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March 2017

Elmo, Abby, and Julia on Sesame Street

Sesame Street’s Character with Autism

700 457 Paul Louden

I wanted to share some quick thoughts on the latest news about Sesame Street adding a new character with Autism. Here’s some more background information.


First, I’m thrilled that the autism community will be represented on Sesame Street, a truly iconic television show. Simply put, Sesame Street introducing a character with autism is fantastic. One of the strongest forces for improving a group’s treatment is representation. When you don’t appear in media at all, it reinforces for you the idea that you’re not “normal” and that not being normal is bad. You’re never the main character of a story, and never the person who succeeds. Stories are about other, different people, not people like you. On top of that, it means other people don’t see you either. It allows stereotypes to spread more easily, as there’s no countering force.


One of the sad things about autism in recent times has been the fact that there are many characters that are “potentially autistic.” Often the traits that mirror autistic traits are shown as a form of comic relief – the audience is expected to laugh at them when they do something unexpected, rather than with them as an empathetic character. In other cases, autism is often portrayed, but portrayed as an extremely thin slice of the disorder.


Often, these characters are so severely affected that they can’t express any real independence, and they typically have savant traits that really just aren’t that common in the community. Another group regularly shown are the “good autistics.” The people with autism who are just a bit quirky, and interact with the world in a slightly weird way, but it doesn’t significantly affect their lives. And when problems do come up, they can solve them by trying harder. Seeing these people can really make you feel like you’re not “doing it right.” And that if you can’t beat your autism, or turn it into a strength, you’re failing.


What we really benefit from is showing autistic individuals as “just people.” Everyone has struggles in their lives. For me, autism is one of them. But people with autism are also just people. We want to play games. Some of us are extroverts, some introverts. Some of us are quiet, some of us love motion and noise.


Autism changes how we experience life, but it doesn’t change that we’re people too, and judging by what I know about the character in Sesame Street, it sounds like she’ll be showing off some of that.


Representation is great, when it portrays us as part of “all of us” and not as some unique, stand-out to be observed. Just recently, we also saw Blizzard confirm that one of their characters in Overwatch is definitely on the spectrum, and I’m really hoping that as we move into the year, this may be the start of the “mainstreaming” not just of particular autistic individuals, but the disorder as a whole.


It’s really about time people start understanding a bit more about what it means to be autistic.


I hope you enjoyed the post!


— Paul

Motivation written in journal

Motivation and Self-Discipline

800 559 Paul Louden

I hope you’re all doing well! We’re currently in the midst of the first week of my book being available, and I could not be more thrilled about the support that I’m getting from so many great people. It’s been such a long road to getting this book published — I guess you could say it’s been a lifetime! But I’m so happy that people are enjoying it.


With that in mind, I wanted to write a post this week about a topic that I cover in my book, and a topic that I regularly receive a large number of questions about. That topic is: motivation and self-discipline. Motivation, self-control and self-discipline can be extremely difficult for those of us on the spectrum. Even some things I really enjoy and like to do, I still have difficulty doing on a regular basis.


The lack of positive, emotional memories limits my motivation and accomplishing anything in life ultimately requires successful interaction with others. The stress of foreseeing those interactions, which don’t always go right for me, also limits my motivation.


A big part of motivation for me in almost everything I do is having time to build up to an event, like a mental long jump. You can’t do the long jump with a standing start; you need a run up to it. I need to get a mental run up to almost everything.


The executive function of the brain, which handles time management, motivation and processing the general events of a day, is also affected. When this is functioning poorly, a person may have severe difficulty with motivation even with things they enjoy. They may have difficulty staying aware of what time it is and how long they have to accomplish certain tasks. Routine tasks such as grooming, house cleaning and mowing the lawn may lose their importance in daily living.


Overall, motivation and self-discipline will likely always be tough for me. As I mentioned, I will always need that “build up” time, and I encourage everyone who communicates with people with autism to try to keep the “build up” time in mind. It really helps to limit the stress and that is a hugely important thing for many people on the spectrum — myself included!


I hope you enjoyed this post. And if you want more info on the book, you can check it out here.

Man holding his head

Autism and Anxiety

540 385 Paul Louden

Anxiety hovers over a person on the spectrum like a gray cloud. The world is very stressful, because uncertainty looms everywhere.


A lot of people with autism don’t really have any awareness of how stressed they are, how to recover, or how long it’s going to take to recover.


Anxiety is a real and serious problem for many people on the autism spectrum. I’ve heard this from parents, teachers and doctors, and I’ve also heard this from people with autism. Often, anxiety can lead to panic disorder and phobias.


Children with autism express anxiety or nervousness in many of the same ways as neurotypical children. This could mean separation anxiety, anxious worrying or social anxiety. These issues commonly affect both children with and without autism. However, social anxiety is especially common among kids with autism.


That said, one of the most important parts of an autistic’s life is figuring out what parts of their schedule are most stressful for them.


For example, many people on the spectrum become stressed in social situations and don’t know how to pinpoint the source. When you don’t recognize what’s causing the stress, you don’t have the tools to ask for help in finding a way to make the situation easier.


Helping an autistic discover the source of their stress and an awareness of how stressed they are, how to recover, or how long it’s going to take to recover, is among the most important steps toward a more productive life.


If you have any tips or suggestions on how you think people can better understand the stress felt by those on the spectrum, I’d love to get your feedback!


Thanks for reading.


— Paul