A lot of the video I have worked with looks at the large-scale motion of crowds and traffic, with a focus on how social infrastructure can invisibly serve our urges to wander, or visibly obstruct and contain those urges – sometimes with increased conflict as different wanderers are constrained into competition within narrow spaces. Amongst that video, however, some have included people talking, expressing themselves through their words, their gestures, and through the tone of their overall body language.
Body language and tone are very hard for me to interpret, a common trait among autistic people. We see that body language is present, and perhaps its intensity, but it is like sounds in a foreign language. Misinterpretation is frequent (there is proof in the dents in my shins from being kicked under the table), especially when the spoken and the body language are sending different messages.
Game of Thrones is an extremely succesfull series that has been the subject of several detailed studies of its content and portrayals. I am usually interested in the depiction of autistic and disabled characters, but Game of Thrones offers a great opportunity to compare my own techniques and visualizations with those created by others.
I think my relationship with story-telling – with books and films – is different from many other people’s relationship. This is especially so in the sensory impact of stories, where perhaps emotional and sensory feelings intermingle, changing the sense of the story. My perception of the story is different from the people around me. I don’t know how much of that is ‘autistic’, or neurological, or natural human variation. The colour we know by the word ‘red’, for instance, does not represent the same sensory experience for all people because our eyes and brains differ. The word ‘red’ itself also differs, through past association and learning. And – according to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis – we might not even consciously perceive ‘red’ if we did not have a symbolic word to represent the sensation.
Putting stories into narrative text and films are relatively recent modes of story-telling. Looking at stories conveyed through a single, static image is very revealing of the amount we can share through one common sensory touchstone, assisted (we assume) by language, gesture and ritual. The touchstones remain, like Stations of the Cross, to remind and strengthen after the words have faded.
This post is part of a much bigger, more wide ranging look at what ‘autism’ means and where it comes from. I hope to have a display of related imagery and text ready around November of this year.
I love statistics and numerical analysis, a love that many people do not share — statistics is one of quickest ways to halt a dinner conversation. Statistics is a style of argument that is neither right nor wrong, as useful as any other logical process and has a beauty in summarising or visualizing the subjects under examination in ways that allow two or more things to be compared.
In the case of film, it can be hard to communicate the incredible experience of sitting for an hour or two, absorbed in action, dramatic tension and emotion. Critics reviews and plot summaries (like those on IMDb) are one method of side-by-side comparison, or even more briefly in the star-ratings (e.g. 8.5 out of 10 for “Psycho”). This post describes some numerical and sampling techniques that I use to create single-image summaries of films and books. These images make stunning wall posters and I have had a few printed as big as 30″ by 20″ to display.
In each of the last two years I have been involved in a film discussion group run by and for people with an Asperger syndrome or autism spectrum diagnosis. The group has fluctuated in membership between four and twelve people, with a core of continuous members. We have watched predominantly feature films and documentaries in which at least one principal character is explicitly identified as ’autistic’ within the film, in publicity material or according to audiences. Our group has displayed a phenomenal knowledge of cinema, television and relevant links to other art forms such as fiction, graphic novels and computer games with the same characters. The film discussion group has been a positive experience with a good reception.
The enthusiasm of the group and the incredible depth and breadth of knowledge about cinema and media shows a huge wealth of systematic learning while viewing, perhaps at a level that family and others are not aware. Reading ’comics’, playing console games and watching ’kid’s TV’ can have undiscovered depths of meaning for people who have limited opportunities to discuss their particular interests.
I hope this blog post might encourage you to start discussion groups of film, fiction or whatever areas interest you, and I would be pleased offer advice or attend further sessions. I would be especially interested in any public screenings of autism-themed films — the Cork Film Festival screening of “Life, Animated” (http://corkfilmfest.org/events/life-animated/) and panel discussion (which I was thrilled to be part of) was packed, and all the feedback that reached me was incredibly positive.
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).
The BBC has a fabulous collection of autism-themed programmes and series for autism acceptance month, which are available for a further 2 weeks (from the first episode date), so catch them while they are available. The young folk all know how to tune in to and record the BBC, so ask them.
This post was stimulated by watching and discussion about “My Curious Documentary” on BBC One, which will remain available on the BBC iPlayer for a while at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06phq27/imagine-autumn-2015-3-my-curious-documentary. The makers describe the documentary as follows: “This feature documentary uses the highly successful stage adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time to frame a cinematic exploration of being on the autistic spectrum.”
The experience of sensory overload can be difficult to describe, or difficult to imagine, without having some common ground of experience to use as a base. Attention deficit (which is acute sensitivity combined with an inability to focus) means hearing, seeing and smelling what feels like everything, all at once. This short (50 seconds) video attempts to provide a shared experience of sensory exposure to discuss the feelings of sensory overload.
This is a collection of mainstream feature films about autism or featuring characters with an autism spectrum diagnosis. In some cases the audience has stated a belief that a character is autistic, even though this is not explicit in the film. A link to the Internet Movie Database and to a relevant Wikipedia article is provided for every film, and my own comments if I have seen it.
I am interested in films that portray autism in realistic ways, or at least in useful ways. Hollywood and Bollywood films play to exceptionalism and tragedy more than printed fiction, and a disabled hero overcoming tragedy has lead to several Oscar successes. As with films about other oppressed groups, it is common to use autism or an autism cocktail as a backdrop to a self-sacrificing saviour – an even surer route to Oscar success in creating a feel-good film that the oppressing majority can be comfortable with.