Media Stereotypes of Autism podcast

Dr Sue Fletcher-Watson (Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences), along with colleagues at the University of Oslo, has recently published an article in Psychiatry Research dissecting portrayals of autism on film and TV.  They found that representations of autism on screen tend to portray characters that perfectly align with the diagnostic criteria, making portrayals of autism stereotypical, but not true to life. It’s possible that this is contributing to the narrow stereotypes that are generally held by neurotypicals about autism.  In turn, this impacts on the day-to-day experiences of people on the autism spectrum, like me.

So, the research found that autism on screen may reinforce stereotypes. Fictional portrayals of autistic people – such as The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper – are not fully representative of those with the condition, and that can cause those with autism some problems. The team from the Universities of Edinburgh and Oslo analysed Sheldon’s character along with a further 25 fictional personalities from TV and film, such as the movies “Adam” or “Mozart and the Whale” as well as characters such as Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory”, who the public generally believes to be on the spectrum.. They judged each character against the standard criteria that doctors use to diagnose autism, known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-5; they found that most of the characters displayed at least nine of the 12 defining characteristics of the condition. Yet in reality, this high level of alignment with the diagnostic criteria is rare.

The study published in the journal Psychiatry Research looked at on-screen representations of characters with a stated autism diagnosis

About half of those analysed are portrayed as being a genius or having some other exceptional skill – such as Dustin Hoffman’s character in the 1988 film Rain Man. In reality, the researchers say, fewer than one in three people with autism will have such a skill.  Seeing characters with autism can help increase public awareness, those behind the study noted, but the narrow portrayals may reinforce stereotypes.  From my experience, I think it’s likely.

Dr Sue Fletcher-Watson, of the University of Edinburgh’s Patrick Wild Centre, said: “To deepen public understanding of autism spectrum disorders, we need more autistic characters on our screens. These characters should reflect the diversity we see in real life, rather than being artificially built from a textbook diagnosis of someone with autism.”

A few weeks ago, ABC premiered a new drama called The Good Doctor, about a young surgical resident with high-functioning autism. Dr Shaun Murphy has a traumatic past and many challenges to overcome, but a clear talent for his chosen profession.

He’s also a genius. It says so right there in the promotional trailer for the series. In the first episode, audiences can see the visual representation of his brain working overtime as he taps into a bank of memorised facts and manipulates anatomical diagrams in his head, all before synthesising that information in superheroic fashion during medical crises.

This is not a show I want to watch. I’m tired of what the entertainment business thinks autism looks like—it’s a perception that’s far removed from reality.

The well-known pop culture motif of the “autistic savant” likely started with the release of the film Rain Man in 1988. While savant syndrome is real, it’s actually quite rare—only 10 percent of people with autism are estimated to have savant abilities. But the stereotype has hung around stubbornly since then, appearing in film and television to spread the misconception that autism—despite its varying degrees of impairment—is something that can also bear desirable or even enviable gifts.

That message is damaging in more ways than one. It’s insulting to the large percentage of people on the spectrum without savant abilities, because it implies their stories aren’t as valuable or worth telling. It also promotes the falsehood that an autism diagnosis nearly always comes pre-packaged with extreme giftedness.

With more characters with autism appearing in film and on television, a new study is questioning whether such representations are good or bad for people with the developmental disorder.

Emotional Response

An unfortunate myth about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is that diagnosed individuals have no emotions; that they are somehow like that famous Vulcan, Mr Spock from Star Trek: analytical and logical, but really not emotional. Research From the Autism Research Group at City University London, and that of many other acedemic sites across the world, matches my experience, and shows that this is definitely not the case.

Although individuals with ASD are often very good at analytical problem-solving and express, as well as experience their emotions differently.  It is really not the case that they lack emotions altogether. In fact, a very large proportion of individuals with ASD (about a half, although estimates vary) suffer from symptoms of anxiety and depression that significantly compromise their quality of life. This is something that I can attest to, and covered in an earlier podcast about suicide.  Unfortunately, very little is still known about the underlying causes of these difficulties or about how best to alleviate them.

Although I t has often been said that people with Asperger’s don’t feel emotion, anyone who’s known me through the years can testify that that is absolutely not true. As with many others with Asperger’s, I feel emotions, and feel them intensely; sometimes more so than a person who does not have Asperger’s.  I just don’t know how to process them like neurotypicals do.

There is often quite a stark difference in the styles used to express and communicate emotions between those with ASD and— neurotypicals, which doesn’t mean that aspies don’t feel empathy, sadness, compassion, happy for others and so forth.  I often feel way too much, though this is usually not very evident. It’s also true that a lot of the “way too much” that I do feel is usually kept as part of my own inner-world experience and is not shared with others. I do need to be asked what I’m feeling often. I rarely seek to share outwardly, because it doesn’t occur to me to do that. People that get to know me come to understand this is not something that should be taken personally, and that all they have to do is ask and I will answer.

Having a  different ability  in this aspect of expression is usually where the myth that we feel nothing comes from. There are more aspies who feel a tremendous amount of empathy, compassion, sadness, happiness, and so forth than those who don’t. It becomes an issue when we are reluctant to express it or talk about it. It doesn’t come naturally to us to communicate and to express our emotions in a social or relational way, as it does to NT’s. It feels foreign. It’s hard work and requires effort and energy, which is why we often don’t do it

Another area that can badly affect relationships is emotional regulation. Our neurological systems can be as inefficient in handling sensory input, as emotional input. This means that a person with Asperger’s may feel raw emotion, but is not able to immediately identify which emotion it is, or its cause. Not only does this cause breakdown in communications in common, everyday situations, it can also be very dangerous. It can lead to extreme sadness or upset to be processed as anger,and the source of the emotion can be identify incorrectly

This inefficient processing of emotion can be very draining for us, as when the emotion temporarily takes over, it can interfere with awareness and rational thought. The emotional warning signs that are meant to protect you from difficult or harmful situations may malfunction, or work with such a delay that they lose effectiveness. This means that we may be less than prepared to defend ourselves verbally (or, in bad situations, physically) if the situation deteriorates into an argument or conflict.

When I think of this, I think of the old stereotypes that are often used in movies and sit-coms.  There are some good and bad representations of ASD and emotional responses.   One I keep coming back to, and I know a lot of the autism community has an issue with, is Jim Parsons’ portrayal of Dr Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Thoery.  Another is the hauntingly brilliant Freddie Highmore with his portrayal of Autistic savant surgeon Dr Sean Murphy.  This is something I will cover in more detail at a later date


A short while ago, I was talking to some very close friends of mine about where I wanted to take things, with respect to my writing and blogging, etc.  Among all the ideas I had, there was one that I was very curious about looking into further.

This idea was to give my blog a voice, so to speak, by creating a podcast.  Although this was an exciting thought, it was also a very scary idea.  It was exciting because I could take my voice and my blog and reach an even bigger audience, which would mean there was more potential to raise more awareness of both Autism and Asperger’s syndrome, and that was the main goal of my New Year ideas.  It was scary because, until now, I had been able to hide behind my blog and, to a lesser degree, my pen name, although quite a lot of you know my identity.

It would mean taking that very scary and somewhat irreversible desicion to give my words a voice; my voice, in fact. This would mean no more anonymity.  So, with a great deal of nervousness and trepidation, on Christmas Day I went to my office and got my audio kit out.  I lit some candles, poured myself a large glass of Jack Daniels, pressed record and began to waffle to myself, as I still wasn’t sure whether I would publish it when I’d finished recording,

The Podcast was only just over 16 minutes long, and was totally unscripted (except for the piece of poetry or scribble I read out), unlike now, where I find it’s best to have a script with ideas so I don’t go off-topic too much.

After I had finished recording, I made the very impulsive move to stick this creation online for people to see, judge and critique.  This was the scariest part of the whole thing for me, as from that point forward there was no turning back.

I’m pleased and relieved to say that I had very positive feedback from everyone who listened to that first, tentative outing into the world of podcasting, This gave me the courage to think about subjects about which I wanted to raise awareness, and also it gave me the passion to write again, as I hadn’t written in years.  It was one piece of poetry called “Cheer Up”.

I want to thank each and every one of you that has shown me love and support with this new project.  It’s true what they say: “You don’t know ‘til you try” and I’m glad I did.  I’m so very grateful to you all for your support.

If you haven’t listened yet, and want to, please go to iTunes or Podbean and search for “Bob Christian Podcast.”

Stay Safe X

Sensory Issues (podcast)

Many people on the autism spectrum have difficulty processing everyday sensory information that most neurotypical people take for granted.  Any of the senses may be over or under-sensitive, or both, at different times. These sensory differences can affect our behaviour, and can have a profound effect on a person’s life.

Sometimes an autistic person may behave in a way that you wouldn’t immediately link to sensory sensitivities. A person who struggles to deal with everyday sensory information can experience sensory or information overload. Too much information can cause stress, anxiety and sometimes physical pain. This can result in withdrawal, challenging behaviour or as a worst-case scenario, a meltdown. These issues and senses are as follows, but not limited to:-



  •  Objects appear quite dark, or lose some of their features.
  • Central vision is blurred but peripheral vision quite sharp.
  • A central object is magnified, but objects on the periphery are blurred.
  • Poor depth perception; problems with throwing and catching; clumsiness.

Things that might help include the use of visual supports or coloured lenses, although there is very limited research/evidence for such lenses.


Distorted vision

  •  Objects and bright lights can appear to jump around.
  • Images may fragment.
  • Easier and more pleasurable to focus on a detail rather than the whole object.
  • Difficulty getting to sleep as sensitive to the light.
  • Light hurting your eyes or causing headaches



  • May only hear sounds in one ear, the other ear having only partial hearing or none at all.
  • May not acknowledge particular sounds.
  • Might enjoy crowded, noisy places or bang doors and objects.
    You could help by using visual supports to back up verbal information, and ensuring that other people are aware of the under-sensitivity so that they can communicate effectively. You could ensure that the experiences they enjoy are included in their daily timetable, to ensure this sensory need is met.


  •  Noise can be magnified and sounds become distorted and muddled.
  • May be able to hear conversations in the distance.
  • Inability to cut out sounds – notably background noise, leading to difficulties concentrating.



  •  Some people have no sense of smell and fail to notice extreme odours (this can include their own body odour).
  • Some people may lick things to get a better sense of what they are.


Smells can be intense and overpowering. This can cause toileting problems.
Dislikes people with distinctive perfumes, shampoos, etc.



  •  Likes very spicy foods.
  • Eats or mouths non-edible items such as stones, dirt, soil, grass, metal, faeces.
  • This is known as pica.

Over- Sensitive

  •  Finds some flavours and foods too strong and overpowering because of very sensitive taste buds. Has a restricted diet.
  • Certain textures cause discomfort – may only eat smooth foods like mashed potatoes or ice-cream.
  • Some autistic people may limit themselves to bland foods or crave very strong-tasting food. As long as someone has some dietary variety, this isn’t necessarily a problem. Find out more about over-eating and restricted diets.



  •  Holds others tightly – needs to do so before there is a sensation of having applied any pressure.
  • Has a high pain threshold.
  • May be unable to feel food in the mouth.
  • May self-harm.
  • Enjoys heavy objects (eg weighted blankets) on top of them.
  • Smears faeces as enjoys the texture.
  • Chews on everything, including clothing and inedible objects.

You could help by:

  •  For smearing, offering alternatives to handle with similar textures, such as jelly, or cornflour and water.
  • For chewing, offering latex-free tubes, straws or hard sweets (chill in the fridge).


  •  Touch can be painful and uncomfortable – people may not like to be touched and this can affect their relationships with others.
  • Dislikes having anything on hands or feet.
  • Difficulties brushing and washing hair because head is sensitive.
  • May find many food textures uncomfortable.
  • Only tolerates certain types of clothing or textures.




Suicide Podcast

As I have now started putting my ramblings into an audio podcast form, I thought I would try putting up a transcript of the podcast for easy reference.  This podcast, I talk about anxiety, depression and suicide, as it’s a very important subject.

Anxiety and Depression
These are both problems that affect a large percentage of the U.K. population.  It’s estimated that 20% of people will experience some form of depression at one point or another.  Often, people who suffer from depression have difficulty in sharing their thoughts and feelings, and this can be much harder for people like me, on the autism spectrum, as we can have difficulty in labelling, understanding and communicating our feelings.

Anxiety disorders
This is a particularly common theme among people on the autism spectrum.  It’s believed that 40% of autistic people suffer or have suffered from at least one form of anxiety disorder or another.

For me, things that a neurotypical person might take for granted can be a problem: answering a phone-call, or going to places like the supermarket and doctors, etc, can fill a person with autism with an almost crippling feeling of anxiety.

This is a very dark subject and one that we really need to start discussing, rather than brushing it under the carpet and pretending it doesn’t happen. The fact is that suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged between 20-49.  This is all males, not just autistic males, but in newly diagnosed autistic adults, over 60% reporting contemplating taking their own life.





Autism Myths Podcast

I thought tonight I’d talk a bit about my Autism and some of the things that people have said to me, either to hurt or just unthinkingly.


So is that like being retarded?”

Factually speaking, in many cases Autistic people do not have an intellectual or cognitive disability, and likewise many people with intellectual or cognitive disabilities are not Autistic. It’s a common misconception that we are all mentally disabled and therefore slow or retarded. One customer at a previous workplace used to call me Raymond at my last work place and member of staff also used it, as they had seen the film “Rain Man” and assumed all autistic people are like that. There are some Autistic people who also have an intellectual or cognitive disability. Nevertheless, the word “retarded” is a very hurtful word to use to anyone, because it’s frequently used as an insult to dehumanise people. It’s also used to express hatred for people with disabilities. Please don’t use it.
“You should be very proud of yourself. You seem so normal. I couldn’t tell you’re Autistic.”

This is very frequently said to me and other Autistic people whose autism is less obvious. It’s insulting, because it suggests that, just because the person doesn’t appear to be disabled or fit preconceptions of what Autistic people are supposed to be, they are clearly not Autistic. It also suggests that “normal” is the standard to which anyone should aspire to appear or act and that “normal” should be the ultimate goal for therapies or treatments for autism. This isn’t the case. Instead, the goal is to teach pragmatic coping skills to navigate a world where those with autism are a minority.

This phrase also gives the impression that it isn’t acceptable to act or speak in ways commonly associated with being Autistic, even if those behaviours don’t actually hurt anyone. This is dismissive of a person’s disability and experiences. It’s like saying “But you’re married/have a job/go to college. You couldn’t do that if you were really Autistic.” Yes, not every Autistic person will get married, have a job or go to college. But plenty do. And likewise, not every neurotypical will do those things. . This statement is insulting because it’s ableist. (For those who may not regularly read my blog, ableism is like racism, ageism or sexism, but directed toward people with disabilities.) While not every Autistic person may be able to do all or some of these things, it’s very ableist to assume that no Autistic person can or that anyone who can do those things must be neurotypical.

It’s actually very hard to get a diagnosis of Autism. You have to fit a very specific set of criteria and there is a real reluctance to diagnose unless those criteria are met. So when someone has a formal diagnosis, l8ke me, there really is very little room for doubt.

“I know a kid whose autism is really severe. You don’t seem like him.”

Every Autistic person is different, because autism is a wide-ranging spectrum. It gives a huge range of individual abilities, skills, needs and challenges. It is impossible to know what an Autistic person’s abilities and skills are versus their needs and challenges after just a brief conversation (either in person or in the comments thread of an internet post). What makes Autistic people a group united by a shared diagnosis are the commonalities of all Autistic people. All Autistic people share some of the same core characteristics that define autism and which lead to a formal diagnosis:-

Key differences in neurological functioning, sensory and cognitive processing, and communication abilities that often manifest as disability. Autistic people are Autistic regardless of whether they look, speak or act like another Autistic person you know or know of. There is a great phrase that sums this up in my opinion,

Dr Stephen Shaw said something very true… “Once you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism”.
“Can you have sex?”

Yes, of course autistic people can have sex. Some get married and have children. Some have Autistic children. Other Autistic people might never be taught about sex, for a variety of reasons. But I do wonder how people think that this is an ok question to ask someone. Would they ask them if they had, say, diabetes, which can affect men’s ability to perform.

Autistic people, like all people with developmental disabilities, are at much higher risk for abuse or victimization — sexual or otherwise — than the general population, but that doesn’t mean Autistic people don’t know about or can’t have sex. The issue for me growing up was that as I have difficulty in reading facial cues, body language, and tone of voice I have always found it very difficult to tell if someone was interested in me, I often joked I wouldn’t realise a girl liked me unless she came up and kissed me. The other thing is that I was and am terrified of misreading the signs and making a fool of myself or being accused of being inappropriate. It’s genuinely terrifying.

“Does that mean you’re really good at math/computers/numbers?”

If there’s one thing that’s likely to offend an Autistic person, it’s people seeing them in terms of common stereotypes about autism. A very small minority of Autistic people are also savants. Many have higher than average IQ, and many have average IQ, while still others have an intellectual or cognitive disability. Some of us have dyscalculia or similar learning disabilities I’m personally dyslexic and find some maths difficult, but I love the order maths brings to the universe: one plus one is two, and a week next Thursday it will still be two – it’s a constant. I love fascinating numbers like Balfazar’s Prime – the largest prime number that’s a palindrome.

But some Autistic people, including those who might be good at maths, simply don’t like the subject. And yes, some happen to be excellent with maths and enjoy working or studying in related fields. There are those of us who are relatively computer illiterate, as well as those who thrive in the IT world and community. Most of us may seen like geniuses for another simple reason – the subject being discussed interests us and we have tried to learn everything about it. My passions are Batman, science and random facts: squirrels, speed of light ,York uni, vexilology. I have exceptionally good recall and can recite movies and TV shows, much to annoyance of some people!

“Autism is something kids grow out of”

I have heard this a number of times and it is completely wrong. We don’t grow out of our autism – it’s a life long condition – we just adapt as we grow up, and learn to hide things and get better at adapting. I personally treat it as a science experiment – I give a response and if it causes offence or the wrong reaction I try another response. If it works I try it again a few times and if I get a positive result, I keep that and use it from then on.

Autism is much more common than many people think. There are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK – that’s more than 1 in 1001. If you include their families, autism is a part of daily life for 2.8 million people.
Autism doesn’t just affect children. Autistic children grow up to be autistic adults.
Autism is a hidden disability – you can’t always tell if someone is autistic.
While autism is incurable, the right support at the right time can make an enormous difference to people’s lives.
34% of children on the autism spectrum say that the worst thing about being at school is being picked on2.
63% of children on the autism spectrum are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them3.
17% of autistic children have been suspended from school; 48% of these had been suspended three or more times; 4% had been expelled from one or more schools4.
Seventy per cent of autistic adults say that they are not getting the help they need from social services. Seventy per cent of autistic adults also told us that with more support they would feel less isolated5.
At least one in three autistic adults are experiencing severe mental health difficulties due to a lack of support6.
Only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment, and only 32% are in some kind of paid work7.
Only 10% of autistic adults receive employment support but 53% say they want it8.


Around 700,000 people may be autistic, or more than 1 in 100 in the population.

There is no register or exact count kept. Any information about the possible number of autistic people in the community must be based on epidemiological surveys (ie studies of distinct and identifiable populations).

The latest prevalence studies of autism indicate that 1.1% of the population in the UK may be on the autism spectrum. This means that over 695,000 people in the UK may be autistic, an estimate derived from the 1.1% prevalence rate applied to the 2011 UK census