DATING WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER
Ore is a musician, a lover of mustard yellow, and he is on the autistic spectrum. Our research showed that often the media can fall into the trap of what Spectrum News determines as an “overly positive depiction of autism that doesn’t reflect reality for the majority of people on the spectrum.” This can be seen in tv shows such as Atypical where Sam traverses his teen years, trying to find a girlfriend and be popular, or The Big Bang Theory where scientific genius Sheldon Cooper lives with his friends and exhibits “Asperger syndrome-like tendencies.” The result of media portrayal of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), is a mostly white, straight, male, often “endearing” take on what being autistic is like for people. When thinking about the character of Ore, I was particularly inspired by Spectrum News’ statement of “We need to start seeing characters on TV and in movies who reflect the breadth of experiences of people with autism — not just the brilliant surgeon, but the child who bangs his head on the floor so hard and so often that his retina detaches; and not just the high school student who struggles to date, but the one who is so fascinated by the colour yellow that he sits home alone watching “SpongeBob SquarePants” all day. Otherwise, people who are highly challenged and struggle every day are at risk of becoming invisible.”
This lead me to create a character who has yellow all around his room, and can sit for hours on end creating music. Because of the time frame and nature of the film, it was difficult to bring in exterior influences of other people and places, showing how they would affect Ore, so I instead opted for a calm scene that could depict Ore in safety. As Ore moves across the screen from his computer to his keyboard, I purposefully didn’t animate his eyes to look at the camera – or the audience – as a symptom of ASD is “making little or inconstant eye contact,” and “tending not to look at [people],” National Institute of Mental Health. ASD is a developmental disorder which can vary largely from person to person, and just because someone might exhibit autistic tendencies in one way, doesn’t mean they will in others. Therefore, Ore is only one individual with ASD, he does not and cannot serve as an example of ASD in general.
The intersection of ASD with being Black was something I wanted to bring to the fore, also. The National Autistic Society states that “there is a lack of research about the experience of people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups. This means it can be even harder for autistic people in the BAME community to get the support they need.” The lack of understanding, not just of individuals with ASD but especially people of colour with ASD, means that they are more likely to be misunderstood, and therefore in more danger. The Black Lives Matter protests have highlighted the discrimination and danger Black people face, bringing forth many stories of those killed, abused and wrongfully arrested. Amongst those people were Black autistic people, who’s neurodiversity was misinterpreted and mistreated, resulting in trauma and/or death. Ore’s character serves as a representation of what it is to be Black and have ASD, and how that effects the way he might move through the world.– Issy Stephens, Director
People with autism find online dating harder than dating in person – with facial expressions, tone, and other social cues are hidden behind the screen, which makes it difficult to judge how well the conversation or interaction may or may not be going. Especially, as the ‘act of flirting’ is very often having to read between the lines – playing ‘hard to get’ or not wanting to come across as ‘desperate’ or ‘keen’, social cues and expectations are hard to navigate in person, let alone online. It also makes it hard to understand what’s appropriate, on either end of the conversation. For many people on the spectrum, romantic relationships are anxiety inducing, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be more accessible for autistic people.– Lydia Jenkins, Assistant Researcher
SOUND COLLABORATOR STATEMENT
I enjoyed the simplicity of Ore’s animation but, despite this, it still required a significant amount of work. As the focus is on them making music, it was very important to me that I tried to make sure the music matched what was seen on the computer screen. With the help of a music-student friend, I got a rough idea of what it would have sounded like – making the piano-playing at the end and also the humming as accurate as possible. In terms of Ore as a character, I envisioned them being a college student doing some homework on a rainy evening. The room tone was recorded in my living room, with the window slightly ajar so the sound of rain outside could be heard. I decided to include the sound of Ore humming as they worked, as it added another layer of sound to the piece, as well as to their personality. Initially I did the humming myself, but no matter how I manipulated it with different effects, it just never sounded right. Again, I had a friend’s help, whose humming worked far better. For the piano stool, I mixed two recordings so the audio sounded realistic. The first recording was of me wheeling my chair across a room, but the noise didn’t have enough depth to it. To achieve the right sound, I resorted to also adding a recording of a heavy wine crate being pushed – the wonders of Foley!– Sophia Owen Moulding, Sound Collaborator for Ore
- Portrayals of autism on television don’t showcase full spectrum – an article by Alison Singer for Spectrum News, 2017.
Alison Singer talks about the lack of authenticity in media portrayals of people with autism. She states that the characters we see with autism spectrum disorder on TV provide us with a broader challenge when understanding real people with ASD, due to the fact that ‘the word ‘autism’ is applied so broadly as to be practically meaningless.’Issy Stephens
To the TV-watching public, autism has come to mean the verbal, higher-skilled, savant end of the spectrum, because individuals at that end make for interesting characters.Alison Singer
- What is Autism (Part 1)? | Written by Autistic Person – a YouTube video for FreeMedEducation, 2019.
An accessible animatic explaining what autism is and the three basic symptoms of autism. It includes facts about autism such as that it affects ‘1 in every 60 individuals.’ And finally, it briefly covers the differences between Kanners Autism, Aspergers Syndrome and Pervasive Development Disorder.Issy Stephens
- What is Autism (Part 2)? | Written by Autistic Person – a YouTube video for FreeMedEducation, 2019.
A follow up to Part 1, this video breaks down the different levels of autism and ways of perceiving or handling autism. It also talks briefly about Savant syndrome and the ways autistic people have revolutionised our world.Issy Stephens
In my opinion, autism is just another way to perceive our reality. We just process the stimuli around us differently than others.Waleed Sohail Chohan
Stop judging yourself by what you are not, and start defining yourself by what you are.Waleed Sohail Chohan
- What it’s really like to have autism | Ethan Lisi – a TED Talk by Ethan Lisi, 2020.
In this TED talk, Ethan Lisi talks about ’stimming,’ a symptom of autism which can be a repetitive motion or a noise or fidgeting, as a way for individuals to ‘zone out.’ He says that when forced to hide autistic traits, or ‘mask,’ it can be extremely stressful and only leads to more misunderstanding of what it is to be autistic. Further, he explains the need for viewing ASD as something that doesn’t need to be ‘cured,’ but rather looking at how the world can be more accommodating and respectful to all those who don’t fit the ‘normal.’Issy Stephens
There is not a lot of information out there on what an autistic life actually looks like, so people often resort to stereotypes.Ethan Lisi
My inner feelings are unlimited, but my mind only lets me express extremes or nothing.Ethan Lisi
Autism and other mental conditions should be seen as naturally human, naturally part of a human spectrum and not as defects. If autism was seen as part of the natural human spectrum then the world could be designed to work better for autistic people.Ethan Lisi referencing Steve Silberman
- Steve Silberman: The forgotten history of autism – a TED Talk by Steve Silberman, 2015.
Steve Silberman takes us through a brief history of autism, from the first medical (and extremely narrow) diagnosis by Kanner, to the evolution of how the medical world, and in turn society both view and interact with autism. Silberman talks in particular about how the “power of storytelling” has much more to do with the stigma around autism than anything “scientific,” and explains a little about the incorrect link between vaccines and autism that so often pervades the media. He talks about how autism has continued to be studied, in particular Asperger’s approach to autism and further the internet culture where autistic people have found one another, coining the term ‘Neurodiversity’ to celebrate the varieties of human cognition. This talk was extremely helpful for my understanding of autism history and prejudice, and I believe that Silberman’s book Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, has been valued as just as meaningful.Issy Stephens
But wait – wasn’t the paper that sparked the controversy about autism and vaccines debunked, retracted and branded a deliberate fraud by the British Medical Journal? Don’t most science-savvy people know that the theory that vaccines cause autism is B.S.? I think most of you do…Steve Silberman
Crucially, Asperger viewed autism as a diverse continuum that spans an astonishing range of giftedness and disability. He believed that autism and autistic traits are common and always have been, seeing aspects of this continuum in familiar archetypes from pop culture, like the socially awkward scientist and the absent-minded professor. He went so far as to say, “it seems that for success in science and art, a dash of autism is essential.Steve Silberman
- What It’s Like to Date When You’re on the Autistic Spectrum – an article for Vice by Thaddeus Cramer, 2017.
‘During the simplest of interactions with a potential love interest, my brain is working overtime.’Thaddeus Cramer
Trying to interpret the meaning behind the little gestures, the closeness, or lack thereof, the little lulls and crests of conversation—It’s like trying to crack the Da Vinci code for me. Even the thought of attempting to make—God-forbid—physical contact with my date causes me to short-circuit into a spiral of failed social calculations and crippling anxiety. Needless to say, I don’t get many second dates.Thaddeus Cramer
COMMUNITY FOUND resources on ASD
I recommend the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), they are an advocacy group rather than a charity. They wrote a book called “Welcome to the Autistic Community” which has lots of further resources in it. It’s completely free to read online at autismacceptance.com – there’s also a lot of information about autism from autistic people using #actuallyautistic. I really recommend advocacy groups over charities as some charities portray autism as a disease that needs to be cured, not as a neurodivergence in a neurodiverse world. Advocacy groups allow autistic people to speak for themselves rather than being talked over by neurotypicals, whether they’re well-meaning or not.Katherine Bertram
Resource submitted by Katherine Bertram
- The Autisticats – instagram account
Four people post on this account, mostly Eden (they/them), who also runs their twitter account (@autisticats). Leo (he/him), Laurel (they/them) and Abby (she/they) also post occasionally. This account is a good source for information on autism as it provides multiple people’s personal experiences of autism, as well as general information about autism. This includes how autism affects them daily, with behaviour, emotions, and other experiences.Rowan Noble
- @neurodivergent_lou – instagram account
Louise (she/her) posts about general information on autism, but also about links between autism and other conditions, such as depression and imposter syndrome, as well as what neurotypicals can do to support neurodivergents, for example, responding to an autistic meltdown, spoon theory, and what your autistic loved ones need to hear.Rowan Noble
- Life in a Autism World – instagram account
This page is ran by “an autistic person” and their posts are a mixture of memes, posts from other platforms such as tumblr and twitter, and more general information.Rowan Noble
- @fidgets.and.fries – instagram account
This page is run by Tiffany (she/her) who is a black, autistic mother, with two autistic children. She brings a very unique perspective to Instagram, as she talks about being autistic, but also what it is like to have two autistic children. Tiffany provides general information about autism, her personal experiences, and life/family updates.Rowan Noble
- @impact – instagram account
Impact haven’t posted about autism very much, but it has been general information more recently around Autism Acceptance Day.Rowan Noble
- @feminist – instagram account
Feminist is very similar to Impact, with only a few posts, but these are more personal accounts from other people.Rowan Noble
COMMUNITY FOUND resources On THE BLACK EXPERIENCE
- @transparentblackgirl – instagram account
Founded by Yasmine Jameelah (she/her), this account focuses mostly on healing from the trauma of watching black people being murdered every day, as well as more personal trauma, such as sexual trauma, and more recently, church trauma. This account is a very positive and accepting place and has a very good environment for healing.Rowan Noble