Guest Post at ‘The Geeky Gimp’: Autism and the Virtues of Single-Player RPGs

And now for something completely different! Well, not completely…

I direct your attention to the amazing Erin Hawley’s blog at The Geeky Gimp, where she’s given me the opportunity to do a guest post about gaming and autism. Enjoy!

“As an autistic individual, there’s a special place in my heart for single-player role-playing games. I started with Skyrim, fell in love, and have since added other games such as Mass EffectDragon AgePortalDiablo, and Assassin’s Creed to my computer.”

Check out the link to read more!

https://geekygimp.com/autism-and-the-virtues-of-single-player-rpgs/

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Sexual Assault, Autism, and the case for Comprehensive Sex Education for Autistics and the Disabled

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault discussion

I am lucky as a disabled woman in our society. I’ve never been raped or seriously sexually assaulted, unlike so many of my peers. When I say ‘seriously’, I mean that no one’s ever held me down, no one’s gone under my clothes without permission, no one’s not accepted ‘no’ for an answer. Not that other forms of sexual assault aren’t serious, but I don’t quite know what other word to use to differentiate between what I’ve experienced, which has been relatively minor, and the deeply traumatic pain that’s been inflicted on others to an extent I can’t comprehend. With that disclaimer for the limitations of the English language, let’s discuss what I have experienced and how it applies to the topics of sex education and autism.

I have had a few brushes with inappropriate men in my life. Two in particular stand out to me, since I’m going to ignore common things like catcalls for now (they’re their own nightmare for another time). The first happened in seventh grade, at twelve or thirteen years old. I was in the school musical, and we girls were backstage in our dressing room getting on costumes and make-up. Without any warning, announcement, or request for permission, the videographer the school had hired to film the production decided to barge in and record us. Most of us were at least half naked, or in only underwear. He was a grey-haired, older man. I still remember the creepy, wide, toothed smile he had on his face as he ogled us. He seemed entertained by the panicked reaction he’d gotten. I was infuriated instantly at the sight of him, at the gall he had to do such a thing, and put myself between his camera and some of the practically naked teens and pre-teens who were trying to hide their bodies from him to try and ruin his shot. I screamed at him to leave. I believe some others shouted at him too, but the details of that are fuzzy because I was hyper focused at the time. He was practically giggling with how giddy he was, but we did get him to leave.

Later, he was instructed by one of the adults to come up to me privately and apologize, as if I were the only one offended because I’d been the loudest. It was explained to me that he was simply trying to get filler backstage content, and that it wasn’t that big of a deal, that lots of films about stage shows and musicals had that sort of footage of actors getting ready, but that he was sorry he’d offended me. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember questioning myself as to whether it was a big deal or not, since none of the adults seemed to think it was to my knowledge. I never mentioned this incident to anyone until recently when talk of the appropriateness of authoritative older male figures barging into pre-teen dressing rooms came into question during an uncomfortable conversation. I realized it had happened to me, and how deeply wrong that is.

The second incident happened in tenth grade, when I was a little older. My school had a fencing team, and the coach had always been just on the edge of being possibly uncomfortable to me, but never crossing any lines – or at least not being reported for it. I do recall him grabbing one of the moms he knew was married and kissing her on the lips against her will, without being reported for it. I said nothing because I was a child and she was an adult, so I figured if she didn’t say anything then it wasn’t my place to. Other than that, he always gave me the vibe of someone I shouldn’t let myself be alone in a room with for long. He would sometimes get a little too close for comfort with me. When I asked about buying my own gear, he said I could buy the standard ‘male’ outfit, but I’d look a lot better with the female tailored outfit to show off my curves (I was fifteen). When giving awards to those participating in a competition he would shake the hands of all the male students and kiss the cheeks of and hug all the female students. Those who know me well enough know that I absolutely loath hugging people I’m not comfortable with, and kisses from people I don’t want kisses from make me want to scream for multiple reasons. But I grit my teeth and dealt with it because I didn’t know how to tell him not to without coming across as reading too much into it, or as ‘weird’ for not being okay with something everyone else felt was normal (back when I refused all hugs from non-family I’d been accused of having ‘something’ wrong with me, and for a long time I lived in fear of coming across that way). The action that went over the line was when he decided it was appropriate to lay his hand on my behind. I had a fencing sabre in hand and instinctively spun around and struck him with it, causing him to berate me for attacking a teacher while I screamed in tears that he wasn’t allowed to touch me like that. It was an embarrassing, confusing spectacle in front of the whole fencing team. I stormed out when he wouldn’t apologize and walked home early from school.

I remember thinking to myself… maybe he didn’t mean it the way I thought he did. Maybe it was appropriate in some ‘sporty’ way. Maybe my pants were too tight – he’d commented on my tight clothes before. Maybe somehow it was my fault, or I’d read the situation wrong. These thoughts shocked me because I knew they were wrong, but they wormed their way into my mind anyway. What kept me secure in the knowledge that he had done wrong and I had done nothing wrong was the education I’d received about my rights to my body, and also my right to defend myself. The confident message I’d always received from my parents that no one had the right to touch me if I didn’t want them to. I mustered my courage and went to the principle first thing the next school day. The coach was fired – which I’m grateful for considering how many schools don’t handle sexual assault well – and I never saw him again.

These are ‘minor’ things in the grand scheme of sexual assault, but I want to talk about them for a very specific reason: how I conducted myself. I didn’t put up with it. I knew consent was something I needed, and that it wasn’t okay for men I didn’t want to film me nearly naked or touch my privates. I’d been taught about consent, and had classes on comprehensive sex education. No means no, and nothing else.

Not all autistics or disabled people get that education. In fact, when it comes to mental disability, it’s sometimes not just neglected completely, but messages opposite to ‘no means no’ are taught.

Five-year-old Johnny doesn’t want to hug his parents. His therapist tells him he has to. He shakes his head, he avoids eye contact, he tries to wiggle away, he has a meltdown, he gives every signal he can to show how deeply uncomfortable and physically painful this is for him. His parents think it means he doesn’t love him because they can’t understand that physical contact and love aren’t necessarily connected. His therapist spends hours, weeks, years training him to hug on command regardless. His no does not mean no. He is not allowed to say no, because his therapists and his parents don’t believe he has a right to his own body.

When Johnny is in middle school, his parents don’t let him take sex ed because they feel it’s not something someone with his neurology needs. Then his PE coach makes inappropriate comments that go unchallenged. The coach makes him give hugs that last too long after class. The coach slides his hand between Johnny’s legs. The coach says they should shower together, that it’s okay and it’s what adults do. The coach wants to show Johnny other things adults do. Johnny obeys because he’s been taught and trained and forced to submit by his parents, his therapist, and his teachers. He’s been taught that his body isn’t his, and that he has to do what others tell him to do, even if it makes him uncomfortable, if he doesn’t want to, if it doesn’t feel right, or even if it hurts. He doesn’t know it’s wrong. He learns what sex is from his coach. Sex is a painful act forced on him for the purpose of someone else’s pleasure. He has never learned anything to tell him that’s wrong, that sex is supposed to be something else, something good. That a relationship isn’t supposed to hurt.

There are a lot of horror stories around compliance training – most I hear about come from traditional ABA therapy. Therapists forcing their young clients to hug on command, and those clients growing up not to have a concept of bodily autonomy, making them perfect victims for sexual predators. I’ve read the stories of victims and survivors, and it makes me sick to my stomach. I think of all the people out there not taught about sexuality or healthy relationships because it’s deemed inappropriate for their autistic brains, despite them potentially being sexual beings like all other teens and adults.

I think how easily that could have been me if I’d gotten an early diagnosis and my parents had sent me to a bad therapist simply because they wouldn’t have known any better.

Maybe instead of trying to keep that videographer from filming us, thirteen-year-old me would have just stood there and allowed myself to be filmed in my underwear by a man old enough to be my grandpa. Maybe he shows me that inappropriate footage and tells me that if I don’t take off the underwear in private, he’ll send the film to my classmates and parents. Maybe instead of getting my fencing coach fired, fifteen-year-old me would have remained quiet, giving him the ‘signal’ that I wouldn’t report him if he progressed to more horrific actions.

Not being labeled as autistic or disabled may have saved me from a terrible fate, but I shouldn’t need to suffer through nearly two decades without a term for my own brain to have access to the education to learn to stand up to assault, to learn about healthy sexuality. Autistic and disabled people deserve appropriate, comprehensive education. We often have mature sexual bodies. We need to learn about what that means. We need to have full knowledge of the concept of consent, and about what healthy relationships are like, what they look like with us in them. Healthy relationships are about mutual respect, friendship, love, and potentially also include pleasurable sex (including lgbt+ sex – not all autistics are straight). While this is desperately needed for everyone, I feel there’s a heightened need for those of us with social disability to have education on this because social norms are something we need to learn across the board. A relationship is a social construct, and if we aren’t taught about them in a good way, there’s the potential for someone to teach it to us in a bad way.

If you are the parent of an autistic, don’t assume that because of their difficulties (non-verbal, no eye contact, intense stimming, severe sensory disorders, or any other issues) they don’t need to learn about adult matters. Consent is not a luxury for the able-minded or able-bodied. Autistic children become autistic adults. We have adult bodies and we need to know about them, about our rights to them. I am what happens when you do things right – a strong individual capable of standing up for her right to say no and eventually finding fulfilling, happy, healthy relationships in the dating world. Your child, who will become an adult, should be too. Please, don’t neglect us.

Thank you.

Autistic Moments – Talking Over Me

What is the correct way to refer to me and others like me? Let’s talk about talk.

When it comes to autism, there’s a lot of talk about talk. Mostly, in the form of arguments for or against one of two sides. One side promotes ‘person-first language’. Person-first language is calling someone a “person with autism.” This is because they feel that putting emphasis on the fact that we are people will help humanize us, and also often because they don’t want to see their child as a walking condition/diagnosis. Rather, they would like to see them as just their child.

The other side champions ‘identity-first language’. Aka: “I’m autistic”, “I’m an autistic”, or “I’m an autistic person.” This is because, since autism is in our brains and is a major aspect of our personality, we don’t see ourselves as separate from our condition anymore than you might see yourself as separate from your gender, sexuality, religion, race, or other intricate parts of your identity. We feel that separating autism from our personhood is dehumanizing in that it is trying to sanitize and change us to be more appealing to neurotypicals. As if we can’t be seen as both autistic and a person, that these things must be separate, because autism is not a person and the implication is that being neurotypical is the default onto which is added autism. Except that’s not the case. We cannot be without our autism, just like we cannot be without our gender, sexuality, religion, etc.

I’m female in the same way I’m autistic. No one ever stops me to say that I should say “No, you’re a person with female-ness. Put the person before the female.” The implication I get from that is that, somehow, females aren’t a type of people. Which is probably why no one says it, because females are undeniably people. But apparently, autistics are not?

If you can’t tell already, I prefer identity-first language for all the reasons I’ve listed, and probably a few more I’m forgetting.

The main point I’d like to get to isn’t the merits of one over the other. In fact, I think it’s just fine if someone prefers to be referred to as a person with autism (though as an English nut, I feel it’s a bulky, unnecessary phrase). If they do, then I’ll respect that and refer to them as such – though I should mention that the majority I’ve encountered and across the expanse of the internet prefer identity-first. No, the main point I’d like to get to has to do with non-autistic people getting all huffy and puffy over language. There are a lot of people online who claim to be autism advocates, parents, or professionals who flat out stamp on and insult autistic people for asking that their choices be respected. Sometimes a neurotypical posts something about “people with autism” and an autistic person corrects them, only to be virtually shouted at, berated, and belittled. Sometimes a neurotypical will seek out autistics and inform them that they’re being offensive.

However they make these comments, neurotypicals engaging in this behavior are disrespecting and offending the very people they claim they want to help. They are silencing our voices because we make them uncomfortable and they are accustomed to the stereotype that we cannot communicate. Sometimes they tell us that because we can speak, we don’t count (which is always amusing when this is told to someone who then reveals themselves to be non-verbal behind the keyboard).  It’s as if they want us to be silenced. They want to believe the stereotype that autistics cannot communicate. The advance of technology has made us more capable than ever before, and they don’t want us talking for ourselves, because then who will listen to them as the expert? We challenge their authority by existing and typing. You can’t have much more expertise and authority on autism beyond being autistic yourself and living it 24/7. I feel that these people talking over us are afraid that we’ll displace them and replace them as the ‘top dog’ in go-to autism related matters. They have a loud privilege at the moment in this society. Like all people with privilege, they’re afraid of losing it, even if it’s a sub-conscious fear. So they put us down and try to keep us quiet, try to make their voices the loudest.

No one likes being told that what they’re doing is hurtful. It’s a personal stab when someone accuses you of doing anything wrong, even if you didn’t mean to. But if you’re an adult, you should know to graciously accept comments and use them to better yourself. The proper response to an autistic person telling you, “Actually, I prefer being called autistic” is not “How dare you question me?! I have so many qualifications!” (or variations thereof). Instead, try, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I’ll try to do better in the future. Thank you.”

And as for other autistics out there… Don’t be afraid to correct people to whatever your preference is. If they don’t hear/read/see our voices and communications, then they’ll never change, never learn to respect our agency, and may not even realize we do indeed have our own agency. If you can’t emotionally handle the potential backlash, then do what’s best for your mental health. But if you can, know you have the support of at least this autistic. You do you, and don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong.

What are your thoughts on and experiences with person-first vs. identity-first language? Leave them in the comments below!

Autistic Moments - Talking Over Me

Comic Text:

Some Girl with a Braid says: … And that’s how I learned I’m autistic.

Blue Mommy Martyr says: Oh no, sweety, you shouldn’t say ‘Autistic’. Say ‘Person with Autism’ or else you’re insulting them. Put the ‘person’ first.

Some Girl with a Braid says: Can you not see us as people and autistics at the same time? I feel personhood is implied with any descriptive identity. And, as an autistic, I prefer identity-first language. Actually, the vast majority of autistics I’ve encountered within the autistic community prefer identity-first terminology because we feel that separating our personhood from our neurology is stigmatizing and vilifying a significant part of who we are. We cannot be the people we are without our autism. We cannot be people without our brains. Autism is also not something we can be rid of; it is not a cancer that can be cured or a purse that can be put down. It is always with us. It is who we are, for better or worse. It’s the same way you would refer to yourself as a female instead of ‘person with female-ness’. It’s a part of who you are and not offensive. If someone on the spectrum does prefer person-first language, then use it at their request, but by telling me how to talk about myself, you are policing and silencing the community you want to help, and insulting us by trying to rob our agency.

Blue Mommy Martyr says: How dare you! I know more about the experience of people with autism than you ever could because I’m a professional and I have a two year old nephew with autism!

Some Girl with a Braid says: …

Blue Mommy Martyr says: You obviously don’t know any better, so I’ll be offended by you on your behalf and attack you for you.

Some Girl with a Braid says: Are you serious right now?

Like, share, follow, etc. if you want continued updates of future posts and more Autistic Moments comics! You can find me at “Some Girl with a Braid” on Facebook and @AmalenaCaldwell on Twitter. Or, if you really love me, follow me here on my blog!

Autistic Moments – Faces

I’d always read about autistic people having difficulty with faces. Usually in regards to recognizing emotions and reading body language, but also in recognizing people. It’s called prosopagnosia, also known as ‘face blindness’, and is defined as the inability to remember faces, or sometimes even to differentiate a face from an object. I’d read about this often being something that autistics deal with, but always thought that was a symptom I just didn’t have. I can recognize my parents’ faces, my siblings, my cousins, grandparents, best friends, long-term classmates, and most teachers. If I meet someone I consider interesting, I’ll probably remember their face. Then I went to college, away from my small class of forty-two graduating students, some of whom I’d known for twelve years.

I started getting greeted by people I’d just met and completely not knowing why they were talking to me or why they knew my name unless they mentioned what class we had together, or how we’d met. I’d be unable to remember what name went with each person, and facebook (ironically named for this post) became a saving grace. I’d always had difficulty remembering names, but for the longest time I figured that was just because I knew too many people and that they only recognized me because of my unusual hair, so it was just natural some would slip my mind and I couldn’t be expected to remember everyone. Once in college, it was a jump into the deep end to try and keep everyone’s names and faces straight.

There was one particular class I remember that made it all crystal clear to me that perhaps I did have a mild version of this autistic symptom. I had a project I was supposed to present with a partner the next time we had class, and I was feeling fairly confident since she was a nice person and we’d done some good research. The day comes, and I go up to get ready to present. I’m pulling up our powerpoint presentation and realize I can’t spot her in the class. I start completely panicking, thinking that maybe she’s sick that day and I’d have to present her half of the project. I started frantically looking at the door, looking nervously at the teacher, reading over her half of the powerpoint so that I could practice at least a little and not bomb in front of the class… then at the last moment this girl walks up with a big smile and asks if I’m ready to go. Relief flooded me because I realized the only reason I thought she was absent was because she’d changed her hairstyle and that was how I’d been recognizing her up until that point.

I told this story to my fiance, and he just told me, “Yep, sounds like you had an autistic moment.” It took me a moment to realize, yeah, I had. And somehow, that felt really good to know.

If you’ve experienced moments like this, feel free to share them in the comments section, I’d love to hear all about it. Like, share, or follow me here, on Facebook (Some Girl with a Braid), or Twitter (@AmalenaCaldwell) for future updates if you enjoy my posts.

Autistic Moments - Faces

Comic Text:

Some Girl with a Braid says: See you tomorrow for the project presentation!

Girl with Ponytail says: Yep!

(Next day in class)

Some Girl with a Braid thinks: Oh no, she’s absent today, I’m screwed. Oh no, oh help, oh no…

Girl with Ponytail who’s hair is now open says: Hey! Ready to present our project?

Some Girl with a Braid says: Yep, all set up and ready to go!

Some Girl with a Braid thinks: Oh thank goodness, she just changed her hair.

The Manic Pixie Autistic Sidekick

Those of you who write or read may be familiar with the trope of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”, a term coined by critic Nathan Rabin to describe the sort of love interest who exists only to teach young males how to experience life and make them better people. These girls aren’t real characters in a three-dimensional way. They don’t exist for themselves or their own happiness. They are creations whose purpose is only to support or provide a catalyst for growth for the man who spends time with them.

But what does this have to do with autism?

Well, think back to one of the most famous autistic characters of all time: Rain Man, aka Raymond as portrayed by Dustin Hoffman alongside Tom Cruise. I’m sure all of you are familiar with Rain Man. It’s not a bad movie, really, it’s just the public’s reaction to it has been… disappointing. Rain Man has come to represent all autistics (despite the fact that the majority of us are not savants) in the minds of many people, and the stereotypes about us have been reinforced by all the many portrayals trying to copy Rain Man as if it’s the only way to be autistic.

I don’t want to do a full review of Rain Man, or a full examination of the impact of Rain Man. It’s been reviewed by better minds than mine, been written about constantly, and there’s not much new to add to the subject. But I do want to address one fact about it, a trope that the entire plot is based on.

Rain Man/Raymond only exists to help the non-autistic character played by Tom Cruise grow as a person. He does not exist for himself or his own happiness. He is a creation whose purpose is only to support and provide a catalyst for growth for the man who spends time with him.

Sound familiar?

This is not an uncommon trope. There are tons of stories out there about characters with various disabilities ranging from mental difficulties (Rain Man) to physical ones (Me Before You – which also buys into the incredibly harmful and appalling “better dead than disabled” trope) that aren’t really about those characters, but the person next to them. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or love interest, these characters only exist to teach a non-disabled person a life lesson of some kind. Like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, this is a sort of objectification of our existences. We are turned into teaching props. Tools.

I don’t want to be a tool.

These sorts of stories are often (possibly always) written by non-disabled individuals, and similar tropes exist for essentially every sort of minority or perceived minority character. While I’m sure the creator’s intentions are mostly harmless (they may even think they’re doing good for the people they’re representing), using us as props to teach others lessons is dehumanizing. The problem with this is the same problem as with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl – it portrays a group of people as supporting roles for others rather than the stars of their own story. It almost removes them from their own story by putting the spotlight on someone else, someone the directors and writers think is more ‘universal’ and whose perspective will sell more tickets. But the ‘default’ isn’t representative of the entire population, and a variety of voices is good for showing that those voices do exist. We need variety and diversity, representations of all types. Autistic people deserve our own stories that accurately portray us as the protagonists and heroes of our own lives, rather than as background and support for the non-autistic people in our lives. We are not teachers. If we teach people in our lives something, that’s incidental, not the purpose of our lives. That should be a side plot. The purpose of our lives is whatever we want to make of it, and to be happy for ourselves.

So, Autistic writers, keep writing. We need you in the world. Everyone with any disability who writes, keep at it. Put your perspective out there. Actors, keep auditioning. Directors, keep going. One day we’ll break in, and we can be the stars in our own story and maybe finally teach people that we’re not tools or props, but the main characters in our own stories.

I am the hero of my own story. And you are too.

A Focus on Atypical’s Moments and Characters – Is Sam Actually the only Atypical in Atypical?

Spoilers ahead – wait to read after you watch the show if you intend to watch it spoiler-free. If not, please proceed.

So, is Sam actually the only Atypical in “Atypical”? Maybe not – but that character I’ll save for last. First, I’d like to take a look at some of the things I found… aggravating in characters or specific moments.

Most of the characters in this show bothered me at least a little in one way or another, but two that ranked the highest on my list are the mother and the psychologist. They both have their good moments – for example, the psychologist encouraging Sam and the mom supporting him… which for the most part is good, but we’ll get to that. I’d like to start with the psychologist, Julia.

First of all, she starts the series off by asking Sam to donate his brain after he dies to be studied. What kind of psychologist asks a struggling teenager to donate his organs? While I don’t think it’s her intention, the insinuations I got from this request were as such:

  1. She sees him as an object to be studied.
  2. Even though she is older than him and therefore statistically unlikely to outlive him and get a chance to study his brain, she seems to really, really want it. Does she think that he’s going to die prematurely?
  3. I went to a psychologist for years… you don’t ask this of someone who’s struggling. Autistics are far more prone to depression than neurotypicals are, and as such the topic of death shouldn’t be brought up so casually, and she shouldn’t be so cheerful about the thought of him dying so that his brain can be poked at. Maybe Sam’s specific case it’s fine… but as essentially the only autistic character in the show (the only one that matters at least), it’s insinuating that this isn’t a big deal for autistics in general. It is – or at least it can be. The show doesn’t give a variety of autistics to show to the neurotypical audience that we’re not all clinical about the concept of death, and only provides one real autistic perspective in order to essentially represent all autistics. It’s not right, but that’s now media works.

She’s not the worst character in the series, and doesn’t even do significant harm to Sam. But one line really, really bothered me the most when I was watching this show, even more than the ‘can I have your brain’ zombie scientist moment. It’s in a scene where we get a few seconds of her teaching a lecture about psychology and autism to a class. She mentions special interests and how one of her patients figured out ninety-five ways to cook an egg. It’s not so much what she said, but how she said it. She said it like a punchline, like she was trying to get her audience to chuckle at how absurd such a thing is. But think about that for a moment. How many ways can you think of to cook an egg? Off the top of my head, I can’t even think of ten. This person came up with ninety-five? That’s brilliant. It should be shown as something brilliant. This specific autistic could go on to become an absolutely fantastic chef full of innovative new ideas. Instead, they’re a punchline.

Autistics often have special interests about which we are capable of memorizing lots of information or creating fantastic innovation. We’re not all savants, of course, and while cooking eggs in a new way isn’t going to vastly improve the world, our special interests can bring anything from advancement to joy to people in many fields ranging from technology, biology, medicine, literature, music, art, history, or really anything at all – as well as being fulfilling to us as people. Putting down a special interest stifles the autistic person, and anything they might have given to the world if they hadn’t been robbed of their confidence by a neurotypical who thinks eggs are hilarious.

This takes me to another point in this series: Sam’s special interest of penguins and all things Antarctica. He is constantly put down about this by almost everyone – his best friend, his girlfriend, his sister. His girlfriend tries to ‘train’ him not to talk about Antarctica, and the show seems to portray this as almost a good thing. His sister when setting him up with an online dating profile tells him not to mention anything about his real interests. His best friend tries to force him to either not buy or hide a shirt with Antarctic whales on it. This is all wrong. First of all, as far as dating goes, if you’re autistic you need to find someone who at least can appreciate your special interest, if they don’t have an interest in it themselves. The only person who seems to give Sam any real support with his interest (and with the right support, he could become a biologist studying wildlife in Antarctica one day) is his father. While the father is shown as not completely in touch with his kid, having a line about how he doesn’t have anything in common with Sam, there’s still a great scene where he takes him to a zoo and they’re sitting watching penguins together. His dad doesn’t get it, but he still supports it. Everyone else gets it, but they don’t support it – the first option is a million times better than the second. The dad’s honestly one of the better characters in the show because he has his flaws, but he treats Sam like a person and tries his best.

On to the mom. I’m on the fence about her, to be honest. I absolutely hate her for a lot of reasons (she flicks off Julia for saying that Sam has the same desires as other people, she doesn’t want to allow Sam to do anything on his own like dating or shopping, she wants to moan about how hard it is to raise an autistic kid and how he’ll never get to do any ‘normal’ things while actively trying to keep him from doing things even when he expresses an interest in them… etc.), but I think that perhaps I’m meant to as a character. For example, there’s a scene where Sam decides he wants to go to the mall to pick his own clothes instead of having his mom pick and buy all his clothes. She tries very hard to talk him out of it, but eventually relents. She calls ahead of time and asks the store to arrange for specific accommodations for Sam. Now, perhaps this can be seen as a good thing in some cases. This was not one of those cases. Sam expressed no desire for the accommodations. When she gets upset, he absolutely doesn’t care that things aren’t exactly the way she wanted them and goes on with trying on clothes, but she goes and makes a big problem out of it. She manufactures a situation of stress for absolutely no reason and gets herself kicked out, even though Sam was fine. I think that the show doesn’t mean to portray this as a case of her doing the right thing, I think they intend to show that she’s being punished for denying Sam agency, which is great. But she’s still a very, very aggravating overzealous helicopter parent. While she tries to advocate for her child, and that is good, she does so in a way that had me pulling out my hair and wanting to yell at her. And she has one more sin that’s far less easy to overlook.

Sam’s mother (and his father) fall into the trope of ‘autism will ruin your marriage’. Now, I understand that for a plot to move forward there needs to be conflict. And that’s great. However, writers need to be aware of the situations they’re creating in context of the real world. Certain organizations have tried very hard to demonize autism as some sort of curse that will destroy otherwise perfectly healthy marriages, driving parents apart. Sam’s father is revealed to have abandoned his family when the children were very young after Sam’s diagnosis. Sam’s mother has an affair with a bartender because the stress of her life gets to be too much. Even though the script has a moment where the dad says that it wasn’t the kids’ fault, the fact that it’s there is just reinforcing that harmful stereotype. If a marriage fails, it’s because the people weren’t ultimately good life partners. It has nothing to do with a child being autistic. There’s likely more stress involved because of that, sure, but a strong relationship and a good marriage can manage stress together as a team. A bad one won’t. And then ‘autism’ gets blamed by association. Putting these two together in fiction needs to stop. We need to see cases of parents of autistics who have happy, functional relationships. There could be plenty of other ways to insert drama without going the ‘parents relationship troubles’ route.

Sam’s girlfriend is another prominent character who deserves at least a few sentences: she claims to have read up on Sam’s condition once they decide to date, but when she’s in his room she starts messing with all his stuff. Then he locks her in the closet for it – which if you want to know my opinion on that, go back to my first post about this and apply “locks girlfriend in closet” wherever you see “acts abusive” or “breaks into his psychologist’s house”. As I mentioned earlier, she also tries to stifle his interest in Antarctica, proving that they should not be together. They’re a bad match, and that’s all I really want to say on her.

I saved the absolute best for last, of course, as promised:

It’s Casey, Sam’s younger sister. Generally speaking, she invades Sam’s personal space, undermines his agency, belittles his special interest, but also tries to help him when she can. I think that her flaws are acceptable in her being as a character simply because it’s a realistic relationship – though if anyone climbed over my laptop like that while I was working on it there would be a serious problem! Why I think she’s the most important character possibly in this show is that she could easily have Aspergers. As many of you may know, Aspergers/Autism/ASD can often present differently in females than in males, leading many psychologists to ignore, misdiagnose, or completely overlook it. Casey is very focused on and good at track and running – it could have been written as her special interest/focus (for those who say that Autistics can’t do physical things – yes I’ve actually heard that – two of the top fencers on my high school’s team were on the spectrum, myself and one other student. It is possible). She has difficulty controlling her temper such as when she punches a girl for being a bully (the first ‘mental condition’ I ever got sat down in front of a therapist for was anger management in elementary school, because I couldn’t stand when people would be bullies, and had lashed out physically at another girl for teasing and mocking me). She doesn’t think that the girls who pull a cruel prank on her by stealing her clothes are up to anything even though they’d been shunning her previously then suddenly switched on a dime to be fake nice (I had a terrible time navigating the social web that was middle school social systems and would take people at their word because I couldn’t read them well only to be taken advantage of or teased).

A fantastic storyline would have been if all the focus being on Sam meant that her entire family completely ignored that she too was on the spectrum. If halfway through the series, the focus shifted completely to make her the main character, with her as the newly discovered ‘Atypical’. Heck, imagine if they’d decided to make her a lesbian. We would then have a well-written autistic, female, lgbt character with depth and dimension that could do absolute wonders for representation and for the autistic community. It would show us truly as people who can be as varied and real as neurotypical characters. But the show doesn’t have that sort of imagination. It goes for the easy jokes, the easy storylines, the easy caricatures. All we get is the stereotype that is Sam Gardiner.

There’s more I could go into… but I believe I’ve covered all of the major points. Thus ends my analysis of Netflix’s Atypical. If they make a season two, I demand an autistic Casey.

 

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Empathy and Dealing with Disaster

TW: disaster, death, hatred, Nazis

I wasn’t planning this post… but it all came to me about ten minutes ago, and I felt like it was worth sharing.

While it’s often said by bad professionals and those who don’t know any better that Autistics don’t feel empathy, this is actually not true at all. It’s not that we don’t have empathy, it’s that we don’t always recognize situations that require it. In truth, we often have too much empathy. And it kind of hurts.

When I watch the news and read about yet more hatred and more death, it destroys me inside. I can’t comprehend how someone can hate another person just for existing. I can’t see why they don’t see other people as people the way I do. People who just want to live, laugh, and love just like everyone else, regardless or orientation, race, gender, etc. I can’t comprehend what possesses someone to, for instance, ram their car into a crowd and kill an innocent woman while injuring many others. Can’t they comprehend how painful that would be? Can’t they see that they wouldn’t want that done to them? Can’t they understand that hurting people is wrong?

I’ve always struggled to comprehend evil. In fantasy (my favorite genre/special interest), it’s more often than not very easy: some dark force corrupted an otherwise good person, someone thinks they’re doing what’s good without understanding they’re actually hurting people, or there’s simply an impartial force of nature with no emotions destroying things like a volcano or zombies. I can understand those things. I can’t understand Nazis and Confederacy lovers. There isn’t a magical dark power, they know they’re hurting people (in fact, that’s their goal), and they are not a mindless force of nature.

What does this have to do with autism? Well, as overly empathetic people, we can see something like what happened in Charlottesville on the news and feel completely devastated and overwhelmed by it. The volume of bile and hatred expressed by many can become unbearable, and all I can think of are the victims, and how much it must hurt physically and emotionally to be them. How much it hurts me (so many others) to know that there are so many people out there who want me dead because I’m not the right religion, orientation, culture, or whatever other poor excuse they have to hate. How much I wish I could wave a magic wand and banish evil from the world. How helpless and weak I feel with nothing but my keyboard, and how I can’t comprehend how so many people can be so terrible.

Like with most things I can’t understand, I can become obsessive. I read lots of news, feel as if it’s my duty to keep up to date and stand against racism, sexism, and all the other –isms whenever I see them. I’ve cut people out of my life for claiming disgusting things about races and religions, even tried my hand at protesting before (it’s exhausting and draining). And then I end up having anxiety and crying when it gets to be too much. Honestly, if I didn’t go on facebook so often, I probably wouldn’t have as much ‘random’ anxiety. While I think it’s important to call out hatred and bigotry in all forms when you see it and to be aware of the world around you, I’d like to say this to other autistics who might be feeling just as overwhelmed as me: we can’t help anyone if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. There is no benefit to constantly bombarding yourself with images, words, and videos of horrible things you already know exist. If you can’t handle it, it’s okay to turn off the computer and the tv and do something for yourself. You have permission to look after yourself and turn off all the extra input. Focus on your special interests (assuming it’s not politics, in which case ignore me) and use them to self-heal by doing something you enjoy. We can’t ignore the world forever, since we are a part of the world, but breaks are completely acceptable. Maybe I’m saying this for myself more than anyone who’ll read this, but if you can’t handle something and it’s causing you so much stress that it’s painful, you can’t sleep at night, and hyperventilate when faced with the ugliness that exists in humanity, then take a few deep breaths, stim in a way that helps, and let yourself relax for a little while.