The purpose of this page is to give a bit of a primer on the kinds of media that will enlighten readers as to the reality of the autistic experience. This is only meant to be an introductory list in itself, so the lists will be kept short, the descriptions brief, and the types very general. This is a subject I will pick over in far greater detail in longer articles on this journal. For the time being, if you want to properly understand a Powell type born circa 1980, and especially this one, the works in these lists are the place to start.
Blade Runner – Blade Runner sits in pride of place on any list of films that best represent what it is really like to be autistic during the Reagan-conservative era. Available in no less than four different edits, the best of which are actually slightly shorter than others, Powell types in particular will recognise bits of themselves in multiple characters. If you are a Powell type, chances are you might have even said things characters in this film say at angry moments, without even having seen the film before.
Starman – Starman is both John Carpenter‘s most underappreciated and most dramatic film. As Roger Ebert devotes some words to, the highlight of the film is a marvellous performance in which Jeff Bridges fools audiences into believing that both he and his character are not entirely inhabited by themselves. His performance as the titular character is more reminiscent of the Einstein type, but it also gives a powerful metaphor for how many on the spectrum feel they were just born on the wrong planet.
RoboCop – Paul Verhoeven‘s most notorious and enduring film introduces its hero proper with a sequence in which he recites several rules that he is programmed to follow to the letter, even when he can reasonably forsee that doing so will result in his death. With numerous types of autistic adult represented in multiple characters (primarily Powell, however, as you would expect of a film about a policeman hunting down multiple violent criminals), RoboCop is not quite up to the standards of the previous two in terms of representing the autistic, but it is a damned good film even without that element.
TRON: Legacy – Another Jeff Bridges starrer, TRON: Legacy is one of the rarest things out of the Disney stable. A film designed for adults right from the get-go. This is a great film to show people in your closer circle who still do not get it. If you are a Powell type, you can point to the explanation of what CLU has done and say “this is a constant fear for me”, or point to Olivia Wilde‘s performance as Quorra and say “you have been living around this for years and did not notice?”. It is literally the final word where films that reflect what it is like to grow up during the 1980s and be autistic are concerned.
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell wrote several great pieces, but the one people reference the most frequently is Nineteen Eighty-Four. Essentially an exploration of how language modification and torture with specific techniques are used in order to modify a person’s thoughts, it ends in an essay that proves changing the meanings of words is by far a more effective method of thought-control than banning them. And this is to say nothing of the fact that the order and conjunction of words has an impact. Another matter touched upon by Orwell.
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee only published one novel, but what a novel it is. Essentially a reflection upon the ignorance of small-town minds, the prejudices of the ignorant, and racism can end the innocence of a child, To Kill A Mockingbird was adapted into a film a couple of years after publication. Said film contains one of the best performances of the late Gregory Peck, which is saying a lot. The Atticus Finch of the novel comes across as just as big a man as Peck, if such a thing is even possible.
Adam Ant – The first three albums by Adam Ant (Dirk Wears White Sox, Kings Of The Wild Frontier, and Prince Charming) all contain songs and words that resonate as much now as they did in the 1980s when I first heard them. Adam Ant is a great place to start when one wants to learn about how much better music was when the entertainment industry recognised that adults need to be entertained, too.
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath‘s first eight (six if you are really picky) albums all have things to say that an autistic Child Of The 1980s will look back on nowadays and think “they hit the nail right on the head”. Wheels Of Confusion, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Iron Man, and Megalomania are songs that might as well be used as anthems by the Powell type.
Julie Christmas – Whether it is Julie‘s recent solo album, The Bad Wife, or one of her more collabarative projects such as Battle Of Mice or Made Out Of Babies, she has taken simulating a nervous breakdown and made it into an artform. Psychological distress of the kind that Powell types experience very frequently has a voice, and that voice belongs to the woman named Julie Christmas.
Have you read Nancy Kress’s “Sleepless” trilogy? Book one is called Beggars in Spain; book two is Beggars and Choosers, and book three is Beggars Ride. It’s about a future society in which a new neurological minority (called the Sleepless) appears, and you might find them somewhat familiar. They do not occur within nature, though; they were deliberately created by genetic engineering (in this world, rich parents try to confer every possible advantage on their children this way: genes for beauty, smarts, drive, whatever), but the trait they were engineered to have — not needing to sleep — is only one of a constellation of traits they end up having.
I think Nancy Kress does a terrific job of showing what it’s like to think in these different ways: her Sleepless make these intuitive logical leaps, using something one character calls “strings” linking concepts in ways other Sleepless can see but non-Sleepless can’t, not without the intermediate steps being spelled out.
There is also a non-Sleepless character who has a unique mode of thought, and whose inclusion I appreciated because he shows how a different-thinking person can seem really stupid until you see them in their element.
These books were actually recommended to me by another autistic person who commented on my blog. So now I am commenting on your blog to recommend them to you!
No, I have not read them as yet. I am not sure how long it will take my e-reader to discharge its battery, but when it does, I will hunt down copies of those books to add to it. When I was a little boy, I used to daydream about people “accidentally” going into my head and discovering a whole heap of information that “shouldn’t” be there, like prime directives or alien instructions and the sort, and that would change the way things were in my life. *sigh* I think a lot of what I write about Mages is similar in these terms, too. In one of my as-yet unpublished novels about Ruby Amelda, I describe how Ruby is discovered to be a Mage-candidate in Halfling society after she has a seizure whilst out with a young Halfling lad whose reaction is less than understanding. She is not engineered (unless you count nature’s design), but her life is very different to mine because she was discovered, accomodated, and understood from a relatively young age. This understanding often has her looking at Mage-General Kronisk and wondering what the hell his life must have been like.
At present, I have about 108 books that I have transferred to my still very new e-reader, but I will move one or more of the Sleepless novels to the top of the list. Generally, when someone recommends something to me, I make room in the schedule to read it first. The last ink and paper book I read and really enjoyed was a Sookie Stackhouse book, ironically. At present, I am rereading Gustav Hasford’s The Short Timers in e-book format. I will start looking about for the Sleepless series when the battery falls below 50% or so. So far I have not really recharged the unit once in spite of having had it a few weeks.
There is also a lot of writing about how Polish migrants to America were thought stupid because depositing them in a country where they did not speak the language and nobody spoke theirs… well, yeah, it’s just one of those things, really. I wish I had the gentle nature required to write about the difference between perception and actuality where intelligence is concerned. Even if only in fiction.
As I said, they are on the list of things to acquire on the next possible run. *nods* 🙂
Then she has had my life. My mother knew I was *different* in some way from the time I was born, and started asking questions when I was, like, eighteen months or two years old, but my pediatrician brushed her off as just another anxious new mommy. (I was the first, so she couldn’t yet point to my siblings and say, SHE IS NOT LIKE THEM. Once they came, she was surprised at how easy they were in comparison …) Still, she had me evaluated, and I was diagnosed by a team of doctors at the age of five.
My autobiographical memory sucks, so I have no memories of any of this. What I *DO* have memories of is being told all this stuff, and always having teachers who were told to give me more leeway as far as spacing out in class, finishing tasks I had started even if the class was moving on, doodling, playing with things, etc., and to do things specially to make things easier for me, like posting a schedule on the board every day so I would know when a potentially disruptive change was coming. I also remember meeting other autistic children* and their parents, and going to these workshops where 1) I could practice things I had trouble with, like fine motor skills and switching between tasks, and 2) my teachers could come and ask questions, either of me or of the counselors who worked with us, and otherwise observe us and prepare themselves before they had to encounter me in the classroom.
So … yes. Identified early. Differences understood, accepted and acknowledged as real, and accommodated as much as they could be while still keeping me in mainstream education (which is where it was, I think correctly, understood that I belonged). What do I think this did for me? Well, besides me having VERY healthy self-esteem, and a relatively high degree of self-knowledge, I am also very trusting. I’ve never had any reason not to be, at least in childhood.
Don’t I know it! I am one-quarter Polish, my mom’s side being a mix of Polish and Czech. My dad is of German heritage, which of course makes me a filthy half-breed. LOL. Anyway, yes, my mom’s side of the family hasn’t been in the country all that long (I am part of the third generation to be born here), and we tell Polish jokes kind of a lot. It’s different when you’re telling them about yourself, though. It’s a stereotype I am quite familiar with, both through reading about the history of immigration in my country (one of the books I’d like to read but haven’t got to yet is about how the concept of “whiteness” has changed down the years — used to be, a Slav like my mom, or an Italian or Greek or even an Irish person, which astonishes me, would not be considered white in the same way a WASP is white), and through family lore and our family culture of telling those jokes.
Ethnicity aside (because, anymore, no one is going to think you’re of subnormal intelligence because your name, or your mother’s name, ends in “sky”), I have a lot of experience with being thought dumber than I am. Apparently I do not “pass” all that well, and people can often tell I’ve got … something going on. My spoken language is halting, because my thought processes are slow and tend to be moving images, colors, shapes and flashing lights rather than any kind of discernible semantic units. So I have to translate, not just relay, my thoughts to people. Probably three-quarters of the time I abort this process because it turns out to be too hard to do. Other times, my conversation comes in fits, starts, and broken-off fragments. Other other times, it’s relatively fluent. But anyway, large woman**, flat, inscrutable facial expression, moving somewhat clumsily, probably looking around in a confused manner, halting speech … you would probably dismiss such a person as a dim bulb at best and as the R-word at worst, if you were not as you are. Maybe even as you are … you seem to be the type of autistic whose mind is fast, and who tends to get called crazy rather than stupid by bullying peers/adults. My type tends to get overlooked, or called stupid.
*These were ALWAYS boys. I didn’t meet another female autistic in person until relatively recently … I had a couple of friends in elementary school who may have been, but I never knew definitively.
**I have noticed that largeness tends to get glossed as a stupid-person trait. Smallness gets more associated with quickness and nimbleness, which are inferred to exist mentally as well as physically. Kind of like people still tend to think that more attractive people are better, more honest, than homelier folk. Of course, ugly and pretty are also somewhat coded stupid and smart, but if you are a woman I think you can also be too pretty to be considered smart, especially if you possess a certain kind of beauty (blonde, busty, suntanned, etc.). Anyway! First impressions do NOT work in my favor, unless I am having an exceptionally good language day.
Aha! Battle Of Mice – Sleep and Dream – that touched me strongly, and at random (I am completely unfamiliar with anything else Christie has done… but that song was incredible).