I have been trying to find realistic portrayals of autistic women on television and in movies. Trouble is, I can’t seem to find them. This troubles me. All of the portrayals I have come across have been, to a certain extent, somewhat stereotyped and basically somewhat some neurotypical’s experience of what “autism” is supposed to look like. It’s as if they are putting on the Autism Costume, a stereotypical portrayal of what somebody else thinks autism looks like.
How do I explain the Autism Costume? Well, basically, the Autism Costume was initially set by Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of autistic individual in “Rain Man.” Ever since, the Autism Costume has been, more or less, dominated by this portrayal. There’s hand-flapping. There’s no eye contact. There’s repetitive behavior. There’s fixations, and they’re always portrayed as near-psychotic. There’s bad fashion, dominated by comfort and sameness. Plus, there’s meltdowns. There’s always meltdowns. And the meltdowns are usually violent or injurious.
Let’s see how I myself fit into this Autism Costume. Hand-flapping? Nope, I don’t do that. Lack of eye contact? Well, I can look into people’s eyes just fine. I taught myself. Fixations? I call them special interests, and can talk about more than just them. And I have no indications toward psychosis. Repetitive behavior? I do have some repetitive things, like generally the same breakfast, but I can vary my routing when I want or need to. Comfort and sameness-dominated fashion? Nah. I have a larger amount of wardrobe colors than my mother! Meltdowns? Well, I had a minor meltdown during the Charlottesville tragedy, but before that, my last meltdown and shutdown was in 2006. Violent meltdowns? Nope.
So, as you can see, the Autism Costume can be a very inaccurate thing. I mean, I have a fear that I am “not autistic enough” to be believed, because I do not fit into the Autism Costume. As a matter of fact, our local autistic group has just about nobody who fits into the Autism Costume.
What can we do to destroy the Autism Costume? First, we can believe people when they tell you they have autism. “But you don’t look autistic” is a common reaction, because the person reporting the diagnosis usually does not fit into the Autism Costume.
Second, we could learn more about autism, from actual autistics. We could get more nuanced portrayals, of we could get more information about autism from people who actually experience it. Again, if you were a bird and needed to learn flying, would you better learn it from an ornithologist or an actual bird? The same thinking can be applied to autistic people. If autistic people were allowed to live and be autistic, maybe we could get some more realistic portrayals of autism in society doing this or that? I’m just saying.
Now, I’m not saying autistic people do not have Costume behaviors. But if the Costume behaviors are all you see, how can you see the people who do not fit the costume?