Ocean Heaven

Ocean Heaven opens with a disturbing scene that may upset viewers, particularly disabled ones; the father and sole caregiver of a young man with autism is attempting to drown him, and commit suicide at the same time. Wang Xingchang is despondent over his own terminal cancer diagnosis and worried for Dafu’s future, but when Dafu chooses life for them both he must figure out how his son will live on without him.

China does not seem to have a strong safety net for disabled adults without family support in general, nor do many people seem to have a nuanced understanding of autism in particular. Wang visits an institution he finds deplorable, his erstwhile love interest spurns him because she doesn’t want to be stuck taking care of Dafu, and finding suitable employment is a challenge. It would have been better if Dafu’s education had included life skills with an eye towards independent living all along, but such advances in special education have not yet reached all cultures and economic levels.

Not being privy to much of Dafu’s mental state, it’s tempting to think of him as a passive actor in all of this, but he does seem to sense the urgency of his situation (as indicated by a public meltdown). Dafu masters simple cooking, shopping, dressing, and taking public transportation, in what seems like slow progress but must actually be record time. But once activities of daily living are mastered, Wang’s ultimate concern is laid bare. Who will love my son? Who will keep him from loneliness and despair?

We will just have to trust in Dafu’s abilities.


Named for the chocolate factory in which autistic teen girl Zen displays her martial arts prowess, Chocolate is the story of how Zen “overcomes her disability” to collect money owed her cancer-striken mother Zin by some rather unsavory characters. Titles at the beginning of the movie explain that it intends to highlight some of the abilities of “special children”, and exhorts their parents to focus on what these extraordinary children could do.

The premise of the film initially sounded rather unbelievable to me; though autistic people are known for their ability to memorize, I doubted that extended to learning kung fu Matrix-style, simply by watching it on TV. Such learning would not address components such as strength, flexibility, and coordination. But when in doubt, ask someone on the spectrum! I consulted @SpectrumScribe (who has their own write-up of Chocolate) and learned that, though it would be rare, Savant Syndrome can indeed manifest in physical abilities as well as mental.

Zen is depicted as something of a Sweet Innocent, dressed in girly flowing dresses and funky hats. Her cousin Moom has been showing off her ability to catch balls thrown at her seemingly without looking at them amid crowds on the street in exchange for tips. (Autistic people often have excellent peripheral vision and sensitive hearing, giving the viewer the impression that Zen is something akin to a superhero.)

But sometimes the onlookers taunt or even assault them, such as when one throws a knife which Zen catches barehanded. Zin is unhappy when Moom exploits her in such ways or when Zen learns to fight by watching kung fu movies on TV, hoping to keep her a Sweet Innocent.

Zen’s communications skills leave something to be desired; she often demands money from her mother’s debtors in a high pitched voice and simple sentences such as “Give Mom’s money”. They don’t always understand what she is referring to right away, and her lack of eye contact sometimes unnerves them. That doesn’t stop them from using physical violence against her, though. In one of her first fight scenes, her “autistic vocalizations” (for lack of a better term) are equated with kiais (battle cries).

Interestingly, in the final battle where Zen (of course) dispatches dozens of her family’s enemies, one of her toughest opponents is a teen boy with what appears to be Tourette’s syndrome. He’s never named, nor do we learn what he’s doing there, but Zen briefly echoes his tics before defeating him.

At the conclusion, Zen’s absent father resurfaces to take care of her, attempting to restore her to the status of Sweet Innocent by dressing her like a child and giving her a pinwheel. One wonders how long she’ll put up such infantilization…

The Bridge and The End of Asperger’s Syndrome

From Vulture.com, NYmag:
The Bridge and the End of Asperger’s on TV

By John Elder Robison

Watching Diane Kruger dive head-first into the awkward, by-the-books Texas detective she portrays on FX’s The Bridge on Wednesday night, I suspected I was witnessing the last of a kind. For reasons I’ll explain shortly, we have entered the post-Asperger’s era of television, and the intense Sonya Cross may well be the final character with that condition who’ll get grandfathered into the new age.

Because Asperger’s, a developmental disorder that falls on the autism spectrum, came out on television quietly, it’s hard to say for certain when the condition made its prime-time debut. But I do know when I first took notice of a character with the disorder: in December 2005, when Boston Legal introduced us to Jerry Espenson, the quirky, socially awkward attorney played by Christian Clemenson. Many viewers noted that, as depictions of what it’s like to live with Asperger’s, Jerry and the brilliant but difficult Dr. Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds were exaggeratedly and unrealistically — a better word might be crummily — drawn. But still, these characters had an impact. Quite sneakily, like a raccoon rearranging the pantry, things began to change and awareness of the disorder grew.

The tipping point in the mainstreaming of Asperger’s arrived in 2007 with the high-functioning, haughty and hilarious theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper and The Big Bang Theory. As the show was a hit, winning two Emmy Awards for actor Jim Parsons in the process, characters with symptoms resembling Asperger’s syndrome poured out of our television screens and infected our brains: Dr. Dixon on Grey’s Anatomy, Max Braverman on Parenthood, Abed on Community, and seemingly countless others. Almost overnight, Asperger’s had become a shorthand TV trope used to explain and excuse a character’s maddeningly inconsiderate genius.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s a decade before these portrayals started cropping up, and for the longest time, I was alone, the only Aspergian I knew. Not anymore. In the span of just six years and countless utterances of “woof!” Asperger’s has gone from being unknown to being ubiquitous. And I don’t just mean on TV: Asperger diagnoses in the real world have skyrocketed in that same stretch of time.

The uptick in Asperger cases led to some mild hysteria. People started getting scared. Wild accusations and stupid questions were bandied about. Do televisions cause Asperger’s? What about its programming? Is there a vaccination I can have? What about lead supplements? No one knew. But we insiders did know this: If Big Bang Theory aired on a Monday, you could count on more than a few parents bringing their kids in for an Asperger diagnosis on Tuesday.

And so the CDC swooped in to do studies, and legislators convened. Time passed. Optimists hoped TV bigwigs would police the situation on their own. Finally, the American Psychiatric Association sprung into action. “We can solve this problem,” they effectively said. “It’s so simple: Let’s get rid of Asperger syndrome!” And they did just that. May 18, 2013, with the publication of the fifth edition of the APA’s industry-standard Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), was the last day that Asperger’s existed as a distinct psychiatric classification. From that day forward, any newly diagnosed patients who would have previously been classified with Asperger’s syndrome would be designated with the tag of Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, the rejiggered catchall category for autism and other pervasive developmental disorders.

Just like that, Asperger’s was gone. You can do things like that when you publish the rules. Like corrupt referees at a rigged college football game, the APA removed Asperger’s from the field of play and banished the term to the locker room of psychiatric oblivion. Their new and improved DSM went on sale two months ago, and shrinks everywhere lined up to buy it. Meanwhile, my 2007 memoir about living with Asperger’s is now deemed diagnostically obsolete. (Luckily, consumers don’t know that!)

Conveniently, the new classification lets television producers off the hook. Any current TV character ascribed with Asperger’s-like symptoms can no longer inspire real-world diagnoses of Asperger’s, and television can no longer be blamed for the real-world overdiagnosis of the condition. Because, as you now know, Asperger’s no longer technically exists. All you can get now is an ASD diagnosis, and who’d want that? What kind of cache could a three-letter acronym possibly have? None. And I checked the records: As of today, not one single person has reported catching ASD from a television. The fix seems to have worked.

TV is now forced to adapt to this new, Asperger’s-free reality. But this week, with the debut of The Bridge, we met Sonya Cross, who, like those of us veterans who identify as having Asperger’s, is already an anachronism, developed as she was before the term for the condition Kruger has been name-checking in the press was rendered obsolete. So in a way, The Bridge is a kind of period piece, like a movie about female hysteria, but that’s not going to stop me from enjoying it or Kruger’s serious, realistic depiction of Asperger’s.

I suspected that she would be rendered with care, because the showrunners hired my friend Alex Plank to be their Asperger consultant (perhaps he will now have to change his business card). Like me, he is an adult with Asperger’s. He, too, got his Asperger diagnosis while you still could — before those shrinks pulled it out of the catalogue. He parlayed his own eccentricity into a website — Wrong Planet — that has become the biggest Asperger site going, and now advises networks like FX. Judging by the veracity of Kruger’s portrayal, his instruction seems to be working. Yet although the character in the Swedish/Danish show that The Bridge is based on has Asperger’s, and Kruger has discussed the disorder in interviews, not one character on the FX series makes mention of the word.

The timing couldn’t be more ironic, of course. Sheldon and Abed, those simple geeks and freaks, are harmless stars of situation comedies, successfully designed to make you laugh — but don’t reflect what having Asperger’s is like. And other dramas have yet to portray the struggles adult Aspergians go through with accuracy. But Sonya Cross is a different animal entirely. She’s serious. She’s smart. She’s beautiful. She’s a hardworking, by-the-book Aspergian cop who is misunderstood by her peers yet genuinely confused when people are put off by her.

In other words, there’s finally an Asperger’s character we can identify with at the very moment she can no longer be called that.

John Elder Robison is the New York Times best-selling author of Look Me in the Eye, Be Different, and Raising Cubby. A free-range Aspergerian, he lives in western Massachusetts among family, animals, and machines.

Aspie Seeks Love (a documentary)

From Julie Sokolow’s website:
ASPIE SEEKS LOVE (a documentary) by Julie Sokolow


David Matthews can’t get a date. He is a writer and artist with a great sense of humor and impeccable dry delivery. He has scored solo art shows around Pittsburgh, readings at coffee shops and acting gigs in a few short films. He’s got a nice job, house and car, and could even treat a lady to dinner. So what’s the problem?

At 41 years of age, David was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. This late-in-life diagnosis and lack of treatment in childhood has left David with a lot of catching up to do. Although David is highly intelligent, he has a major blind spot: empathy and understanding of the human, especially female, psyche.

Aspie Seeks Love follows David’s journey to understand his Asperger’s, improve as a person, writer, and artist, and find a meaningful relationship. We’ll watch David explore the world of online dating and we’ll also see his attempts to break out of his shell and connect with women in person. David’s quest for self-improvement will culminate in the Pittsburgh release party for his debut book Meltdown in the Cereal Aisle.

Contact Julie Sokolow to inquire about the film.

‘Autism In Love’ Documentary Film Is Raising Money On Kickstarter

from the Huffington Post Los Angeles: ‘Autism In Love’ Documentary Film Is Raising Money On Kickstarter
The Huffington Post | By Anna Almendrala Posted: 04/10/2013 3:46 pm EDT | Updated: 04/10/2013 8:30 pm EDT

LOS ANGELES — Romantic love is difficult enough to navigate if you’re neurotypical (Exhibit A: the entire rom-com genre). But if you’ve been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, the perils and pitfalls of dating, relationships and commitment can seem like insurmountable chasms.

How do you apologize to your girlfriend after a fight if you can’t read facial cues? What does physical intimacy look like if you hate being stroked or hugged? These are just some of the questions that people with autism grapple with on a daily basis — and the subject of a new documentary called “Autism In Love.”

Independent filmmakers Matt Fuller and Carolina Groppa in Los Angeles, Calif. have been exploring the issue for the past 18 months, following four people and four couples as they look for love and try to keep it. Halfway through production already, Fuller and Groppa posted their production plan to Kickstarter Monday to raise money to finish the film. In addition to the video they shot making their case to would-be backers (above), Fuller and Groppa also posted a compelling preview of the footage they’ve shot so far.
Groppa got the idea for the documentary while working as an administrative assistant for Dr. Ira Heilveil, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA medical school. It was essentially a day job to support herself as she pursued acting and other film projects, Groppa explained to The Huffington Post.

But when Heilveil asked Groppa to help him with research for a new book, the stories she read about members of the autism community and their romantic adventures quickly became a passion project. She approached friend Matt Fuller (the pair had met at film school at the University of Central Florida) with an idea for a documentary. As of this story’s publish date, they are half-way done with film production.

“I was immediately hooked because I was always looking for stories about characters who want something it seems they can’t have,” said Fuller in a phone interview with The Huffington Post. Fuller, who has a background in film development at Sony and MBST Entertainment, also admitted that he had been looking for something “a little bit more fulfilling.”

“I’m in love with all of my subjects,” Fuller added. “When I immersed myself in their world I realized how beautiful it was … it’s an amazing opportunity to examine a part of human experience that’s important to us all.”

Still, like the wider population, not everyone with autism longs for romance, pointed out Groppa to HuffPost.

“Even in the neurotypical world, that’s not for everybody,” said Groppa. “Not everybody with autism wants [romantic] love.” Groppa hopes her film will help viewers “redefine [their] own conception of love — not just how it relates to someone with autism.”

The filmmakers hope to raise enough money to finish filming, hire an editor and send it out to film festivals. To learn more about their project, check out their Kickstarter page and watch the video below.

Special Encore Presentation: The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time

Mark Haddon’s celebrated, multi-award-winning novel is beautifully and imaginatively adapted into a stage play by Simon Stephens, directed by Marianne Elliot, co-director of the National Theatre’s acclaimed War Horse.


2 HRS 30 1 intermission

Spasticus Autisticus, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads

In 1981, in response to the UN International Year of Disabled Persons, Ian Dury released the single Spasticus Autisticus. Despite Dury himself being disabled, the song provoked a negative response from the National Spastics Society (now Scope). The BBC denied the song airplay, effectively killing it as a single. Last night, as part of the Paralympic opening ceremony, John Kelly, Orbital and the Graeae Theatre Company performed a version of the song to an audience of millions, bringing the revolutionary classic back to the prominence it surely deserves.

Normal People Scare Me

Normal People Scare Me is a unique film because it features interviews with people who are living with autism speaking for themselves, as well as a handful of parents of children with autism, some of whom get diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders themselves while their children are going through the process.
Besides the parents and siblings sharing candid observations about people with autism, a diverse group of youths with various degrees of ASD are given the opportunity to speak out on certain distinctive aspects of their symptomology and how it affects their daily lives. (One who does not speak nevertheless sits for interviews, and responds to verbal cues from his father by squeezing a finger as a response, with statements broken down into multiple-choice questions by his father/interpreter for this purpose.)
Among the examples of sensory sensitivities not felt as intensely by “normal” people, but remarked upon by people with autism, were food textures, loud, sudden, high-pitched sounds, itchy clothing tags, certain smells and tastes. This gives a window into a daily existence where some seemingly mundane experiences which might not bother “normal” people loom fearfully for people with ASD. Other collations of sound bites show a range of experiences with socialization, scholastic aptitude, and life with “normals”, i.e., “neurotypicals”, better known on websites for the ASD community as “NTs”, who are at best mysterious and ignorant, at worst, school bullies and judgmental parents on the outside looking in.
No wonder that a few people with ASD, given the opportunity to express their thoughts in sound bytes on the video format, allow that “normal” people scare them. (A few hint that some of the so-called “normal” people might well be other, more nefarious things, merely masquerading as “normal”.)
Some of those who are young adults with ASD, including the filmmaker, additionally discuss their future plans, such as entering college, and their prospects of success with academic work and peer socialization.
Someone who commented on the YouTube trailer of the movie shared the desire for quality captioning of the movie, albeit for different reasons:
“I hope? you will consider captioning the film so that it will be accessible to people with hearing impairment or auditory processing difficulties. The automatic captioning is not very good, so adding the correct captions is crucial.”

Autism & Aspergers in Popular Australian Cinema

Review of Autism & Aspergers in Popular Australian Cinema from Disability Studies Quarterly
Autism & Aspergers in Popular Australian Cinema Post 2000

Reviewed by Katie Ellis, Murdoch University

Australian Cinema is known for its tendency to feature bizarre and extraordinary characters that exist on the margins of mainstream society (O’Regan 1996, 261). While several theorists have noted the prevalence of disability within this national cinema (Ellis 2008; Duncan, Goggin & Newell 2005; Ferrier 2001), an investigation of characters that have autism is largely absent. Although characters may have displayed autistic tendencies or perpetuated misinformed media representations of this condition, it was unusual for Australian films to outright label a character as having autism until recent years. Somersault, The Black Balloon, and Mary & Max are three recent Australian films that explicitly introduce characters with autism or Asperger syndrome. Of the three, the last two depict autism with sensitivity, neither exploiting it for the purposes of the main character’s development nor turning it into a spectacle of compensatory super ability. The Black Balloon, in particular, demonstrates the importance of the intentions of the filmmaker in including disability among notions of a diverse Australian community.

Read More: http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/1076/1252

Support HeartChild on Kickstarter

“Heart Child” is a documentary film about twenty-nine year old Crys Worley, who is the mother of a nine year old autistic child, Sasha. It is a remarkable story about a mother’s struggles, not only with her own health, but the well being of her son. Committing to Sasha that she will never give up on him and inspired by the challenges parents of autistic children face, she started a non-profit organization, called A.Skate – Autism. Skating with Kids through Acceptance, Therapy, and Education. This film documents her extraordinary journey.?

You can help support Heart Child on Kickstarter or visit their website at heartchildthemovie.com to learn more.

Hollywood Loves It Some Autism (Sort Of)

from Strollerderby via babble blogs:
Hollywood Loves It Some Autism (Sort Of)
Posted by joslyngray on April 2nd, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Between The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, and Parenthood, autism is totally hot in Hollywood. Or at least Asperger Syndrome, a neurological disorder on the autism spectrum, is. Some television shows and movies handle it well; some don’t.

Last fall Glee botched the introduction of a character named Sugar who had “self-diagnosed Asperger Syndrome” and used it as an excuse for terribly self-absorbed behavior.

“I have self-diagnosed Asperger’s so I can pretty much say whatever I want…I’m pretty much like a diplomat’s daughter”, she said.

Many people in the autism community were less than pleased with the one-dimensional nature of the character, who was seen as perpetuating negative stereotypes. Considering Glee’s sensitive handling of issues like cognitive impairment, what it’s like to be a gay teen, and bullying, the one-note character of Sugar was surprising.

Here’s my take on several of the most popular movies and shows with characters who are autistic, or who have autism-like traits. Some of them are great, some of them are … less great. And some, honestly, are just meh, because the connection to autism isn’t necessarily really there for me.

Note: I have two kids with Asperger Syndrome, but I don’t speak for anyone in the autism community but myself (my kids speak fine for themselves). I’d love to know what shows and movies you love for their portrayal of autism, and which ones you think really missed the boat.

Unstoppables (Imparables)

Trailer for the upcoming Black Train Films documentary about The Pirates, a bicycling club for people with disabilities.