The Challenges of Portraying Autistic Spectrum Disorders


If you love television, you may (or may not) like what I am about to say in this post. It’s funny how many of these television shows that depict people with disabilities have this way of making the average viewer think that the things they see on television are accurate and true. When they encounter a person or situation in life which reminds them of a certain television show, they utter some variation of the following phrase.

“Wow! This is just like what I saw on __________!”

For the record, I actually enjoy a lot of those crime and hospital dramas. I have to admit that the actors are good at making it look real to the average person. They also raise awareness about the emotional impact that such devastating circumstances can have on people. However, I watched a few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy that I thought were horribly misrepresented of Asperger’s Syndrome. It was the three episodes from Season 5. Mary McDonnell played Dr. Virginia Dixon, a surgeon who happened to be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. From her very first scene in “These Ties That Bind”, I could tell that her character was going to be a walking stereotype. She never looked the other doctors in the eye, then started to name useless facts about the history of a piggy back transplant. She was also a stickler for “scientific” medical terms, which is very childish in and of itself.

Hetero-topic transplant! Piggyback is a colloquial name for the procedure!

Don’t do that!

(whispers) Don’t do that!

It is very common for movies and television shows to portray people on the spectrum as intelligent, but socially inept. The next several scenes made that incredibly clear. Dr. Dixon took unapologetic, blunt and socially inept to a whole new level. I am going to briefly describe several scenes where she did just that! The first example was an interaction with patient Clay Bedonie. Six years prior, he underwent a piggyback transplant. The patient wanted his donor heart back because he felt “haunted” by the new one.

Dr. Dixon:

Clay Bedonie, are you aware that without the donor heart, you will live a short life attached to a machine while dying a sudden and agonizing death?

This particular scene was nothing compared to the others I am going to discuss. Dr. Dixon refused to acknowledge or respect the patient’s religious and spiritual beliefs. (Clay Bedonie was a Navajo!) She stated several times that she only puts faith in science. Please, tell me I am not the only person who believes that this would be a very unprofessional example for anyone who desires to pursue a medical career. Simply put, there is a time and a place where it is acceptable to debate religious or spiritual beliefs. I do not have a medical degree, but I am old enough to know that interacting with a patient in any healthcare profession is not the time or the place!

The next episode featuring Dr. Dixon showed what can happen when a “clueless aspie” fails to show respect and understanding for the patient’s family when they face the devastating news that their loved one has died.

Patient Holly Anderson was involved in a car accident with Emma, her sister. Upon arriving at the hospital, the two bickered because Holly was texting while driving her father’s car. Dr. Alex Karev noticed that her eyes started to turn a strange red color as a result of brain matter leaking through her nose. She was then admitted into an operating room. “Good! Take her away! I hope she dies!” Emma yelled this as they rushed her away. Holly died on the operating table of a carotid dissection. Dr. Dixon made the typical aspie mistake of standing up in front of the family and going into graphic detail about the failed procedure. I transcribed this incredibly awkward scene here.

Dr. Dixon: I’m very sorry for your loss, but tests confirm that although your sister’s bodily functions are fine, her brain is dead. She has no thoughts, no emotions, no senses. I’m Dr. Dixon, I will be harvesting your sister’s organs, if your parents agree.

Mr. Anderson: Please, she’s our baby. We need more time.

Dr. Dixon: I’m very sorry for your loss, but her organs are young and vital. They could save many lives.

(Emma wheels over to Holly and begs for her to wake up.)

Dr. Dixon: I’m very sorry for your loss, but your sister can’t wake up. Her basic functions are gone. Her brain is dead. Her body is alive, but unfortunately, unfortunately, she is dead.

(Emma angrily demands for Dr. Dixon to leave. Meredith then politely asks her to leave the room.)

I cannot imagine what it would feel like to see my loved one dying on a hospital bed after a tragic accident. Combine the shear devastation with the added aggravation of having to deal with a socially inept doctor who is overwhelming me with the details about why my loved one is brain-dead. If I were in this situation, I can only hope that I would not end up smacking her right in the face! Believe it or not, those of us with Asperger’s Syndrome are more than capable of recognizing, understanding and expressing human emotions. It is part of learning these things the neurotypical calls “social skills.” Like riding a bike or playing the piano, it takes practice to master.

I look back on these scenes and I realize one thing. Most intelligent people know that this is not an authentic portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome! (They know that Autism is a neurological disorder, not a disease like Tuberculosis or AIDS. Amount and severity of symptoms varies in each person.) It shows stereotypical resemblance to classic Autism combined with the physical ability to communicate verbally. I don’t expect others to use the same words and terms that I am accustomed to using. I don’t throw temper tantrums after being hugged by someone who I don’t particularly have the interest sharing such a personal interaction with. I am able to understand when a certain time or place is not appropriate for debate about beliefs and opinions. Furthermore, I do have feelings and emotions. I just communicate them in ways that are only somewhat different from everyone else.

I have yet to see one portrayal that does not put such strong emphasis on stereotypical symptoms and mannerisms, and that does allow the individual to reach their full potential. This is just one thing that will change people’s perceptions about Autistic Spectrum Disorders and about disability in general.

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We Are All “Filthy Rich!”


The Rev. Creflo Dollar is a televangelist and the leader of World Changers Church International. The Fulton County, Georgia resident has sparked controversy after campaigning for 200,000 people to donate $300.00 for an “airplane project” that is intended to help “understand grace” and “empower change” around the world. This man could not have given this “airplane project” a more literal term. It’s only intent is to replace the televangelist’s private jet.

You read correctly! He is the proud owner of a Gulfstream G650. When it comes to personal private aircraft, it is top of the line! With a cruising speed of over 500 Miles Per Hour and luxurious seating, all covered with a cost of over $65,000,000.00, this piece of machinery is exclusively reserved to the famous, rich and privileged. Why would anyone be gullible enough to contribute to such a selfish and greedy “cause?” It’s because they are believers in “the prosperity gospel.”

Prosperity gospel:

a modern version or, according to some, perversion of the gospel according to which the full blessings of God available to those who approach Him in faith and obedience include wealth, positive speech, health and power.

I know I am rich with many things. However, they do not include private jets, mansions and fancy cars. They are personal gifts and skills that nobody will ever be able to steal. People have said that I am rich with insight and wisdom for those who feel unwelcomed, misunderstood or mistreated. It doesn’t matter if it is due to sexuality, disability or anything else that causes others to turn their nose and make insulting remarks. The most difficult thing about having this gift is knowing how I can use it to achieve success in this crazy world.

What are you filthy rich with? How have you used these gifts to achieve what success means to you?

(More to come soon!)

Being Openly Gay During The Holidays


The tree is lit up and beautifully decorated! Presents have been intricately wrapped! Christmas has returned for another year of festivities! So, why are people so mean and unhappy during this season that is really supposed to be about comfort and joy? Thanksgiving and Christmas are holidays that can either bring the best or the worst out of many family relationships. Many of our LGBT brothers and sisters who live with deeply religious parents are no stranger to that fact. If the relationship turns to the worst, it can really take a toll on them during the holidays. Whether you have a supportive family or not, we must remember one thing.

 “Attitude is the mind’s paintbrush. It can color any situation!”

I remember my elementary school teachers used to display this quote on their classroom walls. These two sentences are important for us all to remember. I suppose we can say that Murphy’s Law of being openly LGBT is that you are bound to experience people who just don’t get it. Attitude can reveal our true colors. I am glad that I have gotten over the whole “coming out” phase. I can remember feeling outraged when YouTube right-wing “prodigy” Caiden Cowger made a viral video called “Obama is making kids gay.”

“Homosexuality… It is a belief. It’s not mandatory in that person! That person is not born that way, no matter what Lady Gaga says. That person is not born that way! It is a decision! You see, it is getting worse where I’m at. I see younger people that is turning to be out to be homosexuals.  Its equal boy and girl both. All of them are turning into homosexuals. We’ve got about thirty, I’d say thirty teenagers in this county that I am at that are homosexuals and it is sickening! It sickens me!” Caiden Cowger “Obama is Making Kids Gay”

It’s obvious that his parents are raising him to believe such ignorance. I remember the plethora of video responses and blogs following this video. Many of them were from the LGBTQUIA community. Others came from political commentators like Bill Maher. The internet is certainly a place where one can spread their own ignorance and find people who agree with them. Let’s face it! We are all guilty of saying ignorant things. This ignorance can not only come from strangers on the internet. It can come face to face with those who supposedly “know” and “love” us.

This begs the question. Should I discuss my sexuality or not? Well, sexuality is a taboo subject for a lot of people. Some people cannot fathom two consenting men or two consenting women “doing what they do” (if you know what I am talking about.) I am certainly convinced that a lot (but not all) of it is overly based upon religious convictions and general ignorance. When it comes to people I interact with on a daily basis, opinions range from Liberal to Conservative. The holidays are not the time for debates about divisive issues. That means that anyone who wishes to proclaim their homophobia must keep one thing in mind. I refuse to conform to people’s perceptions of what is “icky.”  It’s best to make that crystal clear as soon as they start hurling anti gay (or “pro family”) epithets. They are fully convinced their religious deity believes it is an abomination, among the many negative connotations used by the religious right.

We’ve all been forced to resist the temptation to give that judgmental zealot a bloody punch in the face. However, people like Caiden Cowger should remind us of one thing. A bloody punch in the face (or a terroristic threat in the comment section) is the reaction they want. They want to use us to their own advantage. They want to see us get into trouble so they can gloat about it in the end. They want us to feel like failures. (Caiden makes that abundantly clear in his last video complete with an overly dramatic introduction.) The best thing to do about people like this is to walk away and pretend it did not happen. You have to rise above their arrogance. Tell yourself that you are worth more than any person who ever tries to deny that fact! It took me a very long time to tell myself that.

Homophobia from outside the LGBT community often forces us to do one thing that can be very damaging during the holidays. Internalizing our anger and imposing it on innocent people is an unfortunate and under recognized problem. I am a “high functioning” Autistic male who managed to come to terms with my sexuality. There are a lot of things I still have to learn about living in this world as a double minority. I have already learned that my uniqueness does not warrant disrespect towards anyone. I should remind you that disrespect is not always intentional. We’ve all failed to do things we should have done. We have all done things we should not have done. I was that high school kid who always felt left out no matter where I went. People noticed that and they would occasionally take advantage of it. I don’t feel the necessity to elaborate on those experiences now, mainly because it was in the past. However, I urge all LGBT people to include those who may be going through those feelings now. I am asking you to help in lessening the division that exists within our own community. I cannot do this on my own, but I am willing to do it if you are!

Thank you for reading and happy holidays!

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