Amazing New Web Series Captures the Challenges of Autism
The web series Oh Jordan follows the Spinola family as they navigate the extra twists and turns their child with autism, Jordan, brings to their lives. Each five-minute episode focuses on a different aspect, ranging from an explosive family gathering to a therapy session for the entire family.
More than just simply following Jordan as he goes through his struggles, we wanted to show how autism impacts everyone around him. With anger and frustration, there is also laughter and love.
Many of us involved in the series have family members on the spectrum or worked with autistic children. The actor who plays Jordan even has autism, a casting decision we all felt strongly about. Too often in the media, you see an abled or neurotypical actor portraying someone who is not abled or neurotypical, and we refused to fall into that same Hollywood trap.
Often people with autism are made to feel like they can’t do things and we wanted to show through our casting that anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it and work hard enough. Just recently my own three-year-old son got diagnosed with autism, and I hope that “Oh Jordan” will help him see that he can dream big and, with enough hard work, make those dreams come true.
In addition to my oldest son, one of my younger brothers has struggled with autism and sensory issues his entire life. So when we were brainstorming ideas for “Oh Jordan,” I brought up an incident that had happened between my brother, his aunt, and a shirt.
For neurotypical people, putting on a random shirt for a family picture poses no problems. But for my brother, the texture of the shirt overloaded his senses, and he could not put it on. The fallout from that moment still reverberates through the family today.
Sometimes the people closest to us are the ones who are the least supportive. Their voices saying things like “He only acts that way because you spoil him” are also the most painful to hear.
They don’t understand how things that come so easily to them can be so difficult for someone with autism. How can someone list all 809 Pokemon refuse to read a fiction book because it’s “lies”? How can someone throw a violent tantrum when he/she hears a doorbell? How can someone refuse to eat yogurt because it feels like slime?
That’s why we showed things from Jordan’s perspective as much as possible with the shirt transforming in “Scratchy Shirt” and the girl’s makeup in “Sleepover.” People with autism experience the world differently, but it’s hard sometimes for people to understand that without seeing it. By showing things from Jordan’s perspective, we hope that those people who don’t understand will finally be able to show the support and understanding we all desperately need.
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It’s not just family who misunderstand someone with autism. In “Poodles” we show Jordan at school where he is the victim of and perceived as someone instigating teasing.
People say they want the truth, but it’s only when confronted with unfiltered reality do people realize that we didn’t want it. To Jordan, a classmate’s hairstyle reminds him of a poodle, and it takes a therapist to make him understand how hurtful that comparison can be. She reminds him of the other boy’s hurtful comments, and Jordan finally begins to understand how his words can hurt someone else.
In this case, he has a chance to make himself understood more clearly, but it is a lifelong battle he will have to fight. By showing how Jordan doesn’t understand his friend’s hurt feelings, we hope that people watching will realize that people with autism aren’t trying to be mean. They lack skills in identifying emotions and social cues and just as Jordan has to work on constantly reminding himself that his words can hurt others, we have to remind ourselves that Jordan is not purposefully hurting anyone. He is simply telling the truth.
While in our series the unfiltered truth in “Poodles” and “Sleepover” gets laughs, it doesn’t usually play out like that in reality. It’s so easy to say the wrong thing, to react with anger when we are hurt. It’s harder to pause before our words come out of our mouths, to pause before we attack, but the laughs remind us that perhaps that anger isn’t the best response.
I was afraid my family would be upset and angry when they watched “Oh Jordan.” After all, I was sharing my brother’s story with the world, and it’s not the perfect, shining moment I want everyone to see. But after watching “Oh Jordan,” my stepmother called me in tears thanking me for telling my brother’s story.
Even though I only directly borrowed from his life once, she saw my brother echoed in every episode. Far from being angry, she expressed gratitude and a desire to turn a negative experience into one which could shine light into other families struggling with the same issues.
Earlier I mentioned my son has autism. Unfortunately, I did not know my son had autism when I started working on the series. Suspicions, yes. After all, it runs in families, and there are only so many times in a day he can line his cars in a straight, even row throughout the house before you begin to wonder.
Now that I know he has autism, I only hope one day I’ll be able to tell his stories and help others like him and their families as they struggle through life.
This article was featured in Issue 90 – Practical Ways to Build Skills for a Lifetime