Filters, autism, and Rosanne Barr

I have a t-shirt that says “you know that little thing inside your head that keeps you from saying things you shouldn’t? well, I don’t have one of those”. A lot of people on the spectrum don’t have filters, and that’s why some people have jobs as autism coaches and why there are so many books about social skills. Autistics aren’t, as a group, people who automatically have a talent for social skills or fitting in or saying the right thing at the right time. Everybody has a story about a time they wish they hadn’t said something, but people on the spectrum have a lot of those kinds of stories. This is what happens when nature doesn’t install a filter in your brain: There’s a direct connection between the stupid part of your body and your mouth. Today’s news provides a dramatic example of what can happen when you don’t have a good social filter.

Roseanne Barr went on Twitter early Monday morning and blew up her career.

The good news is that Ms. Barr doesn’t appear to hate one group of people; based on her tweets, she can find something to hate about just about everybody. The news has described her as being racist, Anti-Semitic, a bigot, and against anyone who differs from her (and perhaps what she would find worst of all – not funny). Some of the stars had a lot to say about her. Emma Kenney, who played her granddaughter on the show, said she was hurt, embarrassed, and disappointed, calling Barr’s racist comments distasteful and inexcusable, stating that “bullies will never win.” [Ms. Kenney is multi racial.] Sara Gilbert tweeted that Barr’s comments were “abhorrent and do not reflect the beliefs of our cast and crew or anyone associated with our show”. She was disappointed with Roseanne’s actions and adds that it’s sad and difficult for all of them because they created a show they believed in and were proud of and one that audiences loved-separate and apart from the opinions of a single cast member.

What Roseanne did is detestable and unforgivable. The media made her famous for all of this for years, the show made it funny, and she just assumed she could get away with it. Numerous other celebrities have expressed their feelings about all of this – and no one defends her. It must be very lonely to be Roseanne Barr right now.
The tweet was a joke that went too far and got out of hand as a result; there’s a lesson here because people on the spectrum don’t always know if what’s funny to them is funny to everyone else. There is a simple solution to this – when you’re in doubt, check with someone who isn’t on the spectrum. The best advice I can give here is don’t tell jokes about different types of people as they will likely find it offensive.


Roseanne Barr went on Twitter early Monday morning and blew up her career.”

The target of this tweet, Valerie Jarrett, a former political advisor who served under President Obama, reacted by responding at least she had a wide circle of support for her. She replied that she was worried about all the people out there who don’t have a circle of friends and followers to come to their defense in their time of need. The solution for this is if you hear racism or bigotry, simply be that circle for whoever is the victim of it; stand next to them and put your hand on their shoulder. Post a message saying that you’re sorry it was said and it was wrong, then address the author of the hurtful comment and hold them accountable.

There is good news, although not much, about this, and that’s we now live in a climate where hate speech is less tolerated. Because people on the spectrum are an easy target, it’s likely that comments, jokes, and sick imitations of them will be fewer and those that are made will be criticized much more heavily. Pakistani-American Kumail Nanjiani said that “nothing good has come of this entire thing”. If you disagree, you need to realize that talking about the damage is the start of change for this, and this change needs to happen for the world to be better.

Palm Beach Post introduces its readers to our ‘Siskel and Ebert’

This Saturday, readers in the palm beaches awoke to an edition of The Palm Beach Post with a story about our on-the-spectrum film critics on the front page of its Accent section.
We reprint it here with the Post’s kind permission:

 Meet autism’s Siskel and Ebert

Hosting everything from news to movie review shows,
a West Palm network for — and by — the autistic
is helping change stereotypes.

By Barbara Marshall – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

 

In front of a green-screen set in a West Palm Beach TV studio, movie critics Michael Precourt and Anthony Canzonetta are dissecting “Don Jon,” Joseph Gorden-Levitt’s racy directorial debut.

The acting? Not bad, they agree. They like Scarlett Johansson, of course. They’re 20-something males.

Directing and script? A solid effort.

They finish the episode of “Private Screening” with a warning: “It gets a red for sensory.”

Their specialized audience understands the coded shorthand. The film has a high potential to cause sensory overload in people on the autism spectrum.

People like Precourt and Canzonetta.

“There are flashing lights throughout the movie,” advises Precourt.

“Ow, ow, ow and ow,” said Canzonetta, the “Ebert” to Precourt’s “Siskel.

He makes a rhetorical request of filmmakers. “No more going from black screens to flashing lights, OK?”

“Yeah, don’t go all Baz Lurhmann on us with a bunch of half second clips,” says Precourt, who, like his TV partner, is a student at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Precourt is a film major; Canzonetta is pre-med with a minor in film studies.

Also like Canzonetta, Precourt has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism associated with focused interests, high-functioning abilities and difficulties with social skills.

Their program is one of dozens streamed weekly from Flying Pig Ranch Studios on Haverhill Road in West Palm Beach, home to The Autism Channel (TAC).

Although TAC’s shows are aimed at families with members on the autism spectrum, the channel may be the only network that regularly puts people with autism in front of the camera.

“We look at it like when Diahann Carroll starred in “Julia” in the 1970’s,” said Jerry Trowbridge, a co-creator of the network. “She was the first black actor to star in a major TV show. We want to have a similar impact.”

Viewing the on-demand video streaming channel requires a $49 to $100 Roku box, although TAC may soon have a new platform on Panasonic smart TVs, Blu-ray players and gaming consoles.

Actors playing people with Asperger’s have become a recent TV trend. Diane Kruger in FX’s “The Bridge,” “Parenthood’s” Max Braverman as well as Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory” and “Community’s” Abed Nadir are all characters with either stated or assumed autistic personalities.

But on TAC, no one’s acting.

…He believes, as do a number of autism activists, that the autistic brain may be the vanguard of a higher form of human evolution. The autistic personality of intensity, focused interests and little need for emotional attachment is tailor-made for a digital age where people work with devices rather than each other, [Precourt] says…

Daniel Heinlein, the host of the talk show “I Am Autistic,” is a 26-year-old from the Chicago area with Asperger’s. “Rocket Family Chronicles” follows the exploits of a wacky San Francisco family whose most well-adjusted member is an autistic teenager.

A couple of cooking and exercise shows have stars or co-stars with autism. A reality program called “At Home With …” profiles families coping with autistic children. In addition, a weekly news show covers the latest news about autism.

TAC’s highest rated show is “Time Out,” seven minutes of soothing music and images designed to calm an agitated autistic brain.

Trowbridge and his partner, Ray Smithers, are radio news veterans and serial entrepreneurs. In the 1980s, they developed a 1-800 telephone system to help customers locate the nearest Walgreens or Cirrus network ATM.

The idea for TAC was born after the men heard a TED talk by Temple Grandin, the Colorado animal science professor and autism activist, who described her thinking process.

“Hearing her, both Ray and I realized we’re probably on the spectrum, too,” said Trowbridge, who speaks in rapid-fire bursts. The men, who are business and life partners, sleep during the day and work all night. Trowbridge taught himself the complex programming necessary to stream TAC. Smithers concentrates on programming and production.

They sunk “six figures” of their own money into their startup, their gamble bolstered by a near doubling of autism diagnoses among children in the past decade, to one in 88 in 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From the start, they decided to put people on the spectrum on their shows.

“We had no idea how right we were. We’ve learned that viewership for those shows is off the hook,” said Trowbridge.

Autism programming, believes Trowbridge, is ready to go from obscurity to mainstream.

“It’s a little niche-y,” he said, “but then, so is ‘Duck Dynasty’.”

Once on the Panasonic platform, which he hopes will happen by the end of the year, he expects 50,000 to 100,000 viewers a day.

“That makes us attractive to advertisers, ” he said.
MarshallStoryPicEnlarged
The rise of TAC coincides with a radicalized autism rights movement that borrows the language of liberation politics to insist that autism is a variation in function, not a mental disorder needing to be cured. Instead they say, society needs to be cured of its stereotypes about autism.

“Auties” and “aspies,” as they call themselves, think in neurodiverse ways, they insist, while the non-autistic are neurotypical.

“Nothing about us without us,” says members of autism advocacy groups such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and Autism Network International, which demand the right for autistics to define themselves.

“This is the new face of autism,” said Dr. Jack Scott, a professor of exceptional student education at FAU and the director of the school’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. Scott is also on TAC’s advisory board. “It’s similar to the deaf community of a few decades ago. Many members of that community were fine with being deaf and didn’t want to be labeled disabled.”

“It’s groundbreaking in (autistic’s) insistence on validation and that they have something important to say. They can speak for themselves, even if they have to type it,” Scott said.

FAU has “40 to 50” students on the autism spectrum, Scott said, many of whom excel because of their ability to focus.

Still, autistic kids require high-quality early childhood intervention, Scott said.

Movie critic Precourt said he began therapy soon after he was diagnosed at age 3. Sitting in an FAU courtyard outside a campus Starbucks on a sunny afternoon, Precourt speaks loudly in pronouncements, rather than the give-and-take of conversation.

At his mother’s suggestion, the Orlando native stopped by the TAC studios last summer to discuss doing movie reviews and walked out with his own show.

“We screen-tested him and he jumped off the screen,” said Smithers.

A member of FAU’s community council and the publicity committee for his dorm, which presents dances and barbecues, Precourt says he’s learned the importance of social interaction even though he sometimes misses others’ emotional cues.

He believes, as do a number of autism activists, that the autistic brain may be the vanguard of a higher form of human evolution. The autistic personality of intensity, focused interests and little need for emotional attachment is tailor-made for a digital age where people work with devices rather than each other, he says.

“People act like we have a disability,” he said. “Autism is not the same as being disabled.”

When it comes to being one of the faces of TAC, Precourt says, “We are at the dawn of a new era. I’m proud to be a part of that.”

As for Trowbridge, he tries to dodge the brickbats flying back and forth between various autism groups fighting over causes and cures.

“So many organizations have a dog in this fight about what autism is. We see a need for an impartial disseminator of autism news. We’d like to be present when we finally understand what autism is. I believe that will happen in the next few years.”


This story is a part of The Palm Beach Post‘s premium content, and is available to subscribers only.

Autism at the Movies: The Story of Luke

Most people take every day life skills such as getting a job or going out on a date for granted.  But for people with autism, these normal activities of life can be quite challenging.  “The Story of Luke,”  Director/Writer Alonso Mayo’s coming-of-age comedy starring Lou Taylor Pucci (as Luke), Seth Green (as Zach), Cary Elwes (as Uncle Paul) and Kristin Bauer (as Aunt Cindy), brilliantly addresses these delicate issues surrounding autism with lightness, subtlety and truth.

Many scenes really touch your heart…

Like most people Luke’s age, including “Neuro-Typicals (NTs),” Luke, a young man with autism, wants to be independent and embarks on his own  journey after his grandmother passes away.  He had been raised by and  living with his grandparents after his mother abandoned him when he was just a small child.  After the funeral, he and his senile grandfather Jonas (Kenneth Welsh) move in with his relatives (Uncle Paul, Aunt Cindy and their two teenager children) who have their own quirky set of problems.  Eventually, Jonas is placed in an assisted living home, which leaves Luke to fend for himself with the arena of oddball relatives.  Luke decides he has to escape, and the only way to acquire independent living is to get a job.  So when he goes to a special placement agency, he falls for Maria (Sabryn Rock) the receptionist.  He decides that in order to ask Maria out on a date, he will definitely need to get a job first.

The agency places Luke with a firm that recruits disabled people for training at no pay.   There he meets Zach, the eccentric, snippy IT manager, who’s also Luke’s supervisor.  He educates Luke on the behaviors and expectations of “NTs” and they develop a friendship based on mutual neediness.

Many scenes really touch your heart, such as the one where Luke decides to “meet” his mother after she had abandoned him years ago.  There are also plenty of comedic moments to rescue the audience from any possibility of overly gravitas situations.

Pucci does an outstanding job of portraying a young man with autism.  It made me question many times throughout the film whether he actually had the condition or not.  Green’s portrayal of Zach is a wonderful ride through a character’s struggle with the brink of insanity as you see him realize that he needed Luke more than Luke needed him.

All in all, I highly recommend that you see this film before it closes, or you will regret missing not just a movie… but a life-changing experience you’ll never forget.

a video recommendation from the autism channel


Debra Clark is anchor of the upcoming Autism World News on The Autism Channel.