Recently, I came across some troubling statements regarding one of my favorite actors, Benedict Cumberbatch. He spoke his experiences regarding his time spent at a school for high functioning autistics. He said this:
“I think it’s a really dangerous thing to toy with that,” (Cumberbatch) says while promoting “The Imitation Game” at the Toronto Film Festival. “People talk about me doing that quite a lot and that being a good thing for people who are on the spectrum, which is great. But I don’t go into a job going, ‘Is this autism? Is this Asperger’s? Is this some other form of slight learning difficulty or disability?’ I’m very wary of that, because I’ve met people with those conditions. It’s a real struggle all the time. Then these people pop up in my work and they’re sort of brilliant, and they on some levels almost offer false hope for the people who are going through the reality of it.”
At first, this type of statement brought out gigantic bulls of anger running through my heart. He seemed to know, but stayed ignorant, even insulted, that his characters were to be considered autistic! But, in all fairness, I decided to set my seething rage aside in order to dissect a statement like this, to see how we can further educate Mr. Cumberbatch. You see, he has spent time getting to know people with autism. This will, I am sure, inflame even more people as it inflamed me:
BC: (talking about the Creature’s origin) It’s basically being a man child, it’s being a man infant. And then, psychologically, Danny and Nick Dear, who’s adapted the Mary Shelley novel, into a brilliant 2 ½ hour play version of it, he, they both have autistic sons. So we went to two extraordinary schools and met some high spectrum autistic kids. And it was very, very humbling and amazing and very upsetting, but very, very extraordinary as well, and inspiring. And especially the people looking after them, and these amazing life forces, but just formed with…*sigh* um, socially just things that are outside of everyday. You know, there are certain barriers that aren’t there because of the arrested development that… there was a 17 year old that had the mental age of, I think, an 18 month old. I mean, it was…
BC: It’s…it’s…it’s really really extraordinary and very upsetting. And uh, it was important for them to realize that the Creature in their story was not their… the monster of old… the monster of the gothic horror stories. He’s very much an innocent. He’s very much someone who is carried through life, as someone who is so different, not only because of his appearance, but because of these behaviorial tics, which are very autistic, um, both in his understanding of the world, psychologically and emotionally, but also physically as well, how that manifests later in his body. And so that was the major part of the preparation.
So, what are we supposed to do, besides rage and protest? What is clear to me is that Mr. Cumberbatch is simply repeating what he has heard from an ableist society, without much input from the autistic adults in the world. It kind of sounds as offensive as Denny Crane on the TV Show “Boston Legal” saying that an African American prospect employee doesn’t “sound black.” (I have no idea what that means.) Trouble is, both men are victims of an insidious, continued stereotyping of how a certain trait is supposed to be carried out or communicated.
I guess the whole point is, trying to explain autism from neurotypicals is like trying to get a proper explanation of sex from a virgin. You are not going to get a good answer. I think we need patience to understand that.
Of course, we can also try and get our blogs to him, in order to provide a well-informed definition of autism.