I want to see autistic characters who are Black, Latino, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Indigenous, non-verbal, LGBTAQ+, and/or physically disabled
By Dana Trick
Recently there has been a very vocal demand for representation for diverse people of various ethnicities, religions, sexualities, genders, and disabilities in various forms of entertainment. While this is great for minority audiences who have frequently felt excluded or mocked away from the stories they enjoy, I feel that most of the entertainment industry has handled disabled character VERY POORLY.
Most of these autistic characters featured in popular movies and shows are often “characterized” with being socially inept savants with a background in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. They are always seen as emotionless and selfish to everyone who’s friendly to them.
Sure, this stereotype can be seen as a better one than the stupid or child-like mind portrayals but I believe that the savant stereotype is worse as it encourages a higher demand and pressure on autistics to be the savant even though autism itself is a spectrum disorder.
For instance, the “autistic genius” makes people with autism appear to function solely on logic and interests in STEM fields act, but only ten percent of autistics are savants and bad behavior is mostly the result of experiences rather than the autism itself.
Even if we appear smart about one topic or are skilled in any form of art or profession, it is thanks to our hard work and enduring devotion to learn more and understand more about the things we love.
Additionally, there are autistics that act emotionally and other autistics whose special interests are not strictly science or math. It should also be noted that being a genius doesn’t require you must be autistic and being autistic doesn’t mean you have to be a genius.
While representation is good and very much needed when done correctly, most of the entertainment industry’s autistic characters are simply a walking bag of stereotypes.
It’s these stupid stereotypes that has been making me hesitant to experience fiction with an autistic character because I know I’ll get a carboard cutout of a character that fails to represent me and my autism.
This contributed to me pressuring myself to conform to ableist’s society’s inane expectation of me so I could belong. Of course, there are some that argue various pieces of fiction do not have any sort of influence in society; however, as my experience as a beginning historian with an interest in popular culture as well as an aspiring autistic writer, art in all of its forms has the most devastating power and influence on society in how they treat others who are so very different.
A piece of art and entertainment’s popularity have a higher chance of promoting negative and/or ignorant perspectives on minorities which then encourages misunderstands of that minority.
Furthermore, most of the autistic characters in television shows and in movies are usually straight, white men which I feel is misleading.
EVERYONE REGARDLESS OF ETHNICITY, RELIGION, GENDER, SEXUALITY, AND ABILITY CAN HAVE AUTISM.
And personally, I feel like their stories should be brought out because they would be more entertaining, compelling, and/or interesting to view/read/watch.
For instance, I want to see autistic characters who are Black, Latino, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Indigenous, non-verbal, LGBTAQ+, and/or physically disabled as well as being in their adult years, have interests other than science and math, have families and children, everything that a lot of autistics experience daily.
In recent years, there had been more shows, movies, books, and comics that feature a more grounded and empathetic portrayal of autism and don’t have the character white or male.
For instance, Abed Nadir from the T.V. show “Community” has Asperger’s and his character is a joy to watch as the show treats him like a character and not an overly-praised bag of stereotypes. The show calls him out on times when he’s acting like a selfish jerk, he has his own character growth that doesn’t revolve around becoming normal, and he has a great friendship with people that appreciate all of him. Additionally, Abed is one of the few non-white autistics portrayed on television (he is Palestinian-Polish-American—a.k.a. mixed which makes him more relatable to me as a Mexican-Canadian-American). It should also be noted that the creator of this show, Dan Harmon, has autism—which is more awesome.
Shawn Murphy from the “Good Doctor” drama is also a good representation of an autistic living in the world. Though he is a savant autistic, the show continuously doesn’t make Shawn’s autism his whole character and disproves many misconceptions about autistics (like not having a sex drive, displaying empathy, and adaptability to change, etc.) Another good representation of autistic is with the character of Entrapa in the reboot of the She-ra cartoon series—which both my autistic self and my autistic sister both enjoy—where the character herself is treated with so much love and levity that she feels real than fictional. Though I do have some issues with the show at various points, I do appreciate that they subverted the savant stereotype and made autistic issues and experiences more understandable to normal people. It gives me hope. (If you hadn’t already saw these shows and movies, please do and if you want to recommend some other shows and movies that feature good autistic characters, please comment below!)
Having artists and writers with autism create their stories and characters can greatly help people understand autism, but I always felt there was a pressure to make our artwork solely on our autism and nothing else. It’s silly but it was one of the reasons I’ve been so hesitant to post blogs and artwork here in this site—excluding the various pieces of schoolwork I have to do. I do want to create comics and books that include people with autism as characters and protagonists because I’m interested in depicting them and their experiences with autism in the world, but most of my poems and stories are centered around things not related with autism. My and other autistics artists’ works should not be defined on how much emphasis they put in their autism—that’s not how art work at all. Our voices and our art should be whatever we want it to be and our art doesn’t need a massive audience or popularity to be appreciated.
What I’m saying here, writers, directors, editors, actors, musicians, and other artists—if you want to represent autism in their stories, be empathetic and be curious about autism and autistics—see autistics as people with their own lives, their own experiences, their own interests, their own personalities, their own histories, their humanity!
Dana resides in Moorpark, California. She spends too much of her time reading books (fantasy, fiction, history, poetry, comics), drawing weird things that suddenly appear in her head, writing stories and poems and listening to a strange assortments of music genres that she isn’t sure what type of music fan she is.