A drawing of a boy in a field holding a crayon with a rainbow in the back

BBC TV Show 'Pablo' Features an All-Autistic Cast


BBC has a new kid’s show coming in October and it’s the U.K. broadcaster’s most inclusive yet. “Pablo” is the first show in the U.K. to feature an all-autistic main cast, according to BBC. The animated show will air on CBeebies, a BBC program for children, and Irish broadcaster RTEJr.

Pablo is a 5-year-old boy on the autism spectrum who creates imaginary animal friends that come to life through magic crayons. His friends help him with everyday situations that make him anxious such as going to the supermarket.

Pablo is played by Jake Williamson, a 10-year-old boy on the spectrum. Andrew Brenner, the head writer, did extensive research and consulted people on the spectrum before creating the show. The people who play the imaginary friends are also on the spectrum and have co-written some of the scripts.

According to BBC, real-life experiences of children on the spectrum inspire each episode. The show used the ideas and perspectives of autistic contributors to create storylines that are honest and humorous. 

Other characters played by people on the spectrum include Pablo’s imaginary animal friends. Each one portrays characteristics of autism.

Wren is a bird with a lot of energy, who flaps her wings to calm down when she feels frustrated. Mouse likes things tidy and in order, and is sensitive to sounds and smells. Noasaurus is a dinosaur who doesn’t talk much but has great spatial awareness.

BBC will also introduce 12 short films and six games associated with the show. The films will be shot from the point of view of people on the autism spectrum and will explain how they see the world around them. The games will be based on the personality traits of the characters in the show and are designed to help people better understand the perspective of someone on the spectrum.

The Mighty reached out to BBC to find out if and how people in the U.S. can watch and will update this post when we hear back.

Photo via BBC

RELATED VIDEOS

Trying New Things With My Son Who Is on the Autism Spectrum


There is no denying there are some activities that are more challenging to do with your child when they are on the spectrum. All sorts of things factor into the overall outcome of whatever it is you have set out to do. You think about sensory overload, how their day was yesterday, if this outing will mess with their schedule or routine, and you think about all of the possible outcomes of the situation.

The thing is, when you are going to a doctor’s appointment or therapy appointment, you still think about all of these things but you go because you have to, no matter what the outcome.

Instead of thinking of all of the things that could go wrong, or wondering if our children will like it, perhaps we should also take this approach with the fun things in life. If it turns out they don’t like the activity or event that you attend, then I understand you probably wouldn’t go again. I think it is really important our kids have the chance to make that decision on their own.

We have tried several different sports, activities, places to go out to dinner, etc. Have all of them ended in pure joy? Of course not, we all have personal preference and the things you may think are fun could be different from your friends or family. The important thing is that you keep trying new things, and if you find something your child loves, you keep doing it!

It would be easy to talk yourself out of doing events that may sound challenging. You might even tell yourself, “He is just so happy at home.” Possibly, but he could really enjoy the event you are talking yourself out of. What is the worst that can happen? If they don’t like it, you can always leave, and if you think they did like it but it was too overwhelming and you left, you can always try again with more supports.

 

When we started to go to sensory friendly movies, we saw just the beginning of quite a few movies. My son would say he wanted to go to the movie, we would get there, and he would watch 10-15 minutes of the movie before he would ask to go; then it became 20-30 minutes. The progress was slow but he wanted to go. So we went and eventually he sat through an entire movie and we couldn’t be more proud! He wanted to go to the movies, but that didn’t make it any easier for him to be able to sit through the whole thing.

In my experience, I base whether or not my son liked something on things other than how he acted while we were doing it. For example, how much he brings it up after the event is over or if he acts like he wants to do it again. Since my son is nonverbal, we make stories for a lot of the things we do using an app on his iPad. It is easy to tell when he really likes something if he watches the story over and over or shows it to others. That doesn’t always mean the event was perfect or that he never struggled. What it does mean, is that it was worth it. To him, being overwhelmed or struggling at the time didn’t make it less worth it. If it was worth it to him, who I am to say, “We should skip that, he might struggle,” or “What if he get’s overwhelmed?”

I guess some things are just worth getting overwhelmed for.

Try the fun stuff. It might work out and it might not, but you never know unless you try.

We take my son to Superkids at Soapbox Derby. No, it isn’t always perfect. He struggles to wait his turn and in general wait for it to start. However, when you see his huge smile as he experiences the thrill of coming down the hill, it is all worth it. He shows these stories to people all the time.

It isn’t always easy, but it is worth it!

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo from left to right of Bridget Lundy-Paine, Kier Gilchrist, Michael Rapaport and Jennifer Jason Leigh

Netflix's 'Atypical' Renewed for a Second Season


“Atypical,” a new Netflix original series centered around autism, has been renewed for a second season. Its renewal comes less than a month after the show’s premiere. 

The show centers around Sam, an 18-year-old high school senior on the autism spectrum, as he navigates first-time love and other aspects of life. The show also depicts the lives of Sam’s family and how Sam’s autism affects their lives.

“Atypical” was met with mixed reviews from the autism community. There were parts of Sam’s character — played by Keir Gilchrist, a neurotypical actor — that people found stereotypical, while others liked certain aspects of his portrayal, like stimming.

Robia Rashid, the show’s creator, previously told The Mighty the show did its best to have people in the autism community involved, noting, “We have several crew members who are parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We had an autism researcher and expert on staff who read every outline and script and watched every cut to give notes. It’s something we feel very strongly about and are always working on.”

However, some people on the autism spectrum believe the show did not go far enough, as “Atypical” only features one autistic actor, Anthony Jacques, who had a small speaking part.

Season two will have 10 episodes.

Poster for TV show "The Good Doctor."

Why I'm Giving 'The Good Doctor' a Shot as Someone on the Autism Spectrum


Full disclosure: After only one episode, I have no idea what the future is for “The Good Doctor,” which will premiere September 25 at 10/9C on ABC. What I can tell you; this show has all the makings of an ABC smash-hit.

Let’s begin with the cast. Freddie Highmore (“Bates Motel,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) stars as Dr. Shaun Murphy, an up-and-coming surgeon who also happens to have autism and savant syndrome. This is a very difficult role for anyone to play given how broad the autism spectrum truly is. Some criticism has occurred as many TV productions and films try to address autism issues.  There is no “one size fits all” in attempting to define characters on the spectrum. This list in recent years has included characters such as Walter Hill in “Joyful Noise,” Billy in the new “Power Rangers” Jane in “Jane Wants a Boyfriend,” and most recently Sam Gardener, a teen with autism in Netflix’s “Atypical.”

There seems to be an obsession with autism political correctness in some autism-related projects. Producers strive for realism in portraying these autistic characters, with the danger of not clearly understanding the individuality of each person on the spectrum. It’s a razor’s edge, trying to avoid producing “inspiration porn” but also making the programming meaningful to those in the autism community. “Atypical,” which received mostly positive reviews (77 percent rating from critics and 97 percent rating from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes) also received some criticism for not hiring an autism consultant who was on the spectrum to help bring a realistic portrayal of the role. To be fair, “Atypical” had a full-time consultant in the fabulous Michelle Dean along with help from Exceptional Minds, a computer animation studio and non-profit digital arts school for young adults on the autism spectrum. Exceptional Minds worked on some shots for “The Good Doctor” team as well.

I feel “The Good Doctor” does a fine job of navigating this razor’s edge. Freddie does well in his debut, showing several characteristics that can accompany an autism diagnosis. These characteristics include things such as social awkwardness, lack of eye contact, playing with his hands during stressful situations, etc. That last one is still something I do to this day as an adult who is on the autism spectrum. I believe Freddie’s take will resonate with many in the community. It will be interesting to see
how his character evolves moving forward into the season.

What really stood out to me, though, was the discussion during one scene where they are deciding Dr. Murphy’s fate and someone says people with autism lack empathy, so how can they be sympathetic to patients and their families? It was refreshing to see Dr. Murphy disprove that harmful myth and have the opportunity to show his ability to care for others. When asked point blank “Why do you want to be a surgeon?” he shared a traumatic event in his history. I had to pause the show because I was sobbing like a baby.

As for the script, there are several plot lines I believe will intrigue audiences, and the direction from Seth Gordon couldn’t be crisper, along with the writing by David Shore, creator and Director of “House.”

While many in the autism community may tune in for Dr. Murphy, autism is only one component of the show that will draw viewers. Based on statistics from the Department of Labor, a majority of those with disabilities in the U.S. today are unemployed. Discussing the hiring of someone with a disability highlights its importance. Other important topics include relationships in the workplace, safety and different types of ways people learn. For example, Dr. Murphy thinks in pictures, as can be seen on screen when he’s visualizing the human body or trying to remember a definition of a specific word.

I believe this show has staying power, and I can only hope the creators of the show, along with Sony and ABC, will continue to include voices of those on the spectrum as the show continues. I’d love to help in a consultant role.

When I travel the country speaking, I tell audiences “Autism can’t define me. I define autism.” Shaun and I are not defined by our diagnosis. Dr. Glassman, who first met Dr. Murphy at 14, said it best during a Board of Directors meeting in the episode:

“Aren’t we judged by how we treat people? I don’t mean as doctors, I mean as people. Especially those who don’t have the same advantages we have. We hire Shaun and we give hope to those people with limitations that those limitations are not what they think they are. That they do have a shot. We hire Shaun and we make this hospital better for it.”

I hope we as a community can give this show a shot, and if we do, I believe we will be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Kerry Magro is an international speaker on the autism spectrum. A version of this article originally appeared here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

 Image via Facebook.

Woman showing a young boy a list

Asda Introduces Visual Shopping List for Children on the Autism Spectrum


Asda, a U.K. based supermarket chain, has introduced an interactive shopping list for children on the autism spectrum to use while their parents shop. The list, titled “Happy Little Helpers,” lets kids help out during shopping trips in a visually engaging way. 

The shopping list is made up of pictures of common food items as well as velcro to stick each picture under a “what we need” column. Kids can then put a smiley face next to each product as it is found in the store.

The idea came from Jenny Barnett, an Asda employee whose son, Charlie, is on the spectrum and is nonverbal. The project, she said, was inspired by Charlie’s teachers, who use symbols and pictures to help him communicate.

The Happy Little helpers scheme, which encourages young children to get involved with shopping, is being introduced into Asda stores next week. This picture shows Asda colleague Jenny Barnett who came up with the idea of the list with her five-year-old son Charlie

“When he was younger, Charlie used to throw himself to the floor when he was in a big shop. It was clearly too noisy and too crowded for him,” Barnett told Metro. “By creating the shopping list, it takes the pressure away and helps children concentrate on a task which in turn reduces stress.”

After a successful run at its Middlesbrough store, Asda will provide lists to more than 300 other locations across the UK.

“It’s such a nice feeling that I can walk into an Asda miles away from Middlesbrough and see another child benefitting from my idea,” Barnett said. “It’s going to help so many children which is great.”

This isn’t the first initiative from Asda to help make shopping better for people on the spectrum. It has incorporated a quiet hour into at least one of its stores. Asda also features inclusive bathroom signs, highlighting invisible illnesses.

Photos via Asda

Girl sitting in the grass reading a book.

Girls Can Have Autism, Too


As an autistic female, I am fed up with the media’s portrayal of autistic characters. The way they talk about us, laugh at us and speak for us. All of the shows about autism are about us, not for us. Most of them use autistic characters, whether they identify as autistic or not, as comedy. We are a joke to them. I’m sure they did research, studied our ways and came to some conclusion they had an understanding of our culture. They would be wrong. Every single thing I see about autism is incorrect and does not represent us or who we are as a community.

We are not here for you to use in your comedies to get a cheap laugh. We don’t burst out sex talk at the kitchen table. We don’t all sound like robots and get into hilarious, awkward situations on a daily basis. Most of the struggle we have is internal, unless it’s a meltdown, which is often visible.

The spectrum is as diverse as the rainbow, yet it seems the focus is on white males. Autistics come in every race, color, and gender. It’s a slap in the face to many of us every time we see a skinny white boy doing funny things for a laugh on television. If we ever expect society to get this picture out of their heads, we need to change these expectations.

Girls have autism too. About 1 in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. ASD is about 4.5 times more common among boys (1 in 42) than among girls (1 in 189). ASD is harder to diagnose in women and girls because we often mask our symptoms better than boys. We are able to develop coping mechanisms and hide our autism. If we altered stereotypes and offered more support to girls coming forward with an autism diagnosis, I believe these rates would change.

There is no cure for autism, and most of us wouldn’t want one anyway. Autism allows me to have special interests. These are areas I am hyper-focused in and I can learn with savant-like abilities. I read five times faster than your typical college-educated adult. I had read Shakespeare and Tolkien before I was in middle school. I taught myself every single subject in school because I couldn’t learn from my teachers. I spend countless hours engaging and talking about my special interests.

There are two books I believe every autistic person and those looking to learn more about autism should read. The first is “Thinking in Pictures” by Temple Grandin. This book describes how many of us see the world. We are different, not less. The second is “Look Me in The Eye” by John Elder Robison. I identified strongly with the themes of growing up poor and having a bad home life. Yet through special interests, a strong force within many autistic people, he was able to become the successful person he is today.

These books are written by two different individuals on the spectrum. They support the saying in the autistic community: If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. That’s why it’s called a spectrum; we come in a wide variety of flavors. We are 1 percent of the population and very frequently misrepresented by the other 99 percent.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Sam 74100. 

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.