Something Different – A Review

My life is so limited lately that to continue to only blog as a way to howl into the universe that I am still alive despite all failures of things meant to make that more certain, despite the total complacency of people who accept money to ensure I am not at all sorts of risk I that I am in fact at risk of.  Well, I knew this planet was not for me from my earliest days so moving on.

One of the ways I pass my life where I feel like I exist outside of time is to watch too much Netflix. It actually does the least harm if I get stuck in it as I am not typing or attempting something dangerous or which will result in days without sleep and sore joints.

Their offering “Atypical” was one I watched when it came out. Wondering how another teen with autism would be portrayed.

I am mostly reserving judgement in how the show does use functioning categories because there is some challenge too them as well.

I found the show to go heavily on the everything is somehow okay side though.  The protagonist is 18. Has a part time-job which he apparently holds without much issue although he has a side kick and an understanding boss.  It is in an electronics store so having sometimes contemplated that as bliss if I could stand better it’s a maybe. I would have liked if employment as an issue came up somewhere though.

On concluding he would like a girlfriend, Sam proceeds in a methodical manner. I have no issue with that as I found that very me.   I kind of did have one about the outcome.  Realistically while his younger sister gives some sense of needing to be there for him, having needed to be there for him he is not seen being bullied ever.

He concludes he wants a girlfriend and gets one. He makes some understandable missteps along the way but this is high school.. He not only gets a girlfriend but he allows her to train him to talk about penguins less.  This was perhaps one of the most clearly problematic bits about the show.

The other big issues in autism get skirted because the father says of functioning labels they don’t really use them.  When Sam has a bad melt-down on a bus there is the well that’s life with a “high-functioning” kiddo”.   No clear shots across the bow at them get made but the promise of some one hopes.

Although Sam’s therapist has gone into it motivated by a sibling who remained non-verbal and his mother is very into all of everything that one might consider the negative kind of “autism mommy”.  Again it is the father who suggests towards the end of the season one that an identity beyond that would be a good thing.

The show is a comedy so the kind of heavy-duty why it is not just a good thing but a necessary thing is not going to happen.  You have the one character occasionally challenging the whole way autism is framed by those who are not autistic.

The actor portraying Sam is not autistic. A sore spot of late within the autistic community and a familiar one for the disability community overall.   It’s not that he didn’t do a good job. It was a role he wanted and one he feels is his favourite thus far but this does suggest that they were not looking to cast an autistic actor.  Is this ever going to change?

So it is high-school with all the potential horrors and yet in ten episodes Sam has one day where he winds up under a lab station for part of it. For those of you who know me I do keep saying under is the superior place to be for all forms of distress.

His girlfriend who perhaps could have been used to explore some of the things Sam has done that upset her like his pro and con list. Lists are lovely for the kinds of things that seem big.  Neurotypicals likely proceed through all sorts of things without them but I have made lists and plans for getting just a regular friend. I used the best that science had to offer the second time I did it as I knew more about what science had to say on the matter.

That a list is a way to make the impossible seeming slightly more probable.  It also takes something which at 18 is harder most of the time than at 49 – the whole social arena and contains it. You have a plan. You can proceed with your plan. I used to have plans for every area of my life that I evaluated at least annually — some quarterly.  This was especially true for the difficult parts of life.  A plan. A list.  These are real tools and they are mostly things which are fodder for comedy when someone Sam’s age who is also on the spectrum is enthusiastic. Perhaps the comedy wouldn’t be diminished if a sentence or two of why they are so wonderful happened. Maybe none of the experts the show consulted knew why.

So having gotten a girl who openly behaviourly conditions him to speak about his passion less which sure you could say this is a lesson in compromise but what it says to the autistic viewer is that life is always a trade-off where less of what makes you who you are is what the world wants.  If you become less you then you may be rewarded with acceptance. It is a long shot. That too is not portrayed in the show.

Another long shot is when said,  girlfriend wants to go to the winter formal and this would be too overwhelming for Sam.  She goes up against the PTA and when all sorts of incentives rain down on those who want a dance of the kind where you can hear the music booming  versus one where the music could be delivered through headphones. See aforementioned job of Sam’s.  Still who thinks this would happen. That the mother’s on the PTA who oppose it strongly didn’t peak in high school and were the mean girls then and have not changed much.  Maybe age wears down their talons but they have fixed notions of what a dance should be.   I am guessing these formal this  and that being much bigger deals in the US and I never attended a single dance in high school. We didn’t live in town and gas by then was tight and well the 5 minutes I spent at a Junior High one so my computer matched “date” could get in for free ( who knew they weren’t all free)  was about enough.  Much like my 10 minutes at a toga party my second day in residence before most had arrived filled my toga party requirement of university.

Then there is Sam’s other desire. To have sex. Again approached methodically he improbably pulls this off at the winter formal. I mean it would have been probable if there had not been some drama ahead of time.  He handles the loss if his girlfriend, however temporarily by being convinced a quest is needed and the logical one leaves him soaking wet but having won fair maiden. No one mocks him for being soaking wet in formal clothes.  Right.  Was the author home-schooled?

It works and he and his beloved do the deed right there in an igloo his father made for him (not out of snow so surprisingly Sam does not deduct marks for this).   I was disappointed  by this bit.  It acts as many books and oh so many expert writings on the topic as if in 18 years nothing has been picked up about what would be appropriate or not.   Having sex for the first time in a display in a public place would seem like it would not only be something Sam would know is not appropriate but given it isn’t a real igloo and much of the other comforting things from his Antarctica themed room are not there. Just the fakee igloo which while Roald Amundsen, fresh from his North  West Passage exploration did indeed use.  This, skiing, sled dogs, and being willing to eat those dogs (this comes up if you ever seriously consider applying for a job in the North in the why dog sleds are still better than snowmobiles section of things to consider) no penguin ever set foot in them.

Consider too if you remove the sound of music blaring, and everyone has their own headsets, hopefully set at hearing friendly volume this might be rather hard to do at a silent dance.   If it is something that either teen would consider appropriate. I would think it would present larger challenges for Sam but given his girlfriend’s previous efforts on shaping him in the way things are done also a huge let down for the whole love those you can change model citizen.

Snow may have silencing properties which I appreciate when it actually snows here but this just looked that way. It also looked like something I couldn’t touch but they leave Sam with just the standard set of sensory issues so things he can’t touch don’t complicate his tryst.

Overall ten episodes isn’t enough to judge if it will get better or not. The issues the show skirts around would really have to be tackled in some substantive way for it to be a semi-win.  It isn’t horrible and it did leave me wanting Sam’s room very badly  but it isn’t a realistic portrayal of high school period let alone autism and high school.

It leaves too many key things as just side bits the Dad hints at and given he is alone there people may think he has the issue for not “doing” functioning levels.  Or thinking of autism that way. Then again so would the DSM V which pretty well point-blank states the numbers for each category in terms of functioning can fluctuate and they are defined with the premise that support is provided. It could take 20 years for that filter into the minds of even the “experts” let alone the general public so we can only hope that either this show or some other handles things a bit more head on that are issues largely because an inaccurate way of looking at autism hard set and is tricky to shift.

While never a diagnosis I have a report that say my previous diagnosis was “High Functioning Autism”. I did like the report though as the next paragraph my “Very low functioning” on  those lovely scales of adaptive living is noted.

So here’s hoping if Netflix wants to tackle autism they do it both head on and with some insight from those who are actually autistic.

A Day of Rest, Food and Rainbows

On Thursday nights I have band. I always get wound up on band nights so it takes longer than usual to fall asleep or even get sleepy. This is not helped by the fact that Europe has not changed to daylight savings time yet so my slight overlap with my work colleagues is an hour later. Or by the fact that I enjoy talking to them so long after the things actually pertinent to my job have been said I tend to talk a bit more. By talking I mean typing as that’s how we communicate 99 percent of the time with them.

I didn’t fall asleep until 5 am. Technically I also have band rehearsal for a different band on Fridays but between my extra light on sleep night and knowing today would be different than usual I suspected it would be a mistake to push myself to get to that and still  be able to get my work stuff in the minimum shape to head into Shabbat ready for my Hebrew I graduation dinner. It was a day where I actually was aware enough to realize I needed to pace myself to stack the odds better in terms of a good outcome. Sometimes I just carry on with what I planned even though I suspect it will be too much so just knowing not to was positive for me.

The way my life worked out I started this class the same day I officially started my new job. I had practices for more than a year with an app to be able to make it not a total waste of money, as I have dyslexia. It’s impact is largely hidden in a very over learned character set but painfully apparent when I try a different one.

Back when my rabbi’s wife was explaining to me why I should take it and my enthusing about my meeting new people, getting more familiar with Hebrew, and getting out of the house I was in a state of mild to moderate panic and that kept increasing as the date drew closer. It didn’t help that the date of my new job also loomed closer at the same time.

Even getting out of the house is a tough one for me right now as with every other aspect of my autism as stress goes up so to do my symptoms so my tolerance for the sensory experience that is everyday life is at close to an all time low. I don’t remember it being so bad since kindergarten actually. One day I will write about the sensory nightmare of kindergarten.

I did convince myself though that of all the situations the world offers this would be the closest to an academic one on offer short of actually returning to school. I have a high degree of academic comfort. Test off the charts for it on some odd test they give you in university at some point. So I convinced myself I could indeed go and would likely survive this encounter with an unknown place and and unknown quantity of unknown people.

I did more than survive of course. There were more women than men in the class and women have always scared me more than men. I guess I had not interacted in depth with many since growing up and I had missed that most women do grow out of the kinds of behaviours I came to associate with being with women when I was still growing up. It was good for me to learn that there can be less terrifying women.

My class was as filled with kind and compassionate people as my congregation is and eventually I even had a regular study meeting with someone who lives nearby. I don’t take those things that seem like no big deal for granted. To me having someone to meet at a coffee-shop and study Hebrew with is huge.

As difficult as I knew the Hebrew would be it was the people part that truly terrified me as it always is.

So today because of the deviation from the norm that the dinner would bring about I thought it best to lay low, rest a lot and go into the evening feeling calm and rested. It was potluck and I wasn’t going to risk the horrors of time spent cooking going wrong so I opted having heard what people would bring to get fruit. A slacker in the potluck department I guess but I wasn’t gambling anything today. A person in my class picked me up and we headed out.

We had our dinner on the top floor of what is one of the taller buildings in our downtown. Because we are on a tectonic plate what’s allowed in our downtown is smaller than most but still the view was fabulous and so we got on with the agenda of the night which was mainly to have a Shabbat dinner.

Some of the people in the class are in the class as part of either a return to Judaism or in preparation for a conversion so there is an underlying element of teaching people to be Jewish. A nudge towards being more observant maybe for some. The norm for the local Conservative community is towards fairly orthodox practices in many ways so the dinner had to be downtown in so those that refrain from travel on Shabbat could walk home. The bulk of the community lives near downtown.

It was probably the first and maybe the only Shabbat dinner to be held on the top floor of that magnificent building. It was in a very famous company’s very nice local office and some of us joked that it might stir a massive move from our own occupations as what passed for a boardroom there was very sumptuous indeed.

So we did the usual dinner things which were new to some of our class, and we ate and talked. I realized for the second time in under a year that I was at the very kind of social gathering that had terrified me all my life and I wasn’t anxious, I wasn’t hiding out in the bathroom, and I hadn’t even brought my camera so I wasn’t even hiding behind it. I was talking. I was actually feeling not too anxious at all. In fact since for some of the formal parts were well known to me I felt down right at ease at times. When I was young I did best with highly structured social activities and I suppose the fact that there are some highly structured and even better, pretty much unchanging aspects to this kind of dinner did play a role in my ease.

We had to speak a bit about the class at the end and were given our certificates. I didn’t say because I hadn’t processed it that the achievement for me that mattered more was the very night. Not the newborn, grasp of Hebrew phoenics but having stuck it out to the point where I knew that many more people and could eat with them without being in a blind state of panic.

A rainbow showed up at some point. A rainbow has special religious meaning as a sign that G-d will never again get so mad at what must be his most trying creation and wipe the bulk of us out. I didn’t attach any special significance to it other than it being the time when people were looking at the rainbow that it was quiet enough for me to appreciate not the miracle that we were in no imminent danger of being washed off the planet, but that I was there at all.

In what is still the hardest time of my life ever, when I am still coping with more than I think a so called “normal” person could handle in a short span of time I was not only still alive but some forward progress was happening. I was able to sit and eat and talk in a group of people I didn’t know 5 months ago. That for me may be a miracle worthy of a rainbow in and of itself. Also the time to appreciate that very thing. That while many aspects of my life face new and difficult, and sometimes seemingly impossible challenges some progress is happening where I might least expect it to.

I am grateful.