Autism, College, Experiences, General, Schools

Two Special Messages

Hello everybody, this is George Harvey (aka The Autistic Blogger). I’ve recently started work on my next big project, but it probably won’t be finished until after the New Year. This is because I’m currently rehearsing for my latest stage performance (A Christmas Carol) and December will be a hectic time for someone who works in retail. In the meantime, I’d like to share a couple of messages with you.

Over the years, I’ve been in contact with numerous people who’ve had a profound influence on my professional career. Whether it’s about something I’ve written or something I hope to do, their messages have inspired me to keep working towards my dreams – even when they seem a long way off. The first of these came just over five years ago.

Before I started working on this blog and raising awareness of Autism, my biggest ambition in life was to become a published author. And it still is to some extent. There are magazine articles and books out there with my name on them, but they’ve always been collaborations with other people. One day I hope to publish something that’s all my own, and that it can help raise awareness of disadvantaged people and their problems.

The most ambitious project I’ve had is a children’s book series. The idea first came to me during my first year of college, when we were asked to write a series of short stories to promote a fictional product called Chunky Monkey. I got so into the task that I wanted to use what I’d learnt to create my own series, which would teach readers about the joys and hardships of childhood. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted, but there was just one problem: I didn’t really know how to write a children’s book, let alone a series of them. Fortunately, I knew somebody who did.

Out of all the authors I’ve admired over the years, Jacqueline Wilson has been the most influential on me. Her stories not only address real-world issues, but they do so in a way that’s relatable to children. You could literally pick up any one of her books and believe it was inspired by a true story. I knew that if anyone could understand what I was trying to achieve with my writing, then it would be Jacqueline Wilson. So, on October 18th 2013, I sent her this email:

Dear Miss Jacqueline Wilson
My name is George Harvey. I am 19-years-old, and I am an inspiring writer. I work in an ASDA’s store in Swanley and whenever I see one of your books on our shelves I just know the story is spectacular, without even having to read it – especially your latest book Diamond. Your illustrator, Nick Sharratt does a wonderful job with his cover art, too.
I am writing because I recently read something you said in an interview once. You said: “I want to write to every age group, in a way that can prepare them for what happens in the real world, and raise the awareness levels of many life-changing situations. I want to be a friend, really.” These words captured my heart because this is almost precisely what I want to do with my own writing.
As an Asperger’s sufferer, I have experience of what life can be like for someone who has a personal life problem or condition. I also know that if these issues are misunderstood, they can cause troubles for those who suffer from them. This is why I want to use my writing skills to raise awareness of not only autism but other personal issues so that readers can understand them better and more people would be treated fairly in the future.
Also, while my intended audience is children, I want my stories and characters to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, so that readers, young and old, can understand my intentions. (Would this be commercial or literary fiction?)
Anyway, I have been taking a professional writing course at my college for two years now. And ever since my first year, I’ve had an idea for a children’s book series called ‘The Adventures of Nicky Dream‘. I won’t bore you with details as I know you’re very busy and you get a lot more fan-mail than mine. But the basic idea is that Nicky Dream is a 10-year-old girl who lives alone in a large house, and she has a large number of friends who she shares “adventures” with. The twist is that each of her friends has a personal issue about them (e.g. one friend is childish and represents immaturity, one has damaged vocal chords and is partially mute, one is a bully turned friend, etc.) and the adventures not only focus on their individual characteristics, but also advises readers on how such issues should be treated, and how those with similar problems can overcome them. (Sorry if that is too much detail.)
I am confident this is a good idea, but my trouble is making it work. Whilst ‘Adventure’ and ‘Slice of Life’ are two genres I would use to describe my vision for this series, I have a lot of story and character ideas that might crossover with their limitations, and I sometimes wonder whether or not even I, myself, know exactly how I want to write this series – I’ve often imagined it as a TV series in book form. (Did you ever have a story idea without knowing exactly what genre it was going to be?)
My question to you is when you write about such personal issues as abuse, grief, foster care, etc. how do you do it in a way that’s entertaining for all audiences to read, while keeping the focus on raising awareness, and avoiding anything that could be hurtful or insulting? Also, with your book series’, did you intend them to be series’ when you first started writing the original books or was it down to their popularity that you wrote sequels? Any other advice you could give me would be very helpful, too.
I have written to you because I think you are the one author who can truly understand my feelings and ambitions for writing. I hope I can hear from you soon.

Yours Faithfully
George B. Harvey

(P.S. I’m very sorry that this is a long letter/email. I tend to over-write things a lot.)

Now, to be honest, I wasn’t really expecting a reply. As I mentioned in the message, I knew how busy Jacqueline Wilson was. And she probably received thousands of fan letters a day. It didn’t seem likely that mine would be one she’d personally respond to.

But then, twelve days later, I discovered this in my inbox:

Dear George
Thank you so much for your long and interesting email. I’m so pleased you’ve enjoyed my books. It’s good to know that you give them a favourable glance when you’re at work! It’s great that you’ve studied writing and now want to create your own children’s book series. Your Asperger’s condition will give you a true understanding of Nicky Dream and her friends, and I think the series could have great potential, helping to raise awareness of young people’s problems.
I don’t think you necessarily need to fixate on whether your stories are going to be ‘adventure‘ or ‘slice of life‘. It’s possibly a bit overwhelming too, to think of a whole series of books at this stage.
If I were you, I’d concentrate hard on your characters first, thinking about them in detail until they become absolutely real to you. Then get started on your story and try to imagine it’s happening inside your head. Describe it as if it’s really happening with as much emotion and detail as you can manage. Think yourself down to a child level and write from their point of view, and that way you should naturally be able to avoid anything too hurtful or insulting.
Good luck. I really admire your determination and ambition.

Very best wishes,
Jacqueline Wilson

I have treasured this email ever since. To think, the Jacqueline Wilson had taken the time to read my message and given me advice on my writing. Needless to say, I took her words to heart. Now, whenever I can, I plan my series to the smallest detail: mind-mapping locations; thinking of ways to develop it; and most importantly, writing character bibles which detail every aspect of the characters from their favourite colour to how they became the people they are. It’s an arduous process, but I know it will benefit me in the long-run. As Jacqueline Wilson said, the world I’ve created now feels real to me.

This second message was sent to me just a few months ago.

Since starting my blog, my pieces have lead to many professional opportunities for me. One of the earliest came from a lady who ran an after-school club for Autistic children. She read my ‘Diagnosis‘ post and asked if I could come in and present my life story to her members. She then offered me the chance to become a volunteer supervisor there, which I readily accepted. I, unfortunately, had to resign from the post after two years, due to work commitments, but the time I spent there was invaluable. Interacting with Autistic children, relating to their problems, and helping them make a difference in their lives, made me realise just how much I wanted to do for this for a living too. Hence I started to pursue a new ambition: becoming a teaching assistant.

While my current job makes it difficult to apply for anything permanent, I do occasionally take online courses in Special Educational Needs. I’ve also had the chance to present my life story in primary schools, and I spent the day as a teaching assistant in one of them. Sometimes people will even come to me for advice. Following one of my recent posts, a secondary school TA asked me how to help one of her students prepare for their GCSEs. For privacy reasons, I won’t reveal names. But this is what she had to say:

Hi George,
I wanted to ask you for some advice. I wondered if you completed your GCSE English exams or how you managed them. I am supporting someone with ASD and, after reading your story, I sensed some similarities. They are also a perfectionist which is causing great difficulty when practising for her GCSE’s next year. I wonder if you have any tips that may help us? Thanks for sharing your story and your work it really does make a difference.
Thanks.

After thinking long and hard about my answers, I sent her this response:

Thank you for your message. It’s not often I get comments on any of my posts, so it’s nice to speak to the people who read them. In regards to your question, I was able to pass my GCSE English exam, but I think it took me three tries to get the grade I wanted. The literature part was easy enough, but language has always been a challenge for me. I’m always second-guessing myself on whether I’ve used the right punctuation marks, or if my sentences are too long, etc. So it does take me a while to write the pieces you see. Even so, I try to learn from my experiences and I do have some tips that could help your student.
First of all, before anything else, make sure she spends 5-10mins planning what she’ll write. It’s very tempting to start straight away – especially if you’re conscious of the time. But if you go into anything without a clear plan, you’ll end up stopping, thinking and rethinking as you go – which will waste more time than if you lay everything out in the beginning. What I do is highlight everything I need/want to talk about in each of my paragraphs. I do this by making subheadings (e.g. Introduction, Dogs, Cats, Why Dogs Hate Cats, Conclusion/Summary) and then bullet-pointing two or more things I could say in each paragraph. By doing this, you’ll never be lost for what to write, and you might even work out a definite order for everything. For example:

Introduction
Why do dogs hate cats? (attention-grabbing, opening sentence)
– If a dog sees a cat, it will give chase? Why?
– How the cat looks at them? The way they smell? Why would the dog want to get rid of the cat?
– Let’s look at both these animals and find out.

Dogs
– Nature – friendly, cuddly, protective
– Confined to home, unless taken for a walk
– Territorial – bark at new things and mark their territory

Cats
– Nature – friendly, cuddly, adventurous
– Able to roam anywhere freely and still return home
– Not territorial, but will return to a place they like and defend themselves fiercely if provoked.
– Why dogs hate cats
– Are dogs protective of their territory when cats turn up?
– Are they scared to see something new?
– Are they annoyed when they keep returning?

Conclusion/Summary
– Easy to see why dogs would hate cats – protective of their territory, thinks cat is invading, constantly returning, could feel threatened.
– Maybe there just needs to be better trust between animals (concluding sentence)
– I also think about how to end and begin each of my paragraphs so they can lead into one another seamlessly.

The second tip is one I’m sure you already know. But it’s resisting perfection. Once your student has come up with a plan, make sure she sticks to it. It’s common to suddenly have an idea you think is better than what you’re writing. But it’s better to make a mental note of it and return to it later. If you try correcting things then and there, you could spend ages “fixing” it, and you probably won’t make it to the end of your piece. The quicker you finish it, the faster you can improve things at the end. This is helpful for two reasons. It prevents your student from going off-track and undoing all their planning work. And it stops them from making unnecessary changes. I’ve often found that the way I’ve written something the first time is better than what it ends up being after all the edits. Trust your initial thoughts and then you’ll have less fix at the end.
Finally, my last tip concerns reading work back. Sometimes you’ll want to check over your paragraphs to make sure they’re written well. But if you do this after every sentence or paragraph, your perfectionism will take over – you’ll keep spotting more and more things to “fix” and lose momentum for writing. Only read through the work once you’ve finished the final paragraph. If your student has made a good plan, she’ll be able to look back on it, and it should help her get moving again if she’s stuck. It’s better to trust your instincts than second-guessing yourself.
That’s all I have to say. I hope these tips have been helpful to you. And I hope your student does well in her GCSEs. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Best of regards
George B. Harvey (aka the Autistic Blogger).

P.S. I’m sorry for not replying sooner. I wanted to make sure these tips were perfect for you.

Admittedly, my reply may have been a bit long. But I wanted to make sure that whatever I sent was the best advice possible. Plus, if it was shared with anyone else, then anyone could benefit from it just as much as the TA. It’s incredible to think that five years ago I was asking Jacqueline Wilson for advice, and now people are asking for mine on Autism. It makes me proud to know my blog is making a positive impact and helping others to do good in their community.

That’s all I have to say for now. I hope these messages have given you an idea of how far I’ve come, and where I hope to be in the future. I’d also like to give a special shout-out to anautismobserver.wordpress.com, who were generous enough to list my website (The Autistic Blogger) on their own, so more people could find and enjoy it. Be sure to check them out and some of the other Autistic bloggers they have listed.

If you have any questions, please leave me a comment – I’ll be more than happy to answer them. And, until the New Year, stay tuned.

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Experiences, General, Into my Autistic Mind

Into My Autistic Mind: Before I was Autistic

Hello everybody, this is George Harvey (aka the Autistic Blogger). I haven’t been able to start any big projects lately, given my work schedule and other commitments. But today I have another edition of Into my Autistic Mind for you. Now, before I begin, there is something I’d like to address about this series. There have been people who’ve come up to me and asked what the point of it all is; they’ve read the texts, seen them as nonsensical jargon and said they just “don’t get it.” I have explained what their purpose is before, but I feel it bears repeating for any new readers to this blog. You see, Into my Autistic Mind isn’t so much about telling a story or making a point, it’s about giving readers an insight into my Autistic thoughts. It doesn’t happen all the time, but occasionally when my mind is relaxed, different thoughts and memories will occupy my head. Thoughts which I personally find memorable and exciting. There isn’t any structure to what I think of, or when, they just happen when I allow them to – hence why I don’t structure these texts into paragraphs or edit them too heavily. By writing down my unfiltered thoughts, I aim to show why Autistic people sometimes have difficulty concentrating and what can be done about it. To put it simply, it’s okay if you don’t ‘get’ the Into my Autistic Mind series – because it’s not meant to be ‘got’.

Anyway, to show how these thoughts influence me while I’m writing, this edition will involve me reliving some of my earliest childhood memories, whilst not ignoring any non-related thoughts that may enter my head. Enjoy:

***

I wasn’t always Autistic you know. There was a time when I wasn’t. Autism is something that develops overtime. I was officially … hang on, I’m remembering the opening to The Emperor’s New Groove, Beauty and the Beast and a Harry Potter PlayStation game. Anyway, I was officially diagnosed when I was 3- or 4-years-old. I can still remember what happened before then. I’m just thinking of the books I used to read when I was in primary school: the Magic Key books – which later became a TV show. Anyway, I CAN … sorry. Sorry again, I had the caps lock on. As I was saying, I can’t remember when I was born – I don’t think anybody’s brain is developed enough to remember that. I remember a Fairly Odd Parents episode that addressed it. But I do remember where I used to live. I just corrected the typing ‘fairly’ there. I used to live in Belvedere. I can’t remember the name of the road, but I know it was on a hill. Interestingly enough, Belvedere is where my aunt’s husband Tom works now. It’s also where I went for interviews when I was applying for jobs with both ASDA and Lidl – they have a headquarters not far from there. But anyway, ignoring my memories of an old Chip ‘N’ Dale episode (Three Men and a Booby), I remember the layout of – sorry, I corrected something else there – I remember the layout of our house. As you went in the front door there were stairs to the left. Down the hallway it lead into the kitchen, which was connected to the dining room which was also connected to the living room. I’m just remembering the end of Roald Dahl’s Matilda – he never did like any film adaptions of his books except the BFG. You could get into the living room by turning right as you first entered the house. At the top of the staircase was the bathroom, and to the right were two or three other rooms. I can’t remember exactly what the third was used for, but one of the rooms belonged to me and my sister and me, of course. And the other belonged to our parents, of course. I’ve put my washing machine on so I’m wearing sound-cancelling headphones to write this. The dining room lead out into the garden. For our birthday one year – it might’ve been our third – we had a yellow bouncy castle with teddy bears on it. Now, whenever I think of that garden I always think of that bouncy castle and that birthday. My sister used to watch home-videos of that old house. There was one where we first woke up on our birthday – I had slept in very late as I was so tired – and our mum and dad kept trying to encourage us say how old we were. There was another where we were on the bouncy castle and I kept play-fighting with a boy called Harry. We weren’t really trying to hurt each other, but my day kept saying “no fighting.” I always remember whenever people sang happy birthday to my sister and me, my sister’s name would always be said first. So my granddad would always say the line again with my name first as a joke. I loved it so much that I started doing too, as a way to remember him. Not far from our house there was a playground. Our dad would always take us there to play football. Sorry, I don’t know why I’m remembering this, but I think one time I found a board game with a scary man’s face on the cover. I’d flip it over and it was there again, but on a television screen. I’m not even sure if this is a real memory or if I dreamed it at one point. Sometimes dreams can feel so real you’re sure they’re happening, even though you know you’re asleep. Sorry, back on track. I used to love that playground. I also used to love Swanley Park and Danson Park. How they used to be, anyway. I’ve been back to them all a few times since and they’re nothing like how they used to be. Swanley has mostly become a water park, rather than sand and water – probably because kids kept putting water in the sand and vice versa. Danson has gotten rid of all its classic apparatus (including giant wooden animals) and is now a field, while a new park has replaced it. And the old park near my first house, has completely changed its apparatus as well. I remember one of my favourites was a giant tower with interwoven ropes, which you could climb. I always loved seeing how high I could go before I got scared. I once saw a boy climb to the very top and sit on the black ball at its peek. I wanted to do it too, but knew I’d never be brave enough. I’m just thinking of the movie 127 Hours now because of a song they used in one of the montages. Aron Ralston is played very well by James Franco – who also played Harry Osborn in Spider-Man. Apparently, my sister and I used to have an imaginary friend called Kiki. Somebody who only we could see. If she was sitting in the car or on the sofa we would tell our mum to be careful not to squash her. Apparently, there was also a time when we thought we saw a scary lady with long fingers hiding in the corner of our room, but when mum can in she vanished. Sounds like something out of a horror movie doesn’t it? In my later early years I would always have fears like that. I’m remembering the episode Night Terrors from Doctor Who now. It’s starting again soon with a female Doctor and Bradley Walsh as one of the companions. The premier is this Sunday. Not far from the park near my first house, there was also a water park. But as far as I can remember it was only ever open once or twice. All other times it looked like it was completely abandoned and served no purpose. I just made two corrections there. Now I’m thinking of Hercules, my mum’s favourite Disney movie. There are other memories I have from before I moved house for the first time, but I couldn’t possibly list them all. I do remember the time we went to Legoland and we were told to pretend were younger so we could get cheaper tickets. I didn’t understand though and I kept saying my real age. Speaking of Legoland, I do remember some of the great TV adverts they made for it over the years. Like some with a Mexican band or the “Heroes Wanted” ones. I think this is a good place to stop. So there you have it. I have very clear memories of the time before I was Autistic. It was only after we moved house, and before I started school, that I started to develop it. Maybe in future I’ll tell you about my early years with the condition. But for now, stay tuned.

General DVD Reviews, Reviews

Finding Dory Review

Hello everybody, this is George Harvey (aka The Autistic Blogger). And today I’m here with another of my reviews on disabilities in the media. Now, as my Third Anniversary Special was a bit UK-centred, and something hardly anyone knew, I decided to look at something more internationally well-known. Also, I’m taking a step back from Autism and focusing on disabilities in general. I see no better movie to do that with than Finding Dory (2016).

During the late 90s and early 2000s, Pixar was establishing themselves as one of the industry leaders in animated films. With their ground-breaking computer technology and stories that were both imaginative and relatable, every feature they released was a major success. One of their biggest hits during that period was Finding Nemo (2003); a story about an overprotective father (Marlin the clownfish), whose son (Nemo) is kidnapped by divers. Now he has to fight his way through the ocean to reach Syndey, Australia and save him. It’s not the most original concept ever. In fact, you could say it’s your typical run-of-the-mill rescue mission. But what it ended up becoming was something a lot more. Through bonds of friendship, life-threatening situations, and personal growth for both the father and son, it’s a story that shows just how the power of love can overcome any obstacle and bring families closer together.

The response to this film was outstanding. Not only did it win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2003, but it was the second highest grossing film of that year and became one of the best-selling DVDs of all time – with 40 million copies sold in just three years. The American Film Institute even named it the 10th Greatest Animated Film ever made, and, it was voted one of the Greatest Motion Pictures since 2000 by international critics. After more than a decade since its release, Finding Nemo continues to inspire audiences both young and old. And so in 2013, Pixar announced they’d be releasing a sequel. But how do you continue a story that was near-perfect and arguably didn’t need a follow-up? By focusing on one of its most beloved characters. The ever-forgetful Dory.

Voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, Dory is the regal blue tang who joins Marlin on his quest to find Nemo. Although she’s incredibly good-hearted and wants to help, it doesn’t take Marlin long to realise she comes with complications. You see, Dory has a disability – specifically short-term memory loss – which causes her to forget things almost instantly. Throughout the first film, her condition is mostly played for comedy or used to delay the journey somehow. But it’s not all bad. Some of her other abilities are very useful to Marlin. For one thing, she can read. Which allows them to work out where Nemo is. She also teaches Marlin to enjoy himself every once in a while and uses her charm to get other fish to help them. Additionally, her disability has its high points too. While travelling with Marlin, she remembers their destination thanks to her strong desire to help him. Also, towards the end, when it seems he and Nemo have missed each other, Dory is able to reunite them following a sudden spark in her memory. Through it all, though, she remains her lovable and entertaining self.

In Finding Dory, she becomes the main character. And we’re given answers to questions we never realised we needed. How did Dory learn to read? Where did she come from? And, most importantly, what happened to her parents? In this role reversal of the first film, she sets out to find her family with help from Marlin and Nemo. Along the way, her condition is explored more deeply, and the film provides a social commentary on disabilities as a whole. Now, obviously, I can’t speak for anyone who has short-term memory loss, since I don’t have the condition myself. But I am diagnosed with Autism, which is also a neurological disability. And, as far as representing those go, the film does an excellent job speaking to both the people diagnosed with them and their parents. How exactly? Let’s find out.

***

The movie begins with a young Dory, learning a phrase from her parents – one that will help her if she ever gets lost. “Hi, I’m Dory, I suffer from short-term memory loss.” We then get our first glimpse of how the condition affects her. She can’t count to 10, she’s easily distracted by sand (because it’s squishy) and forgets her parents are pretending to be fish she’s never met.

Distraction is common for people with neurological disabilities. Things may look or sound more interesting than what we should be focusing on, and our brains get instinctively attracted to them. This can lead to learning difficulties, which is why those people need guidance and support in their early years.

Dory’s condition also poses risks to her wellbeing. We see she has to be careful not to swim near the undertow or its current might sweep her away. However, she forgets the danger and occasionally swims too close anyway. Her parents try teaching her a song to remember, but she gets distracted again and starts singing a different tune. It’s at this point she notices them looking worried and feels sorry.

What’s good about this scene is that Dory’s parents remain patient and reassuring. Even young children will understand they have problems and they might feel ashamed by them. It’s essential for parents to make sure their child isn’t discouraged and that they find engaging ways of teaching them – no matter how challenging it is.

We then cut to some time later, where Dory has somehow gotten lost. She remembers what her parents taught her to say, but she can’t remember how she lost them. Worse still, she keeps forgetting the fish who try to help her and wanders off again and again. She spends years wandering the ocean until she bumps into Marlin, setting off the events of the first film.

It can be a risky thing when a child gets lost. But it’s even more so when that child has a disability. In some cases, they get so invested in their own thoughts that they can’t comprehend what’s going on around them. I know this because it wasn’t long ago a child wandered off from a store where I work. They actually left the shop altogether and began walking down the high street with a busy road. Even when he was found, he didn’t respond to his mother’s calls or understand what he’d done wrong. Not all children are affected to this degree. But until they know better, it’s best never to let a child like this out of your sight. In Dory’s case, she was lucky not to have been eaten.

A year later, Dory is happily living next door to Marlin and Nemo. However, she keeps waking up too early and forgetting about their anemone’s stings. During a field trip to the stingray migration, words like “home” and “undertow” suddenly trigger suppressed memories in Dory’s mind; she remembers how she got lost and something called “the Jewel of Morro Bay, California.” In a frenzy, she swims for the edge of the reef.

Before I go on, I should say this: Dory continues having these flashbacks throughout the movie, and they gradually reveal what happened to her. Initially, they were meant to be part of the first film with Marlin – to show why he became so paranoid and overbearing. However, the idea was dropped in favour of the prologue because it would’ve diverted from the journey’s heart too much. The reason they work better here is they allow us to feel what it’s like having Dory’s condition. With each new memory, we learn crucial information which brings us closer to the story’s climax. In this sense, it’s as much our journey as it is her’s.

Dory makes it clear she doesn’t want to forget these memories. She has to find her family but knows she can’t do it alone. She needs Marlin and Nemo with her or else she’ll forget. On a side note, I really love it when disadvantaged people show this level of understanding towards their condition. It proves they can work around their own limitations and live independently.

Marlin is reluctant to leave the reef again. But seeing how much Dory misses her parents, as he did Nemo, he agrees to help her. This is a well-executed moment because it gives us some emotional, as well as nostalgic, connection to the first film. We then get another one in the next scene. We see Crush the sea turtle again! By the way, this movie does feature many returning characters (e.g. the seagulls, Mr Ray, and the Tank Gang), but they only play very minor roles, and more emphasis is given to the newer ones introduced – which I’ll get to in a minute.

Upon arriving in California, Dory has a flashback which reminds her of her parents’ names: Jenny and Charlie. Unfortunately, calling them attracts the attention of a monster squid. After nearly getting Nemo eaten, Marlin angrily tells Dory to wait somewhere and forget – since it’s what she does best. This is harsh and would definitely upset anyone with a disability. Essentially, it shows us how not to react in this situation. Marlin gets frustrated with Dory and berates her for not being able to do the simplest things. Even though it’s not always her fault. Saying something like this would just make her resent her condition and gravely affect her psyche. Compared to the earlier scene with Dory’s parents, it’s clear which way is better in handling challenging situations. Additionally, this moment begins a small development arc for Marlin. As Nemo points out, his father tends not to believe in the capabilities of disadvantaged creatures. He did so a lot with Nemo in the first film – given his son was born with a disfigured fin – and continues doing so with Dory, and later a mentally-handicapped bird named Becky. Eventually, he does realise the error of his ways and accepts these creatures have their own way of solving things.

Back onto the story, Dory is caught by marine biologists and taken into the Californian Marine Life Institute – aka “The Jewel of Morro Bay.” Inside, she comes across some colourful characters. There’s Hank the octopus, who’s a bit grouchy but has three good hearts, and two other disabled sea creatures: Destiny the whale shark, who’s near-sighted; and Bailey the beluga, who supposedly can’t use his echolocation after hitting his head. Having characters like this with physical disabilities shows the movie is appealing to all disabled audiences, not just those associated with memory loss. Additionally, they provide some alternate viewpoints on the subject. Destiny doesn’t like her disability because it makes her scared of bumping into things. Whereas Bailey could, unfortunately, represent someone trying to exploit their disability; it’s revealed later on he can use echolocation, he just let his injury prevent him from trying. Being disabled does make things challenging, there’s no doubt, but it should never be used as an excuse. I never let my Autism stop me from putting in my best writing effort.

After more flashbacks, Dory recalls it was Destiny who taught her to speak whale and her parents who made up the Just Keep Swimming song. She also remembers her dad telling her there’s always another way, which inspires her to reach the Open Ocean exhibit – where her parents are – by land. Thinking back to the beginning, when Dory was struggling to learn important lessons, these revelations prove it is possible to remember them over time – even with a neurological disability. It just takes persistence and creativity. In Dory’s case, she was able to memorise whale-speak through constant practice with Destiny, and, her parents embedded a catchy song in her head, which helped her grow up happy and determined. It’s moments like this when disabilities don’t seem all that bad. However, in contrast, the next scene presents some of the issues Dory still has with her’s.

While travelling to the Open Ocean exhibit (by stroller and sippy cup), Dory has to remember the route by following signs and giving Hank directions. She keeps repeating “follow the signs to [the] Open Ocean“, but even then she get’s distracted. Consequently, she makes Hank take a wrong turn and they end up way off track. He then exclaims her memory isn’t working and it’s probably how she lost her family in the first place. Again this is harsh, but it sets up for some essential character development.

While defending she didn’t ‘lose’ anyone, Dory and Hank end up in the touch pool. Which I will admit is made to feel very threatening from the perspective of a fish. Despite the risk of being crushed, Dory tells Hank he needs to keep on swimming, and soon he releases a cloud of ink which fends off the kids. With his life saved, Hank takes back what he said and warms up to Dory. In fact, when they eventually part ways, he says he’ll have a hard time forgetting her. Just as she says “I think I’m going to remember you” – which coming from her means a lot.

Inside the Open Ocean, Dory can’t find her parents. But she does notice some shells lying in the sand. She then remembers her parents used to leave a trail of them so she could find her way home. Following it, she comes to the place where she used to live. But her parents aren’t there either. Seeing it, however, does bring back her most significant memory. One night, a young Dory overheard her mother crying. She was worried that her daughter wouldn’t be able to live independently given the severity of her condition. Dory didn’t want to see her mother sad, so she went to get her a purple shell to cheer her up. Unfortunately, the one she chose was too close to the undertow, and the current swept her away.

How many parents have had this concern? How easy is it to think your child won’t survive in life because of their condition? What if your teaching methods are all in vain? I know my parents must’ve felt this way at some point. And so have millions of others. But the thing is, none of it’s true. History has shown that even the most severely disabled people can go on to live happy, normal lives and do incredible things. It’s not just me, famous people have overcome their limitations; Albert Einstein, Satoshi Tajiri, Steven Hawking and many more. What’s important is for parents not to give in to doubt. If they do, their child will just pick up on their concerns and lack any self-confidence. But if they stick to their teachings and remain calm and reassuring, everything will work out well in the end. If there’s one scene from Finding Dory worth watching, believe me, it’s this one.

Following her flashback, Dory learns that all the regal blue tangs have been taken into quarantine. The quickest way to get there is through the pipes, but she’s worried she’ll forget the directions she’s given – again, this is showing a clear understanding of her limitations. Unfortunately, she’s right. Within moments the directions get jumbled up in her head, she makes wrong turns and becomes hopelessly lost. Luckily another memory saves her. Using the pipes’ echo, she’s able to contact Destiny, and, with Bailey’s reawakened echolocation, the whale shark guides her to safety. But not before the latter reunites with Marlin and Nemo, who’ve been on their own misadventure to find her.

As the three travel down the pipes together, Dory wonders if her parents will really want to see her again. But Marlin tells her they’ll be overjoyed. Because parents will always love their children regardless of their disabilities. Which is an important thing to remember; no matter how challenging a child’s condition is, it’s simply a part of who they are. True parents will learn to accept this and live past it. Marlin knows Dory’s parents will also love who she is now. Because he admits that the time he’s spent with her has made him a better father. In fact, the way he and Nemo found her was by thinking: “What would Dory do?” She feels happier after hearing this, but Nemo is sad to realise they’ll have to say goodbye soon.

Arriving in quarantine, it doesn’t take the friends long to find the regal blue tangs’ tank. However, there’s shocking news: Jenny and Charlie went missing years ago. Apparently, they followed Dory down the pipes to try and find her but never came back. Believing her parents to be dead, Dory begins spacing out and loses all sense of what’s going on. It then goes from bad to worse as she’s lifted from the tank – leaving Marlin and Nemo trapped – gets dropped on the floor and then slips down a grating back into the ocean. Within seconds, she can’t remember what’s just happened and even forgets Marlin and Nemo.

This goes back to what I said about being heavily invested in your own thoughts. Dory is so distraught by her parents’ fate that she can’t register anything else. It’s another well-executed moment because everything is shown through Dory’s eyes, allowing us to feel how confused and unfocused she is.

At this point, Dory is terrified. And we’re scared for her since there’s a real chance she could end up wandering the ocean again. Fortunately, the one thing she does remember is “what would Dory do?” So, staying calm, she assesses her surroundings and makes decisions on where to go. First, she swims towards some kelp (since it’s better than open water); then some sand (because it’s squishy), then a shell, then another shell, then another. And then she realises there’s a whole trail of them. Following it, she comes to a sunken tyre with dozens of shell trails leading towards it. As she approaches, two figures emerge from the distance. It’s her parents! After a moment of stunned silence, Jenny and Charlie rush towards their daughter and embrace her lovingly. Dory is overjoyed as well. But then she starts crying. She apologises to her parents, saying she knows she’s got a problem, but can’t fix it; thoughts leave her head, ideas change, she even forgot about them, etc.

Never before have I ever seen a character so openly expressive about their condition. If the flashback with Dory’s mother was for the parents watching, this scene is definitely for the children.

Jenny and Charlie tell Dory not to be sorry. Because she found them! And they always knew she would. They escaped the institute and stayed in one place for years, collecting shells and making trails, because they always knew somehow she’d remember what they taught her. And she did. “You remembered in your own amazing Dory way,” Jenny says. This was the most powerful line in the whole movie for me. It speaks volumes about the true capabilities of disabled people and what they can achieve under the right influences.

When asked if she’s been alone all this time, Dory suddenly remembers Marlin and Nemo. She has to go back and save them or else they’ll be shipped off to Missouri with the regal blue tangs. With help from her parents and numerous other creatures – including Hank, Bailey and Destiny (who’ve all escaped the institute) – she comes up with a plan. At one point, she has to separate from her parents. But she tells them not to worry. Because even if she does forget, she knows she can find them again. After some crazy shenanigans, including hijacking a truck and crashing it into the sea, Marlin and Nemo are saved. And the other sea creatures can finally enjoy the real open ocean.

Sometime later, Dory is back on the reef with Marlin and Nemo. Her parents have moved there along with Hank, Bailey and Destiny. We see she still has problems with her memory, e.g. forgetting how to count and why she’s counting, but after thinking things through, she’s able to remember quickly. The final scene shows her enjoying the ocean view with Marlin and having one last flashback: her parents are proud she’s followed the shell trail home and say she can do anything if she puts her mind to it.

In conclusion, Finding Dory may not have been a sequel anyone asked for. But it was a surprising success nonetheless. With its unforgettable characters and highly relatable story, it’s little wonder why it became the second Pixar film to gross more than a billion dollars at the box office. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: this movie is for everyone. Even if you’re not a fan of Pixar or animation, I’d recommend it if you’re associated with disabilities in any way (parent or child).

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And that’s all I have to say for Finding Dory. I’m sorry this review took me a little longer to finish, but I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you have any questions, please leave me a comment – I’ll be more than happy to answer them. And, as always, stay tuned.

(Image courtesy of https://www.amazon.ca/Finding-Dory-Blu-ray-DVD-Digital/dp/B01FJ4UGF0)

Autism, Reviews

Are You Autistic? Review (3rd Anniversary Special)

Hello everybody, this is George Harvey (aka the Autistic Blogger), and today is the 3-Year Anniversary of my blog. I never imagined I’d still be doing this after all that time. So before I begin, I’d just like to say a massive thank you to everyone who continues reading my posts. Currently, my site has been viewed over 4000 times by people in more than 70 different countries. If you’re a regularly reader, or just happen across my pieces by chance, then I still appreciate every single one of you. You’re the reason I keep pushing myself to create meaningful content.
Anyway, for this anniversary, I decided to focus on something a little bit different. It’s not something long or well-known, like my Life, Animated review. It’s actually something most of you won’t have heard about. It’s a documentary which aired in the UK just over two months ago, called Are You Autistic? Why this my may ask. Well, it’s for two reasons. First of all, it contains a very powerful message about diagnosis, which I think it’s a shame most people will never get to experience personally. And second, I had a small hand in this programme’s creation. Let me explain.
For those of you who don’t know, I used to be a Youth Patron for Ambitious about Autism. During my time there, I was fortunate enough to take part in many of their life-changing projects. These included the Employ Autism campaign, where I gave presentations to local MPs, and Know Your Normal where I took part in panel discussions. I also had the opportunity to contribute my writing skills, and attend several meetings that would ultimately shape the UK into a more Autism-friendly community. During one such meeting, we met with the commissioning editor of Channel 4. At the time, she was planning a documentary called How Autistic are You?, which would’ve gathered information on Autistic traits, and expressed how many people are being left undiagnosed. However, Ambitious was concerned with some of her creative decisions. Not only did the title wrongly suggest that every person had some form of Autism, but we felt the surveys would’ve produced insufficient results had they used their intended questions. For the good of those on the spectrum, we agreed that certain changes needed to be made. Changes which Channel 4 graciously accepted. I, unfortunately, wasn’t able to contribute much beyond this meeting, but with the passion and hard work of my fellow Youth Patrons they turned the documentary into what I’m about to review. Is it something worth remembering? Let’s find out.

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As a whole, Are you Autistic? has two primary goals: to explain the effects of Autism to those unfamiliar with it; and to follow the journey of two grown adults, who believe they have the condition, but were never diagnosed. It starts off by giving us some general information about Autism itself, i.e. how it’s one of the world’s least understood conditions and that “cases are at an all-time high in the UK.” It also presents a brief history of its representation. For example, the (1988) film Rain Man was the first to feature an Autistic character. Back then, the condition was thought to be rare, but now an estimated 700,000 people are said to have it in the UK alone. Plus, we now know it’s a mixture of different traits, not just one specifically. Straight away we can tell this documentary isn’t beating around the bush. It lets us know just what the subject is and how it’s going to be examined. Not to mention why our knowledge of it is paramount. I also give it praise for referencing such modern Autistic characters as Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory), so even the most casual of viewers will be drawn in by its content. In fact, they could’ve gone one better by mentioning further examples; Jason Haynes from BBC’s Holby City, Maud Pie from the My Little Pony franchise, and Billy Cranston – the first Autistic superhero – from Power Rangers (2017).
Of course, information is worth nothing without the right hosts. And Channel 4 made some brilliant choices here. Taking centre stage are Georgia Harper and Sam Ahern – two Patrons I’ve had the greatest pleasure working with in the past. Being openly Autistic themselves, they assure viewers that they’re experts on the condition and display great confidence in their delivery. Even when things get technical, they incorporate visual diagrams and comments from other Patrons to help keep everything clear. A big hats-off to Jack Whitfield, Jack Welch, Sadie Jaffey, Ollie Marchant and Georgia Ellin for their contributions.
However, the documentary knows it’s also important to have somebody general audiences can relate to, which is why there’s a third host: “the lovely, but non-Autistic” Anna Richardson. Her role is to ask the questions that most people want the answers to, so they can fully grasp what it means to be Autistic. Through experts like Professor Liz Pellicano (UCL) and Francesca Happe (King’s College), she learns some truly enlightening points. Autism is “not an illness.” Autism is a “neurological condition” made up of various traits since birth. It doesn’t mean the person is “faulty, or damaged or broken in any way”, it just means their brain is “wired differently.” For anyone new to Autism this would be reassuring information. It clarifies how people on the spectrum are not so different from those who aren’t. You merely have to understand their mindsets, like the different parts of a machine. Sometimes it’s the simplest metaphors that are most effective.
Then we come to the heart of this programme: the lost generation. As our knowledge of Autism grows, so too does the way we define it. As a result, more and more people are found to have the condition – with a large percentage of them being adults. Worse still, there could be thousands left unidentified, given the major diagnosis crisis we have in the UK. You see, getting a diagnosis isn’t as simple as getting a check-up. Collecting the relevant data can be a long and arduous process. Realistically, it shouldn’t take more than three months. But recent studies have shown the actual waiting time can be as long as two years. Consequently, these people are not receiving the support they need quickly enough. Fortunately, significant changes are being made to speed up the process.
Between segments on social masking, early learning and women with Autism – which are highlights all their own – Anna joins 38-year-old musician, JP, and mother of three, Jo, who both think they’re part of the lost generation. Rather than spend two years on a waiting list, however, they’ve agreed to take part in a brand new in-depth study. Headed by leading scientists, they’re both put through a series of tests which focus on three main areas: social interaction, senses and organisation. As expressed by Sam and Georgia; “you can’t be a little bit Autistic.” You need to show symptoms in all three areas to be considered for diagnosis.
First, there’s social interaction. People on the spectrum tend to avoid conversations because specific topics don’t interest them or they feel awkward pretending to – Jo has experienced this numerous times in the company of friends. Also, their minds prefer sorting things into black and white areas, so anything like sarcasm, white lies or irony can be difficult to process. For the test, JP and Jo watch two actors performing scenes with mixed emotions. Then they’re asked why those actors said certain things, and what they’d do next in their situation. These are called Strange Story tests. Having taken them myself, they’re a surefire way of telling if someone can pick up on others’ feelings. For JP and Jo, their answers are straight-forward, un-sugar-coated, and show little reading into the actors’ minds.
The next area is senses. People with Autism are said to have heightened senses – which means they take in more than the average person. Everyday things like bright lights, loud noises and strong smells can be so overwhelming that it causes them stress, anxiety or even physical pain (sensory overload). To put it simply, it’s like “being tuned into 40 different TV channels all at once.” JP and Jo have experienced these symptoms too. JP has strengthened hearing, which allows him to hear buzzing electricity. And Jo has trouble with bright lights. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Doctor Anna Remington (UCL) explains that heightened senses can offer people an advantage if they focus them on a single task, e.g. picking out specific sounds from a range of similar ones. All brains are made to process information. But Autistic ones have a much larger capacity.
Then there’s the final area, organisation. 90% of all British people follow the same routine every day. As such, they have very strict timetables and don’t appreciate having to make unexpected changes to them. For their last test, JP and Jo are asked to prepare lunch for five different customers in ten minutes. However, one order gets changed part-way through, and they have to amend it. The results are the same both times: JP and Jo are thrown off by the sudden changes and barely complete the task – JP actually fails altogether. This outcome is common for people with Autism. Once their minds are set on a job, it can be difficult for them to stop and start again on something new. Their initial momentum is gone, and they almost never get back into the right frame of mind. Preparation, multi-tasking and flexibility are all challenges for them.
With the tests now complete, it’s clear both JP and Jo have Autistic traits. But this doesn’t confirm whether they’re on the spectrum. Many people can have these traits without being Autistic, while others misinterpret the signs. A common mistake is confusing Autism for shyness. Francesca Happe explains the difference to Anna Richardson. Shyness is worrying about how others perceive you (social anxiety); Autism is not regarding what others think or feel in general. People with Autism do want to talk and have friends, but figuring out how can be difficult.
The only way for JP and Jo to get an official answer is to get a diagnosis. Fortunately, they don’t have to wait very long. Soon after the tests, they’re both invited to Cambridge University to meet Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, a leading world expert in Autism. While there, they speak to him about other experiences they’ve had so he can officially diagnose them. It’s interesting to hear what they have to say. Jo left college early because she felt intimidated by how big and unstructured it was. Also, she prefers being by herself since she doesn’t have to play roles in front of other people. JP has had social problems, too. In secondary school, he wanted to interact with the other students. But the more he tried, the more he came off as desperate. Plus, rejections took so long to recover from that he eventually decided it wasn’t worth the effort. By this point, I was thoroughly convinced that both JP and Jo were on the spectrum. I’ve personally been through all these experiences myself, and I think most of the Patrons at Ambitious have as well – the only difference is none of us dropped out of college due to stress. This documentary has done a brilliant job of building character. And the payoff is just as grand. By the end of the meeting, it’s officially confirmed that both JP and Jo are, indeed, Autistic.
However, the documentary itself doesn’t end there. Sam and Georgia sit down with the NAS’s Tim Nickels – the man behind the report on slow diagnosis. He explains how not getting support early can lead to strains within families and cause many younger children to wait longer for a diagnosis. On top of that, Autism is one of the most costly conditions in the UK; at around £32 Billion, the government spends more on it than heart disease, high blood pressure or even cancer. If changes were made to the diagnosis procedures, it would save more people and money.
Fortunately, bigger steps are being taken than ever before. In addition to diagnosing JP and Jo, Professor Baron-Cohen started the largest online study for Autism in 2018. By completing four short questionnaires, 750,000 people helped capture the way Autistic traits are spread across the UK. Of those who weren’t diagnosed, 87,000 of them scored above the cut off – meaning they were more than likely Autistic – with 47,000 of them being women. Professor Baron-Cohen hopes that by taking these surveys more undiagnosed people will find the answers they’ve been seeking and live happier, stronger lives.
With the future looking bright, Sam and Georgia finish the programme with some meaningful words. “Autistic people aren’t broken or weird or anything to be scared of; we’re just ordinary people, but our brains are wired very differently, that’s all.” Autistic people can be any age, sex or colour. And you could be one of them. It’s not too late to find out. And even if you are, it’s not the end of the world. Join the club.
In conclusion, Are You Autistic? perfectly encompasses Channel 4’s “changing perspectives” tagline. Not only does it explain every aspect of Autism, but it does so in a way that’s appealing to all audiences. With mainstream references and hosts of different ages and experience, there’s something relatable for everyone. Additionally, knowing how much influence Ambitious had on the final product makes me wish I’d contributed more to it than I did. That being said, no programme is flawless. For instance, although Autism is a worldwide issue, the documentary only focuses on the statistics relevant to Great Britain. Also, the condition’s effects aren’t shown to us as much as they’re talked about. However, I might’ve had something to do with that. You see, during our meeting with the editor, I expressed how programmes needed to be careful when presenting people on the spectrum. There was a scene in Channel 4’s The Undateables that did it poorly once, and it felt like a stab to the chest. It could be they decided to avoid anything sensitive and focus more on providing helpful information. Either way, I’m proud of how this documentary turned out, and it makes me glad I was a part of Ambitious. If anything, it gives me hope for the future of those yet to be diagnosed.

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And that’s all I’ve got to say for this review. Once again, I’d like to thank everyone who continues reading my posts and I hope to bring you even more great content in the future. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment – I’ll be happy to answer them. And, as always, stay tuned. Happy Anniversary!

 

(Image courtesy of: https://www.ambitiousaboutautism.org.uk/understanding-autism/ambitious-about-autism-s-youth-council-speak-out-for-young-people-with-autism)

Experiences, General, Into my Autistic Mind

Into My Autistic Mind: Living in my own Studio Flat

It’s hard to believe that not so long ago I was writing the last part of my Life, Animated Review and I was talking about how Owen had moved into his new apartment while I… Sorry for the pause there. While I had yet to do just that. Now, I’m sitting in a studio flat, not far from Dartford, and it’s all mine. I’m not going to worry about grammar or the thoughts going through my head, as I’d like to tell you all about my new home. One moment, I’m thinking of the original Willy Wonka film and Space Jam. It all started when I told my mom I was interested in finding my own place. My dad and I went to see three differernt – sorry I’m trying to spell ‘different’ correctly. Now I’m thinking of a Spyro game. And the Amanda Show – which coincidently sampled music from the original Spyro game as its opening theme. Anyway, my dad and I went to see three different properties in just one day. The second property was especially appealing. It was a mice – sorry, ‘nice’ – location, it was just the right size and a friend of mine literally lived within walking distance – he’s come to visit me since. It also helped that my dad was a landlord too and he knew the brother of the man who was showing us the place. Anyway, the next day, he made a deal with the guy that I would pay six months’ rent up front. And with that, I had the place. I know, right? I was a bit overwhelmed by how quickly it all happened. Before I knew it I was making plans to move my stuff, setting up insurances and direct debits, and receiving the keys to the place. I guess it was just a case of being in the right place at the right time – and knowing the right people too. I’m thinking of something I saw on the internet once. Now I’m thinking of a jump-scare video I saw on YouTube, and one of a guy yelling outside a shopping centre in Toronto demanding to know why they’re closed. I’ve been living in this studio flat for about two weeks now. And I’ve really settled in. It’s tough sometimes knowing I have to be cautious of the money I’m spending. Also, I’m still waiting to have my Wi-Fi installed, and, for a while, I didn’t have a working washing machine. I’m thinking of an episode of Sailor Moon right now – yes, I did watch that show. I’ve just had a look at my calendar. It’s June 1st and… One second. I just made some corrections there. It’s a WWE calendar and June shows a picture of Randy Orton. Looking around me, I see all the things I’ve organised. There’s a table my dad bought me. My chest of draws which I brought from home. A sofa bed and airer which mum let me have. Should I have said ‘airier’ there? The auto-correct and I may be thinking of two different things. I’ve also got a bookshelf to my left. It was taken from the spare room at mum’s place and now I use it to display my books, cards and DVD collection. As my friend said when he – why am I finding it hard to type ‘visited’? He said I’d made the place into my own little “man cave.” And I agree with him. Things have been going well so far. I’m getting into work alright and I’m buying things as, and when, I need them. There have been a few setbacks though. As I said before, there’s been the washing machine and the Wi-Fi. My dad actually gave me an old one of his, but it didn’t work right after one use. So we got a new one and now it’s just fine. As for the Wi-Fi, I’m having it installed on Monday. I’ve been using the data on my phone just so I can get Internet access, but because of how much I use, I’ve had to purchase more twice. I don’t want to spend too long on this piece. I’m going to be watching Britain’s Got Talent at 7:30 and it’s 6:44 now. There have been two acts I’ve been very proud of. The first is a gay comedian with Asperger’s Syndrome. His jokes are so fast-paced and funny I just can’t stop laughing at them. He won his semi-final. As did my other favourite. My other favourite was called Lost Voice Guy. He’s a comedian with Cerebral Palsy. He can’t speak, but he uses a voice app on his iPad to deliver his routine. The way he makes light of his condition and makes so many people smile is just so inspiring. He really does people with disabilities proud. I’m glad I voted for him. He won his semi-final too. As did Diversity Jr. I’ve just had to move my body a bit. I can hear noises from my kitchen and the nearby traffic. One of the other downsides to this studio flat is that it’s right near a motorway. The widows are double-glazed, but I still have to wear earplugs at night. I’m just thinking about the review I’ve been trying to write for a while now. Not the one you’ll read in my 3rd anniversary special, but a general one on Rachel Renee Russel’s Dork Diaries series. Specifically, Dork Diaries: Holiday Heartbreak. Whenever I think I have a spare day to do something, I always end up using the time on something else. Like my blog posts, or paperwork, or a YouTube video, or something on TV. Then again, you do get busier when you get older. And at least I don’t stress over my general reviews as much as I used to. I’m thinking of a scene from ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’. And the TV advert for the first film on PlayStation. I’m sitting on the sofa bed I mentioned earlier. Every night I pull it out and take my pillows and quilt from the boiler cupboard. Then, in the morning, I put everything back so I have more space. I’m suddenly remembering a story I was told in primary school. It’s about a friendly witch called Mrs Jolly who works as a caretaker in a school and enters a broomstick race on a vacuum cleaner. Like I said, I shouldn’t go on for too long. I still have to edit this and add the tags. I want to do it before posting my 3rd anniversary special – which is due today as well. A heavy truck must have just passed the motorway just now. I heard it. I wish I could’ve written this edition of Into My Autistic Mind sooner. I probably would’ve had a lot more to say and done it in a more organised manner. I’m thinking of a – wait – my neighbour just went into her studio flat. We’ve met and spoken a couple of times, and she seems nice. She even showed me where to leave my rubbish and what the code for the door was. I’m thinking of Disney’s Aladdin now and can’t remember – oh no wait, that was it! It was an adaption of Alice in Wonderland, not made by wasn’t from Disney. I’ve read some of the Hetty Feather books by Jacqueline Wilson, and there’s a part where Hetty plays Alice in a play. Anyway, I’m going to ramble on and repeat myself if I keep going for too long. Just know that I’m very happy to be living in my own place. People have kept reminding me it’s a big step in life. I’m looking forward to the future and what it has in store. It’s time to get this finished now and move onto my 3rd anniversary piece. I hope you enjoy it.

Autism, Experiences, Life Animated, Reviews

Life, Animated Review (2nd Anniversary Special – Part 4)

(Continued from Part 3: https://georgeharvey2015.wordpress.com/2017/11/01/life-animated-2nd-anniversary-special-part-3/)

As Owen prepares for his graduation, he has The Little Mermaid (1989) playing in the background. Specifically, the ending where Sebastian says: “children got to be free to lead their own lives.” Once again, a Disney film parallels Owen’s life. Like Ariel stepping out of the sea, he’s leaving school to become independent. It’s a proud day for Cornelia, too, seeing her son on stage. It’s incredible to think how far he’s come from being the quiet little boy she thought would never talk again. Let alone graduate.

Following the ceremony, Owen and his family begin the process of moving him to his new apartment. Before they do, however, Owen insists on watching a few scenes of Dumbo (1941) to celebrate. This notion seems to imply that he understands his condition in this situation. He needs to watch those scenes to be in the right frame of mind, or it could impact him both mentally and emotionally. In fact, we get to witness this Autistic stress first-hand.

Just as the family is about to leave, Owen suddenly realises he’s lost the charm on the necklace Emily gave him. He gets very upset about it and starts behaving erratically (i.e. trying to ‘sniff it out‘ and moaning like a child). His dad suggests they can simply buy another one, but Owen won’t hear of it. Although he knows Emily didn’t make the charm herself, she did buy it for him out of love. So it’s special in a way his dad can’t understand.

To be honest, I do get how Owen feels. I’m something of a hoarder myself. I know it makes sense to get rid of old things and make room for the new. But doing so never feels right to me. It doesn’t matter if its school work, holiday souvenirs or a scarf my Nan gave me before she died; they all have unique memories attached to them. Throwing them away would feel like throwing away part of myself. Perhaps that’s why Owen holds so tightly to his Disney films.

Eventually, Cornelia finds the missing charm, and everyone makes their way to Owen’s new place. His apartment is in an assisted living community, around 75 miles from his parents’ house. Owen is excited to be moving in at first and eagerly helps to unpack. However, once Ron and Cornelia leave, the reality of the situation slowly starts to sink in: he really is all by himself. His feelings are expressed through yet another Disney film. This time it’s Bambi (1942). The first scene shows Bambi’s mother warning him about the dangers of the meadow; it’s wide and open, and they’re unprotected on it. Then, following the infamous shooting scene, the fawn is shown calling out for his mother – which is just before his father shows up, telling him she can’t be with him anymore. In a way, Owen is going through Bambi’s predicament right now. The world can be a dangerous place sometimes, and now he has to face it without the usual protection of his parents.

As time goes by, Owen gradually adjusts to his new life. He struggles with some basic things, like opening the right mailbox. But as it’s an assisted living community, there are always people around to help him. They show him how to cook, how to pay bills and when to take his medication. They also assist him in looking for a job, and we actually get to see him going for an interview at his local cinema. It’s interesting to note the type of role he’s going for too since it involves interacting with many unfamiliar people. And as all we know, this sort of thing tends to make him nervous. It’s good to see him fighting his own insecurities.

Around this time, we also delve more into Owen’s relationship with Emily. And some of its issues. You see, although they do enjoy each other’s company, there appears to be very little chemistry between them. One night when she comes over, they just spend the evening watching Disney’s Aladdin (1992). And other than some light conversation over food, there’s nothing but awkward silence throughout. Reality-wise it’s not the healthiest relationship. Other people notice as well.

While playing miniature golf together, Walter speaks to Owen about possibly moving forward with his relationship. Owen, however, doesn’t seem to grasp what the next stage is. For example, when asked what people use other than their mouths when they kiss, he replies “feelings.” But of course, the real answer is tongues. The problem is, Owen only knows about romance from what he’s seen in Disney films; through couples like Eric and Ariel, Hercules and Meg, Belle and the Beast, etc. It’s challenging for Walter to work around that since Disney films don’t usually explore relationships beyond the Happily Ever After kiss. He even jokingly says the only way he might get his brother into sex is by showing him Disney p###. Sadly, it never comes to that. Because not long after this, something goes horribly, horribly wrong.

At his home in Washington DC, Walter gets a phone call from the assisted living community. After looking distraught for a moment, he tells us the sad news. Emily has broken up with Owen. Apparently, there was a meeting with caseworkers where she expressed concerns about him getting “too close” and that she needed personal space. Owen takes the news very badly. Keep in mind, breakups are practically unheard of in Disney films; the fact that he’s lost his Happily Ever After isn’t something his mind can fully comprehend. It’s the first time he’s ever experienced such as a hard dose of reality. Trying to make sense of it all, he calls his mom and asks her why life is “so full of unfair pain and tragedy?” She replies it’s just the way life is sometimes. There are joyous and relaxing times, but also sad and painful ones. What’s important is to accept they’ve happened, move on and trust things will get better in the end. Unfortunately, Owen can’t seem to do that. Not only does he still wear Emily’s necklace, but he has a picture of her next to his bed. Plus, he’s seen watching a sad clip from The Little Mermaid where Ariel is crying over Eric getting married to the Sea Witch. Eventually, a councillor has to step in to try and explain the situation. But Owen won’t listen to reason. He’s too emotionally unstable and even starts shouting in frustration.

It is painful to watch. But once again, I think it’s an essential scene. It shows how sensitive Autistic people can be under challenging circumstances. I should know, I’ve been there myself. During my last year of University, I was succeeding well in terms of grades. But I was also under a lot of stress. The sheer volume of work and tight deadlines were so intimidating to me that I never wanted to stop working. If I did, I feared my condition would slow me down and then I’d never finish on time. As a result, I devoted practically every second I had to my assignments. Which gravely affected my health and mentality. It got to the point where I was literally crying myself to sleep and waking up in the morning vomiting with anxiety. It didn’t matter what other people said to me; they weren’t the ones with Autism. They couldn’t understand what battling through my learning/focus difficulties was like. So whenever they said I was stressing over nothing, or they’d been through worse, it didn’t reassure me. It just made me resent them.

Anyway, back onto Owen; he tries to cope by channelling his emotions into his creative work again. For instance, he creates the villain Fuzzbutch for his Land of the Lost Sidekicks story. A creature that blows fog inside people’s heads and makes the world look like a sad, scary place. Clearly, it’s how he sees it right now. But that’s not all.

Soon after, his mom calls with some exciting news. He’s been invited to an Autism conference at the Rennes University in France. They want him to give a speech about Autistic people, and how they use their passions to make sense of the world – as Owen does with Disney. Owen agrees to go, but he struggles with a lot leading up to it. He finds it challenging to write his speech, he doesn’t know how to do up a tie (despite being 23-years-old), and when he’s on stage it looks like he won’t talk at all – he’s never spoken to such a large audience of strangers before. Eventually, though, he does find his voice.

He starts off talking about the very specific interests he and some of his Autistic friends have; animated films, superheroes, and the history of all actors and comedians who are Jewish. He then addresses the false notion that Autistic people don’t want to be around other people. The truth is, they want what everyone else wants. But sometimes they’re misguided and don’t know how to connect with others. He, himself, used to be afraid of growing up and watched the world go by like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He explains that Quasimodo didn’t get the girl in the end, but was happily welcomed into society after a long and hard journey of being an outcast.

I hung on every word of the speech because it’s 100% true, especially the parts comparing Owen to The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Here’s the interesting thing about that movie – and by the way, I am quoting a review by Animat here. Not only is the tone more adult for a Disney film, but it touches on many dark and realistic themes that most animated features wouldn’t dare to. These include religion; the mistreatment of gipsies (which can be seen as a social commentary on immigration); lust; and most importantly, dealing with a heartbreak. The reason the latter stands out is that it’s a moment in life everyone goes through. Sure, eventually, you will settle down and find true love. But along the way, you will end up loving the wrong person – someone who doesn’t love you back. And you will learn this the hard way. It’s definitely sad when Quasimodo sees Esmeralda kissing Phoebus. But it’s essential to the plot because it reminds him of his true goal. Which isn’t to fall in love, but to be socially accepted. And when it comes down to it, that’s the primary goal for any Autistic person.

Following the conference, Owen finally comes to terms his break up. He takes off Emily’s necklace and shows Walter a message he sent her over the weekend. It says he’s now accepted their relationship is over, but he hopes they can still be friends – they know each other too well not to. It seems to have worked; Owen and Emily do cross paths at one point, and they appear to be on good speaking terms.

As the documentary comes to an end, we see Owen at his new job in the movie theatre. He tells us once more how worried he was about losing his Disney films when he grew up. But he never did. Although his childhood is over, he’s glad to be moving forward, while still cherishing what he holds most dear.

And I think that’s an important message. It’s good to want to change yourself. But it’s also essential to keep a part of your old self too. If you change just for other’s benefit, then you’ll lose sight of who you really are, and maybe even hate yourself for it. Nothing is more important in development than happiness.

The final scene shows Owen sitting in a dark movie theatre, mumbling his usual Disney dialogue, while a montage of Disney clips plays – the last one being Simba’s roar atop Pride Rock.

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And that’s Life, Animated. Simply put, it’s one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. Not only does it perfectly represent Autism in such an open and honest way, but it shows exactly how the condition affects everyone, not just the person who’s diagnosed. On top of that, the comparisons made between Owen’s life and Disney mean it’s both relatable and inspiring to anyone who watches it.

As for me, I felt a genuine connection to the story. In many ways, Owen and I are the same; we both have trouble socialising, we both like being creative and we both mumble things that stick in our heads. At the same time though, we’re also very different. I got my first job when I was only 18-years-old. And while Owen has already experienced moving out and having a girlfriend, I’ve yet to accomplish either. It just goes to show how diverse the condition is for each individual person.

I cannot stress this enough. If you have Autism, or you know somebody who does, then this is an absolute must-watch documentary. Nowhere will you find a more perfect guide to the condition, and what you can do to assist it. If you see it for sale, just buy it yourself and be inspired by a masterpiece.

And with that, my 2nd Anniversary Special is done. I never imagined it would take me a year and four parts to finish. But now I can start debating on what to release for the 3rd Anniversary. If you have any questions, please leave me a comment – I’ll be happy to answer them. And until next time, stay tuned.

(Image courtesy of http://www.tulsakids.com/Web-2016/Life-Animated-at-Circle-Cinema/)

General, Into my Autistic Mind

Into My Autistic Mind: My Year so far

Hello everybody, this is George Harvey (aka The Autistic Blogger). It’s taking me a bit longer to finish the last part of my Life, Animated Review. So in the meantime here’s another peek into my Autistic mind. You all know the drill by now. Everything you read below will be the raw, unfiltered thoughts that go through my head as I’m writing. Only this time, I’ll be trying to focus primarily on what I’ve been up to the past couple of months. Enjoy:

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It’s hard to believe it’s already been two months since the New Year. I’m thinking of fireworks and the ending to My Little Pony: the Movie. Which had fireworks. I just made “New Year” have capital letters. My sister is home and playing music on the radio. I’m sitting in the dining room. The table is turned in a new position to what it used to be. It’s apparently so the room looks bigger. My room has been completely repainted. I still can’t get the ending of MLP: the Movie out of my mind. Now I’m thinking of the Rugrats in Paris movie and a scene with Angelica and Chuckie. Saying that name makes me think of the Child’s Play movies – and the original film’s poster. Now – SORRY – sorry again my typing is a bit off. I keep mistyping and putting things in capital letters. I’m typing on my laptop instead of my iPad like I usually do. I remember an old kid’s show called Out of the Box that I used to watch with my sister on Playhouse Disney. I just paused to look at the bullet points I’m trying to stick to. To think, by the time I post this it will be the first of March – excuse me, March 1st. Then the old £10 notes will no longer be useable and people will have to be 16 in order to buy energy drinks, according to the new law. Give me a second. Sorry about that. I just had to move some things around. I needed to plug in my laptop as it was running low on power. Sorry, I just tried to type something there, but then thought better of it. Okay, now my laptop is charging. I just had to flip the switch. I’ve been quite tired today. I was up until 4:45am last night watching WWE Elimination Chamber on the WWE Network. I can’t believe I’d never subscribed to it before now. I’m thinking about somebody I sent an email to today. Anyway, I’m hoping when Wrestlemania comes around this year that I’m not working the morning after. If I’m free that Monday morning I’ll be able to watch the whole thing live Sunday night. But if not, I’ll have to watch it on catch up instead. I’m sure my friends will be watching it live too. Anyway, I remember New Year’s Eve. Sorry I’m constantly thinking of MLP. It’s probably because I watched somebody’s blind reaction to it on YouTube last night as well as Elimination Chamber. I didn’t get up until 11:45 this morning. And even then I had an hour’s nap to make up for the hour I missed sleeping this morning. I just had to say hello to somebody there. As I was saying, I remember New Year’s Eve. I didn’t have any plans until my aunt invited me to go out to dinner with her, my uncle and my cousin. There was a man there who wasn’t too happy with the service and had to be physically thrown out of the restaurant for disturbing the peace. I had a hard time spelling “restaurant” there. Thank goodness for auto-correct. I’m thinking of the Rugrats again. It was definitely one of my favourite Nick Toons. They even released a couple of PlayStation games, which I would play at my dad’s house. Anyway, I remember after dinner I went back to my aunt’s house and I had my laptop with me. I was racing to finish not just my last edition of Into my Autistic Mind but the review I’d been working on for five months. I’m thinking of an episode of SpongeBob and the Simpson’s Hit and Run game. I was able to upload both pieces onto my blog with something like 5 or 15 minutes left before the New Year arrived. It was actually kind of thrilling to finish them before the countdown. Since the New Year a lot has happened. One second, I’m thinking of an episode the Powerpuff Girls and a Lilo and Stitch movie. With everything that’s been happening I’ve been very busy. I had wanted to post something other than this edition of Into My Autistic Mind, since I do like to give my readers a bit of variety and I never want to seem lazy. However, with the deadline approaching fast, Feburary being – I can never spell “February” right on my first attempt – February being such a short month and all the hours I’ve been working, I knew I’d never complete on time. I think I’ll save it for a later month when I can actually put more effort into it, instead of rushing it to completion. I want to avoid doing things like that now. Which is why one of my New Year’s resolutions was to take my writing more seriously. I’ve been going over some GCSE English revision guides I bought a while back, I’ve been planning things more clearly and thinking about when best to write. I think it really is helping. Just this month I posted a review of the DS game Pokemon Ranger and it only took me a few weeks to finish, instead of five whole months. I just thought of a Comic Relief segment that was made a few years ago. The one where Alan Sugar is a contestant on Dragon’s Den. Now I’m remembering the one with Smithy (James Cordon/Gavin and Stacey) and various celebrities debating who should do the appeal film in Africa. There’s also the one where David Tennant was first playing Doctor Who; the one with Doctor Who and Lauren Cooper (The Catherine Tate Show); the one with Lauren Cooper in a war of words with Peggy (Eastenders). Wait? Was that last one a Comic Relief sketch? Actually no, maybe none of them were. I might be getting mixed up with Children in Need. It’s a shame Terry Wogan passed away a couple of years ago. I remember that sketch where he appeared alongside Lee Mack on the set of Not Going Out. I’m thinking of the Don Bluth film All Dogs go to Heaven for some reason. I’ve just heated the tea that I have and made a few text messages. Another thing that has kept me busy these past couple of months has been my drama. It wasn’t long ago I was performing in a panto of The Wizard of Oz. My characters were: a posh school boy; a munchkin in a red outfit, which I really liked; a crow with a Jamaican accent; a forest animal; a Poppy; and Winkie Soldier, who starts off tough, but then reveals he’s gay. Did I mention this was a modern retelling of The Wizard of Oz? It was a bit more like The Wiz. We even had the song Ease on Down the Road playing at the end of Act One. Apparently, it’s the biggest song in musical version of The Wiz, but in the movie version it wasn’t performed well. They just has Michael Jackson (as the Scarecrow) and the actress playing Dorothy performing the number with their backs to the camera and filmed it at least 30ft away. I’m thinking of the Spy Kids movies. But I did really like playing those parts. We had a real dog playing Toto, before he becomes an actor in a furry costume once Dorothy arrives in Oz. I could tell you a lot more about the panto, but then I could also write a whole other piece on that. I’m looking forward to going back to the hall where we rehearse this Sunday. We’ll all be watching a DVD of Dream. Which is what we called our show that was dedicated to Disney songs. Out of all the shows I’ve done so far I think Annie Get Your Gun was my favourite. Have any of you ever heard of the song Muffin Time? Go look it up on YouTube. It’s really catchy and gets stuck in your head. I’m thinking of an old PlayStation 2 game I had called Spyro: A Hero’s Tail. I actually had two copies of the game since the first one got scratched and became unplayable. I’m only just realising I’ll have a lot of editing to do after I’m do. This piece is already two pages long. As for my work life, things have been improving. There was a very long period of time where I wasn’t getting my contracted hours and I was starting to dislike working at the store in Welling. Since the New Year I’ve returned to Eltham and things have been a lot better. Being a small store it’s easier to get around and you get the chance to do more than just one job all the time – before I was only ever working on the tills. Now I work on the self-scan, de-card the store, help tidy up, etc. Plus, since the store isn’t overstaffed like the Welling one was, I’m getting my contracted hours now. In fact, the last two weeks I’ve been given almost double my weekly hours. So all in all, things are going well for me at the moment. However, I know this year will bring a lot of changes. Not too long ago I completed an online course in SEN, and I’m hoping this will allow me to find employment as a Teaching Assistant. I’ve even purchased another course which is tailored to exactly that. I’m also hoping to use what I learn in the book series I’m planning to write someday. I’ve been putting it off for much too long now and I really want to see if I can make a break as a published author. I might even get my very own place to live. It’s something I’ve been interested in doing for a while and it seems like the ideal time to do it. I also think I should try online dating as well. So much to do, so little free time to do it all. I’ll have to make sure I stay organised. I’m thinking of another Powerpuff Girls episode now. Actually, two. Now three. Now Disney’s The Kid. Now Holes. Now Goosebumps – which I wrote a review on once. And now Rugrats the movie. Now Doug’s First Movie, which I’ve never actually seen myself. I’ve just seen clips and snippets. This could go on for a while if I let it. I’ve said pretty much all I want to say. Hopefully, by the end of next month I’ll be finished with my Life, Animated Review. Then I can start debating about what to post for the 3rd Anniversary of this blog. I’m thinking of an old Cartoon Network show I used to love called Cubix. This is a good place to stop I think. I’m less than 25 words from this piece being 1900 words long – introduction included. If I think of anything else to say while I’m editing maybe I’ll add it in somewhere. I won’t change things too much though, as these are meant to be my raw, unfiltered thoughts. Whose Line is it Anyway just popped into my head. And wrestling and the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and King Kong vs Godzilla and the original American remake of Godzilla. I’m just rambling now. I hope you’ve enjoyed what I’ve had to say. Now I’m at 1969 words.

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If you have any questions regarding Autism or some of my pieces on it, then please feel free to leave me a comment – I’ll be happy to answer them. As I said, I will try to complete the last part of my Life, Animated Review by the beginning of next month. I hope you’ll enjoy it when it’s released. And until then, stay tuned.