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Autism and Asperger’s in the media – a round-up of the best autistic representations (ASD / ASC)

Autism and Asperger’s in the media – a round-up of the best autistic representations (ASD / ASC)

Until fairly recently, there has been relatively little content on autism spectrum conditions in the broadcast media; but WOW, 2017/2018 has seen that change massively. (There’s a great article on pbs.org that you may like to read, about autism on the screen in previous years.)

Rainman (Let’s get this out of the way first)

In recent memory of course, the most obvious media representation of autism is probably the film Rainman, a movie best described as ‘of its time’, depicting the journey of an autistic savant played by neuro-typical actor, Dustin Hoffman.

It has its detractors of course, and there are many Issues with the film. Interactingwithautism.com writes about some of them in their article on media representations of autism, quoting an expert as saying – “There is a danger of walking away from the movie with the impression that all autistic persons are savants and that all savants are autistic.. [and] the film concludes that [Raymond], and presumably other individuals with autism, are better off being institutionalized rather than living with their own family.” 

But many autists recognise the film’s important contribution, and nuanced elements. “As Charlie learns to truly love his brother as the movie unfolds, Raymond too seems to have ‘opened up’ and created a lasting emotional attachment with his newly reunited brother… [while] Raymond’s development of a loving bond with his brother should not be seen as him ‘overcoming’ his autism, it should be viewed as a relationship developed because of his autism…” Cassie & Therese note on their site autismmythbusters.com.

In our view here at spectra.blog, Rainman isn’t a misrepresentation of autism exactly, more a (dated) amplification of a character trope.

The Good Doctor

“The best representation of an autistic person I’ve ever seen on television…”

Elsewhere, Freddie Highmore’s recent ‘autistic savant’ part in TV’s The Good Doctor, while drawing praise for its inclusion of a (main) autistic character (although Highmore is neuro-typical), drew criticism from some quarters for yet another ‘savant’ character with a Hollywood Disability Superpower. (In fact, savantism of these kinds is rare.) BUT – many autists welcomed Freddie’s performance, and the show as a whole.

Writing on Slate.com, autist Sara Luterman states approvingly: “Freddie Highmore is not autistic, although he does a decent job portraying one of us on TV. When he plays Dr. Shaun Murphy, he has an ‘autism accent’, that unusual cadence that many of us speak with. He holds his body the way I hold my body. It’s the best representation of an autistic person I’ve ever seen on television.”

Atypical
In Netflix’s Atypical, the autistic main character, Sam, is described by Sara Luterman for Slate.com more disapprovingly as ‘hollow inside’. “Autistic people rarely get portrayed as real, complete human beings. In Atypical, [he’s] essentially a diagnostic checklist, not a whole person.

He’s hollow inside—there’s nothing in his mind except sex and penguins. The show isn’t really about Sam. The show is about Sam’s autism, and how it affects Sam’s family.

He is, in many ways, a plot device in what is supposed to be his own story.”


The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time is a book/play that, despite drawing praise for having a main character who has Asperger’s Syndrome, is actually a fairly uncomfortable read/watch, as the depictions are to a degree, inaccurate, and actually could be seen to be damaging to autists, promoting the view that autists have no empathy, may be aggressive, and are easily abused by others. At least, that’s how many autists feel!

Now, the publishers of the book don’t even describe the main character as being autistic/having Asperger’s, presumably due to the criticism. The author told the Hay Festival audience in 2012 that he had never specified any disorder [when writing the book], and was uncomfortable with the book’s status as a ‘handbook for autistic spectrum disorders’.

 

There are further programmes that have been made of course – here are some more recent examples of autism representation in the media –

Broadcaster Chris Packham’s fantastic, groundbreaking TV documentary, Asperger’s and Me

#actuallyautistic Talia Grant being cast in TV’s Hollyoaks

#actuallyautistic actor Jules Robertson’s ongoing role in TV’s Holby City

TV’s The A-word – with an #actuallyautistic cast-member, and a lead character who’s autistic

Saga Noren from the acclaimed Scandinavian TV crime drama, The Bridge

Julia, Sesame Street’s autistic muppet/puppet

CBeebies’ animation, Pablo, with an autistic cast

The new Power Rangers’ Billy Blue Ranger (played by RJ Cyler) – an autistic super-hero

Channel 4’s ‘Are You Autistic?’ – an ‘intro-level’ programme with some interesting elements, presented by autists

Finally, we also enjoyed an article called ‘Autism is a Creative Boon –  A list and celebration of 5 openly Autistic actors, musicians, and artists’, by E Price, which detailed the ‘usual’ autistic ‘celebs’, but in more detail than is usually seen.
Please do share any other resources about autism in the media with us!

A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Conditions / Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences.

Clear as mud; does confusion reign in the field of autism spectrum disorder diagnosis? (And yes! – we prefer ‘condition’ too!) But here’s why ‘disorder’ is often used, for autistic individuals… (ICD 10 / ICD 11 / DCM-5)

Clear as mud; does confusion reign in the field of autism spectrum disorder diagnosis? (And yes! – we prefer ‘condition’ too!) But here’s why ‘disorder’ is often used, for autistic individuals… (ICD 10 / ICD 11 / DCM-5)

Autism may be the most confusingly diagnosed and labelled condition across the entire world…”

Whilst we aim to be positive here at Spectra.blog, there’s so much that’s frustrating about the state of autism diagnosis, currently! (At the time of writing in June 2018). Or rather, there are inconsistencies and misunderstandings, as well as disparities, in terms of different clinicians, authorities, countries and territories, and their protocols. It’s no wonder that people new to the world of autism information are left feeling confused.

ICD-10 / 11 – UK

For example – a national (UK) training body offering a nationally-recognised autism qualification confidently (and incorrectly) maintains (at the time of writing in June 2018) that the three main autism diagnoses are ‘severe’, ‘high functioning,’ and ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’.

Meanwhile, up until summer 2018, the 2016 version of the ICD-10, (ICD being short for: ‘International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Health Related Problems’, the most commonly-used diagnostic manual in the UK), listed Childhood Autism, Autistic Disorder, Atypical Autism, Asperger Syndrome, as well as the clumsy ‘Pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified’, as the main autistic categories.

(NOW, with the launch of the latest ICD-11 in summer 2018, only ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder‘ is stated, with varying sub-descriptions – see graphic.)

Meanwhile in America, within the DCM-5 diagnostic manual, clinicians are advised to also use the broad term Autism Spectrum Disorder, but with a numerical note of severity, and / or the additions of ‘With or without accompanying intellectual / language impairment,’ dividing the ‘severities’ from 3 to 1. (e.g ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder level 1’ is seemingly akin to an Asperger’s-type diagnosis, under the ‘older’ system).

To further confuse things, in real terms, there’s seemingly very little diagnostic difference between High Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger Syndrome. The differentiating factor is whether or not developmental and language delays were seen in infancy, but in all honestly, that’s surely often subjective, based on familial memories?

In any case, someone already diagnosed with ‘HFA’ doesn’t necessarily accept that they are similar in diagnosis to Asperger’s, and vice versa, perhaps due to how the diagnosing clinician or explained made their diagnosis.

Functioning labels

Another point is the functioning labels, (mild, severe, high functioning, low functioning), which DCM-5 and ICD-11-using clinicians now tend to omit, but that many people still use conversationally (as do, as discussed, some training providers of autism courses / qualifications).

Furthermore – what about the situation we alluded to at the start – that many people aren’t happy with the reference to ‘disorder’ in autism spectrum disorder, preferring ‘condition’? A great, valid point, but with BOTH diagnostic tools using ‘disorder’, how else is an individual to find out info and information, without searching for the correct diagnostic term?!

All in all, it is an extremely confusing situation – but perhaps with the UK’s recent publishing of the current version of ICD-11, everything may become clearer? Forgive us for what is essentially a blog in the style of a rant – but so many people, ourselves included, are frustrated and a little confused! Autism may be the most confusingly diagnosed and labelled condition across the entire world!

A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Conditions / Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences.

If you fancy some more ‘ranty content, you may also like –
Is Autism’s Triad Of Impairments outdated? (ASC / ASD / Asperger’s) – and  ‘Them V Us – disparity in the autism spectrum condition ranks (ASD/ASC/Asperger’s).’