Atypical

Slipping under the radar of nearly everyone I know who works in the autism field, Netflix debuted their show Atypical a couple of days ago. I literally stumbled upon it thanks to an ad before a YouTube video. So today, I watched the first few episodes.

First, I was happy to see that the lead character, Sam, kicks off the series with the decision to get himself a girlfriend. Often in media depicting autistic individuals, they are presented as either asexual, child-like, or something far more sinister. It was nice to see a teenager on the spectrum in media who thinks like a teenager…because, you know, they do that.

Second, it is rare to get a slightly more realistic look at the dynamics of the family like this. This is a bit more raw. You see the mom who is terrified that neither the world or her son are ready to meet each other, the dad who is trying to find his place in his son’s life (and to some extent, his wife’s life as well), and the sister who is embracing her inner Daria while still showing sibling love (and annoyance) for Sam.

Third, we get to see the world numerous times through Sam’s eyes. This is becoming more common in these kinds of narratives. When he gets hurt because of teasing, he doesn’t immediately emotionally react because he is trying to temper the sensory input, which is growing out of control for him. A hurtful sentence (that the girl seemed to think was defending him instead of hurting) pauses the sensory long enough for him to see what’s happening and bolt. I don’t have these sensations, so I don’t know if they nailed it, so to speak.

Fourth, the mom reminded me of so many parents I have met. I’m going to be honest here, just to warn you. On the one hand, I felt annoyance at first because (to me) she was dismissing her son’s desire to be in a relationship by insisting that he wasn’t ready. On the other hand, I still get it. A mom’s job is to love and protect her children, and this mom is trying her hardest to do just that. I could see both sides, and that made the episodes I watched all the more interesting and endearing.

Finally, debate has already started on whether or not Atypical really caught the essence of the life and times of an autistic teenager. So, short review so far: Do I think some things are played up for entertainment purposes? Probably. Does it represent every autism experience? Of course not, nor should it try to. Is it perfect? Nope. Could it be a great dialogue starter? Yes.

I’ve put the trailer for the show below. I would love to hear other’s thoughts about it (the show, I mean). I do plan to continue to watch it, and we’ll see if it gets a second season.

“Broken Normals”

This debate that is summed up in the video below is pretty much the epicenter of the autism world: “cure/treat” versus acceptance.

It is what separates the different therapeutic approaches, the location and allotment of funding, and cultural response with regards to autism. Do we aim to “fix” autism, or do we aim to accept autism? While I personally come from the angle of acceptance, a sizable chunk of the autism therapeutic community thinks otherwise, and that is evident in where the money is going.

At some point as a society, we accepted other forms of neurodiversity and assimilated them into the flock. Even though discrimination is still present, and laws to protect are still needed, we overall moved past the need to completely erase certain conditions. It took a LOT of work, though, and the fight continues today. I wonder when we will get to that point with autism, and how much education and acceptance it will take.

I may do a much longer post on this subject later, or maybe even a series. Heaven knows the subject deserves it. For now, this is a brief look into it.

VICE News: “Broken Normals”

Quick Tidbits

I’ve been having my own form of writer’s block for the past few weeks. I can’t tell you how many blog posts I have started that now sit idle in the Drafts folder. I will get to them, I promise. In the meantime, I decided to give some practical tips that I’ve learned/been reminded of by some of my new clients. We can always use tips, right?

  • For some of my older clients on the spectrum, a lot of anxiety is reduced when they are given the whole picture or situation first. We tend to assume that they will not be able to process everything at once, but giving information in little pieces (especially if they are directions) can also make them anxious because they don’t know what’s next. What I’ve learned to do is to give the overview first, and then each step afterwards as we hit it. For example: “Okay, we’re going to make lemonade today. We’ll need lemons, water, and sugar so that we can mix them together.” Boom, I just summarized the entire recipe. After I did that, the client walked me through the process, asking when he needed clarification. While he is what would be considered “higher functioning,” he still needed the anxiety reduction.
  • Many kids love the feeling of independently doing and choosing for themselves. Even if it is not a true choice (say, choosing between your two choices), the illusion of choice can be a great asset. I try to give my clients choices whenever I can. Sometimes they bounce the ball back into my court for me to decide, but I offered them the choice, and that goes a long way.
  • To my fellow workers: it is really easy to assume that a parent is just being bossy, lazy, whatever trait you believe you’re seeing that week. Try to step into that parent’s shoes. Most of us get to go home at the end of our day. For those of us without kids, we go home to stillness (most of the time). For our clients’ parents, their challenges and triumphs continue long after we’ve gone home. It’s just a few hours a week for us…it’s 24/7 for them.
  • That being said, workers, know your boundaries. You have to take care of yourselves before you can take care of anyone else. Our clients can pick up when we’re tired, hungry, or just plain pissed about something…and the result is usually a less than stellar session. Parents, we go through a different kind of burnout. We are not just worrying about the well-being and future of your child; we often have several more families we have to put equal energy and time into (or dozens more if you’re a case manager). We’re not trying to be rude or mean if we hold our ground on session times or availability. We’re trying to make sure we can continue to be the best that we can be for all of our clients, including you.
  • Workers, think outside the box. Not just with your clients, but also in regards to your job/position in an organization/your own practice. What are your strengths? How can you use them for the betterment of your organization/practice? Are you doing things that others are not? If others are doing it, do you have a unique spin or voice to bring to the table? Is there something you see in your client that others don’t?
  • This one goes to everyone: have fun. I’m serious. I work mostly with kids, and I see so many instances of family and workers alike getting so wrapped up in the goals and the data that they forget that they are dealing with a kid. I celebrate when a client has a “kid moment.” In that moment, autism wasn’t some horrific veil hanging over their heads (according to everyone around them). Autism was a way to really feel the sunshine and the wind, to appreciate every color dancing across a bubble. Autism led to a laughing fit to end all laughing fits. I’m not trying to downplay the challenges of this type of neurodiversity. It is a tough road to tread, nearly impossible at times. What I am saying is to really be in the present when it comes to those moments where the child is just being a child. I dare say that maybe, just maybe, you may want to join them there.

Overwatch and Autism

A lot of you probably have no idea what the title of this post is concerning, but I also bet that a good number of you do.

Since I work with kids, I am slightly familiar with Overwatch. It is an extremely popular, shooter-style video game with a multitude of characters to play as. In fact, the sheer diversity of the characters is one of the game’s best attributes in my opinion, which leads to the article below and my thoughts on it.

It is mentioned in the article how introducing a character on the spectrum in such a subtle way as it is done in this game is a deviation from the normal approach by the entertainment world. Usually, it is either blasted in neon letters that a character is autistic, or there are no such characters to begin with.  Symmetra, the character who is at the center of this article, is a female fighter with a love for order. She is perfectly content to leave a battle to set up a stronger defense, tends to miss social cues, and can get overwhelmed. Even her name suggests a desire for balance, for all things to be in symmetry.

Another aspect of the article that I appreciated was the note that the word autistic is still used as an insult online, which is very true. I cringe when I see it hurled in such a manner on message and comment boards, and rarely is the speaker corrected. The author of the article, Andrew McMillen, and many that he interviewed echoed my hope that introducing more characters like Symmetra may lead to wider autism acceptance.

The article is below, from WIRED magazine:

Video Games Are Being Transformed By This Autistic Character 

 

Passed Over, Brushed Aside

This article is why I do what I do. I have seen first hand how signs of autism that are clear as day to me and my client’s family are brushed aside by professionals. This seems to especially be the case with minority communities. I really want to change this. I want families to be educated and informed, but I also want that for the professionals that see and treat them. Sometimes you have to go beyond the diagnostic criteria and trust that maybe, just maybe, the family has an idea that warrants a closer look.

A family’s yearlong struggle finally results in son’s diagnosis of autism

Job Accommodation

At one of the previous agencies I worked at, we had quite a bit of space in the very beginning as far as our office went. I remember us having several conversations amongst ourselves about creating a sort of “quiet room” for employees to relax in. We also discussed such a room for or clients, who were autistic. We even thought up designs for the space; pillows, dim lighting (no florescent lights), a small relaxation fountain, etc. Needless to say, that lovely vision never saw the light of day.

Employers are required by laws (to a…reasonable extent, I’ll say) to accommodate for people with disabilities and special needs. They are encouraged in the United States to hire such individuals so as to appear inclusive. Ideally, this would happen regularly. As someone who has worked in HR, though, I can tell you that I have often witnessed quite the opposite.

That brings me to the article below. The consulting form EY talks with The Atlantic about hiring and accommodating autistic employees. To do this, every aspect of hiring and retaining had to be re-examined, from interviews, to interviews, to company culture. EY took this into consideration on all levels, and as a result has a more talented and complex employee demographic.

A lot of the tech companies are starting to actively adjust themselves in order to tap into a population who can make great employees if they are given the opportunity. Right now, EY is placing these employees in areas such as cybersecurity. My hope is that other industries will start to create similar programs to recruit and retain autistic individuals.

EY Describes it Program for Autistic Employees

From Down Under…

I came across this article, and realized that it opens up a question that has always been simmering in the American psyche as well. I’ve seen it manifest in parents asking other parents to move their autistic kids to another pool, or another part of the playground, because they are being “distracting” or “bothersome.” I’ve seen it manifest in school systems who repeatedly try to shoehorn all special needs kids and teens into a few special education classrooms with no regard to their developmental levels, with over-extended and underpaid teachers (I mean, I feel all teachers here are underpaid, but you get the idea).

I definitely fall on the side of allowing mainstreaming if the child/teen is ready for it, because everyone involved grows from it. The other students learn acceptance (and may get some academic help from their new peers), and the teachers start learning to interact with a group of students that some of them seem to…I guess fear would be the closest word. Some teachers seem genuinely fearful of having to interact with special needs students; I think it may be because they aren’t really taught or trained on how to interact and teach them unless they take specific classes for it. They’re afraid of doing something wrong.

In any case, this article covers the debate in Australia fairly well. It recently came to the forefront with one senator suggesting that special needs students should not be mainstreamed at all because the other students are “held back” by the amount of time the teachers spend on the special needs student(s). Naturally, that angered a LOT of people.

What do you all think about the mainstreaming question? Yay, nay, or it depends?

Experts condemn Pauline Hanson’s comments about children with autism