So, I watched an episode of “God Friended Me.” It involved a woman and her autistic son. I believe the portrayal of the autistic son was realistic, albeit there were several stereotypes I have to point out.
Let me say, first of all, that I liked the casting of the family. The actors were black. Personally, I do not see enough diversity in the casting of autistic people, especially since people tend to think we all are white males who look and act like Sheldon Cooper. We’re not clones; Hollywood and Television City tends not to see that for the most part. Personally, I want more diversity in autism portrayals.
So, let’s talk about some stereotypes. The first stereotype I came across was that the child was nonverbal. I know nonverbal autistic types exist. The truth is, most of us are verbal – quite verbal in some cases, but I digress. It’s mostly a stereotype. A second stereotype is that the child has extraordinary talent – a savant trait, if you will. Now, it was not explicitly named, though it was heavily implied. I don’t know how many of us have a real savant trait, but I hear it’s not the majority. Finally, there seemed to be a sort of “magic key” stereotype that also creeps into many portrayals of mental illness as well. Why do they do the “magic key” thing anyway? Most of the time, it does not work.
Maybe I’m being too hard on stereotypes. The actor was not portraying an autistic meltdown, for example, and the child was finding his own way to communicate, which is often a foray into more traditional avenues of communication, such as the child’s smile. Maybe having one or two stereotypical behaviors helps identify the character, as long as there is truth to them; the lack of empathy stereotype is wrong and harmful, though. It may be some time before we get a real, authentic portrayal that offends few.
After saying all this, I still believe “God Friended Me” took steps in the right direction.