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I admit was a bit anxious about going to see this film, especially the American version.

It’s a story of fear, of violence, of being trapped and at the mercy of someone else, and I didn’t want to see such a story given a Hollywood gloss. Too often this kind of story is treated as little more than torture porn – the opportunity to show young women’s bodies as victims, in a way that is just as exposed and sexualised as porn, but without the actual sex.

My fears were ungrounded. Production values were obviously high – there is no way anyone could mistake this for an indie – but the story was handled well, even if Larssen’s densely-packed novel was streamlined for the screen. If you’ve seen the film and wonder whether it’s worth reading the book, I would say undoubtedly yes. There is vastly more story in the original.

Of course, this being an autie blog, I’m obliged to comment on Salander.

(not the American version)

As I was watching, this highlighted one of the issues I have run across in my working life. Lots of people have rushed to label her as one of us. And maybe she was written that way. But when you emerge from a childhood of abuse, knowing people are not to be trusted, it’s likely you’ll share some behaviours with autistic people. Poor eye-contact, social isolation, food issues, intellectual underperformance, all can arise from consistent betrayal of trust and a lack of autonomy.

I’m also aware that many of these people are autistic.

I continue to be surprised (though my cynical side says I shouldn’t be) of how psychiatrists rush to apply labels to acutely distressed people. Some, like PTSD, anxiety, depression, are fine – they are describing a response to life events. But others – bipolar, schizophrenia, personality disorder – are not. Severe stress can cause dissociation, retreat into bizarre rituals, self-harm, hallucinations… the list is a long one.

Personally, when stressed, I am aware that many labels could be applied to me. It is only my knowledge of the system, and experience with the attitude of many medical specialities (summed up by ‘when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail’) that has enabled me to avoid this happening. But for people without this privilege, trapped in a system whose main intent is to get them to conform to normality, with no-one to advocate on their behalf, it is a nightmare. It ranges from expert, appropriate help to the kind of abuse portrayed in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

I suppose this is bothering me a lot at the moment because in the last few months I have come into contact with a number of young women who have spent most of their teens/twenties being dismissed, mislabelled with various diagnoses, involuntarily admitted to psychiatric units and so on. Women who are not listened to, who have no one to advocate for them within the system. Women who try desperately hard, who get to college and university, who get jobs, only to be thrown out when they fail to integrate with ‘normal’ people.

Women who stim, who rock, who dissociate, who can’t look anyone in the face. Women who can’t read body language and are at terrible risk, women whose only friend is a cat, women for whom the world is incomprehensible.

And it makes me feel very helpless. I can act on an individual level. When someone comes to see me as their doctor I can start untangling the mess, start advocating, provide a safe space for them to be listened to. And I know that this is better than doing nothing.

But the sheer scale of this issue overwhelms me. And I know what we need is something better. Something run by auties, for auties. Refuges and safe houses for distressed young people, whose families can’t or won’t understand them. Space for them to deal with a diagnosis, to ask questions, to protect them from the damaging opinions of researchers, quacks and clueless NTs. A central point that describes and expands on all the sensory, social and other attributes, written from an autistic perspective.

If we are to call ourselves a community, this is part of what that means.

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