All posts by Stuart Neilson

Film discussion groups

We recently tried an informal film discussion group for several weeks, which was immensely instructive and enjoyable. We watched and talked about a range of films specifically identified as “autism” films, either because a principal character is explicitly identified as autistic or because public opinion recognises at least one character as autistic. We also spent one night talking about a range of “autism” television series. (You can find many lists online, or my collection of mini-reviews here http://gallery.stuartneilson.com/index.php?album=Autism-films/Autism-feature-films).

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Fitness tracking the quality of my life

Fitness and other tracking systems have the potential to measure some aspects of quality of life and possibly suggest changes that will improve future quality of life. I have worn a simple fitness tracker (a pedometer-style step-counting watch) for almost two years and have now combined the fitness tracker data with other sources – my real-life and online social activity – to look at how quality of life might be assessed.

The fitness tracker tells me my total steps and primitive measures of sleep. The real-life activities are social and work activities from my diary and photographs from my camera (which fill in gaps about where I was). The online activity is taken from the number of email and Twitter messages that I have sent per day. Some of the data is noisy and I have averaged over a week.

The take-home message is that physical activity improves quality of life. Twitter (or at least the way I have been using Twitter) has a negative impact. Doing more to be outside the house, even simply taking my activity to another place, would improve my fitness and happiness.
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Autistic expression in “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner (1929)

Faulkner, William - The sound and the fury“The Sound and the Fury” is typically viewed as a difficult book, involving a stream-of-consciousness style and multiple perspectives to explore events the final throes of a plantation family in Mississippi just 30 – 60 years after the abolition of slavery in the United States. One of these perspectives is that of Benjy, a character usually described as an ‘idiot’ in the words of the twentieth century. He might now be termed ‘proundly intellectually disabled’. Some authors have identified traits they recognise as autistic. His correct diagnosis is not relevant to the depth that Faulkner brings to the character’s own mind and perspective in the first section of the book, written in the first person as the consciousness of an adult man who has no spoken words.
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“The Eagle Tree” by Ned Hayes

Book cover of The Eagle Tree by Ned HayesI read and loved “The Eagle Tree” by Ned Hayes, an absorbing and intense story of a boy’s love for trees and his intense fascination with the world and natural processes that surround him – an environment that, unfortunately, everyone else seems oblivious to. Amongst this natural beauty is The Eagle Tree, possibly the last Ponderosa Pine west of the Cascade Mountains. The tree can’t be saved, but perhaps it can be climbed before it is too late.

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Autism and curry sauce

I had never been aware of “curry sauce” until moving to Ireland, but recently tried recreating it from fresh ingredients at home, as requested by my teenager. Curry sauce is part of a tradition of taking the alluringly exotic aspects of foreign foods and repackaging them into a form that is safely not too Other. A full-blown aloo gobi and chapatis would be excessive, but curry sauce on chips is a comforting kind of daring. Similar recipes include Coronation Chicken, a blend of curry powder, cream, chicken and raisins that can be spread in a bread sandwich. Coronation Chicken was itself based on the even less threatening Jubilee Chicken, a blend of mayonnaise and hints of ingredients from all over the British Empire. (Bananas, papayas, raisins, coconuts, limes and all kinds of “foreign” are frequently thrown on or into completely inappropriate recipes, all “foreign” being much the same thing).

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The fear

I have not posted anything in a while, because of a lot of internal strife and withdrawal from the world. Anxiety is hard to write about, because it often has no words – and because alexithymic people especially have trouble in identifying and describing feelings. Actions are easy: throughout a four-week period in February I left my house on just four occasions, because my activity tracking wrist-band and phone calendar tell me so. All four were appointments to lecture or with the wonderful people at Aspect (http://corkautism.ie/aspect/) who support me.

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Ten books on disempowerment and psychiatric states

These are ten books I have read recently that have a common theme (some looser than others) of disempowerment and psychiatric states. People who have diagnosed psychiatric illness, or are perceived ’differently’, are less likely to be believed or to be treated with respect. These books present the feeling of disempowerment from a first-person perspective, with varying degrees of success. They also present some of the negative consequences (for the person and community) of disbelieving and disrespecting the ‘Other’. Some of the characters receive inadequate medical care because their providers are too hurried or too disinterested to follow through the characters’ expressed needs. The police are not inclined to assist or believe ‘unreliable’ characters, at a cost to their own investigations.

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“In A Different Key” – A story of one perspective of autism

Donvan, John - In a Different Key “In a Different Key: The Story of Autism” by John Donvan and Caren Zucker is a lengthy and panoramic history of autism. I can recommend it for its sheer depth of research and quality of referencing, with the proviso that it presents a history of parents of autistic children. The degree to which autism is portrayed as a tragedy and the loss of a normal child will be unpalatable to many people who have autism themselves.

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