Select Page
Autism and Asperger’s in the media – a round-up of autistic representations

Autism and Asperger’s in the media – a round-up of autistic representations

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

Also – this video is a very comprehensive overview that includes some modern productions –

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. 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

In our view here at, 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, 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.”

In Netflix’s Atypical, the autistic main character, Sam, is described by Sara Luterman for 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 we don’t claim to be experts about Autism; 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 diagnoses? (ICD 10 / ICD 11 / DSM-5)

Clear as mud; does confusion reign in the field of autism diagnoses? (ICD 10 / ICD 11 / DSM-5)

Please note, some of our older posts like this one may not reflect the latest terminology and diagnostic guidelines – click here to read them in our blog on autism diagnostic criteria!

Autism is confusingly diagnosed and labelled…”

Whilst we aim to be positive here at, 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’. These autism ‘functioning labels’ are in fact no longer used.

Meanwhile, up until summer 2018 (when the new draft version arrived), the 2016 version of the ICD-10, (ICD being short for: ‘International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Health Related Problems’, a commonly-used diagnostic manual), 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 (draft), only Autism is stated, with varying sub-descriptions – see graphic.)

Meanwhile within the DSM5 diagnostic manual, clinicians are advised to also use the broad term Autism but with a numerical note of severity, and / or the additions of ‘With or without accompanying intellectual / language impairment.’



To further confuse things for those individuals diagnosed as autistic BEFORE the functioning labels were abandoned, there was seemingly very little diagnostic difference between High Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger Syndrome. The differentiating factor was 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 diagnosed with the (now outdated) ‘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 confusing element is the continued use in conversation of the OLD functioning labels, (mild, severe, high functioning, low functioning), which DSM-5 and ICD-11-using clinicians now omit, but that many people still use conversationally (as do, as discussed, some training providers of autism courses / qualifications).

All in all, it is an extremely confusing situation – but perhaps with the UK’s recent publishing of the current (draft) version of ICD-11, everything will become clearer?

A little disclaimer – here at we don’t claim to be experts about Autism; 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 –
Autism’s dated Triad’ and  ‘Them V Us – disparity in the autism spectrum condition ranks.’