Autistic Representation Needs Autistic Voices
Hollywood loves talking about autism but refuses to talk to Autistics.
When a new show or movie with an Autistic character airs, writers, directors and producers pat themselves on the back because they are so proud of their “indispensable” view that will help to “shed light and raise awareness about the disorder”.
To them I say: meh.
Lately, there has been an “epidemic” of Autistic characters on TV shows. Obviously, the actors portraying these characters are not (openly) Autistic – because: see first sentence on this post.
But worse than non-autistic actors pretending they can understand an Autistic brain, is a non-autistic writer writing about how an Autistic person relates and reacts to the neurotypical world; a non- autistic director deciding if the non-autistic actor is being real to the character’s neurology; and non-autistic producers being clueless about the final product but going ahead with it because they believe their show will be a breakthrough in “autism awareness”.
Again, I say: meh.
Those shows are a collection of stereotypes, created by people who usually don’t know anything about Autistics and Autistic culture. They don’t even think about hiring a full-time Autistic consultant.
Their first mistake: they’ve probably read the list of deficits that the “experts” use to “identify” us. They likely asked Autism Speaks, the biggest “advocacy” organization that undoubtedly hates Autistic people, for input.
Then they commit their second mistake: they separate us into two groups, one that deserves “a full life” because they are “almost normal and desirable”, and one that more visibly needs supports, the “burdensome”, the “tragic Autistics”. They obviously discard Autistics with more visible support needs because human complexity and neurodiversity is not something they seem to be able to grasp.
The third mistake is the character itself: without complexities, full of quirkiness, possibly very talented in one area, but always rejected, incomplete, full of needs that are mocked, patronized and ignored.
It is like the creators of these characters don’t believe Autistics are real people, with real lives and a story to tell. To them, the character is confined to a plot that will rely on one or more stereotypes each episode. The character will never grow as a human being.
It also looks like anyone who talked to the cousin of a parent of a child who has a friend who is a brother of an Autistic person, is automatically qualified to create an Autistic character. This, and reading the Wikipedia entry for autism.
Those creators never talk to us or try to learn about our culture. I guess it is because they need to believe in their fantasy, their assumptions. Seeing us as fully humans would debunk their flawed perceptions of what autism is.
So my comment about such shows is: meh.
There is a bigger problem though, besides the need for praise of the self-centered people who don’t understand autism but who believe their ideas are helping us, and the world. The problem is that they are erasing our voices, choosing which characteristics they perceive as being “of Autistics”, and spreading the false assumptions we, actually Autistic people, have been fighting against.
I call this bigotry.
I call this oppression.
It does not help, it misinforms, it takes away our voices, and it appropriates our stories.
All this while portraying Autistic characters as one-dimensional being without a life, without a story of growth.
On the opposite side of such shows, are documentaries about Autistic people with complex lives, full of humanity. These documentaries are co-produced, co-directed and co-written by the Autistic subject of the documentary.
They are not easily funded or supported. They are independently made and they tell stories that are real, unique, and authentic.
Some will say that “at least” the shows about us, without us are “initiating a conversation about autism”.
The problems are:
Conversations about autism without Autistics are not conversations. They are ableist lectures by ableist people.
We have existed forever, and have been speaking up for a long time. What is missing are people who will actually listen.
Calling shows like the ones currently on TV “representation” is wrong. These shows exploit our neurology while silencing us.
I am not naming the shows full of stereotypes but you should read this great post by Chavisory
I do recommend two documentaries about, and by, Autistics: