see if you know anything about autism, that he does.  I think that as a lot of people do their learning through what they watch on T.V. or the cinema, the more varied and well-acted performances of characters with autism, or autistic traits there are in T.V. and cinema, the better.  Basically, there is nothing wrong with Rain Man; the problems lies with people judging an entire group of individuals on the basis of one movie.

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762