Autism in the Media
Autism Awareness Month (April) is rapidly approaching, but for me any day is the perfect day to raise awareness of the issues surrounding autism. So we start today:
As many of you may well know, individuals with autism have recently become increasingly prevalent within the media. Portrayals of people with autism or autistic traits have become particularly popular in television programs over the last few years - e.g. Sheldon on 'The Big Bang Theory,' Max on 'Parenthood,' Sherlock Holmes on 'Sherlock.' In addition to this, characters with autism are appearing in films, books and even cartoons. Here's an interesting list on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fictional_characters_on_the_autism_spectrum
This exposure is a positive thing for many reasons - the main one being the resulting increase in autism awareness within society. I don't think I am alone, however, in wondering how accurate (and therefore helpful) these portrayals really are. Recently, whilst watching the first episode of Fox's 'Touch,' I was slightly irked to find that the show revolved around an autistic savant. Granted, I have only seen the first episode, but even in the show's first few minutes the viewer is led to believe that the mute young boy possesses some sort of super intelligence about the way the world works.
Now, I have no issue with the inclusion of an autistic savant when a story calls for it and I do not claim that the show is not worth watching. But there are already so many examples of this kind of (rare) autism in the media. Autism can be expressed in so many ways and it seems like audiences are only seeing a couple of them. My guess is that these versions are the most "sell-able" - the savant; the charmingly funny child with Asperger's Syndrome; or the brainy, but slightly quirky adult. But these are not the only kinds of people that exist. Where is the autistic person who will talk and talk and talk about a favorite subject, but will refuse to even look your way when you ask what they did yesterday? Where is the person who prefers to communicate using picture cards or sign language? And why are so many autistic children portrayed as antisocial? What about the child who is SO social and SO friendly that they have difficulty reigning it in?
I am so glad that autism is finally beginning to be recognized by society, but I worry that this surge in media exposure is a trend - is temporary. I want to see multiple versions of multidimensional autism. I want to see good days and bad days. I want to see portrayals that are realistic and that family, friends, and even people with autism can relate to. And I want to see these permanently.
That's what I want to see. What do you all think?
Some other opinions on this subject: