April Post 11: Autism Portrayals in Media 

Much of the Autism Awareness talk has died down by now. Even the store displays are showing the leftovers from puzzle piece junk, like keychains and stuff.  

I’ve decided to talk about an issue that seems to plague the portrayals of autistic people in the media. The fact is, nobody is listening to anybody else about how people really are. I know for a fact that it plagues all portrayals, but I am focusing on autism here. I have struggled to find a similar portrayal that falls far short – and needs somebody to explain to these people how – and I found it in Japanese Engrish.  

I’m only giving you this link to the site because it is very offensive, not only to English speakers, but it makes the Japanese look like morons, just because they don’t know the ins and outs that native English speakers do. Now, it’s kind of like this Japanese Engrish unlearnedness that plagues portrayals of autism in the media. Many of us autistic people find most portrayals offensive. So far, the best portrayal I can find is Billy Cranston in the new Power Rangers movie. Otherwise, even little Julia from Sesame Street has some traits that offend autistic people. This comes from people not listening to those of us with autism. 

Now, tell me: would you rather have a portrayal of autism that is accurate and tasteful, or an autism portrayal that is like Japanese Engrish?

April Post 8: Meet Julia 

This is a reaction post: I must admit I haven’t seen Sesame Street in a long time.  

10:32 – Julia is not taking greeting very well. She seems to be rubbing Big Bird a little wrong.

10:33 – They’re explaining Julia’s autism to Big Bird in very simple terms.

“Play, play, play!” Is her first real line. She’s very sweet.

10:35 – Uh-oh – sirens. She’s holding her ears. A little insight: it’s apparent to Julia that sirens are much louder to her. It’s common for an autistic person to experience things more or less.

10:38 – Big Bird is getting that people are different from each other. Elmo seems to get Julia a little more, as does Abby.

10:40 – They’re singing about differences, and friendship.

10:42 – They’ve changed things a bit. Now they introduce the Letter of the Day with a song. Cool. By the way, its “F” for Friendship.

10:43 – Boy, this is FAST. We’re now in a segment about friendship. I’ve forgotten how quickly the child’s brain processes information – at least with Sesame Street.

10:45 – “Hey, come play with me” is a great song.

10:46 – Now were learning how to take turns with the Two Headed Monster.

10:47 – How Many Cookies Today? 2!

10:48 – Now Elmo and Abby are learning to count to 2.

10:49 – A song about 2!

10:50 – Whew! I have to go FAST.

10:51 – Now we’ve got Smarty the Smartphone. And we’re talking about friends. (I’m sensing a theme here.)  Now they’re playing Tic Tac Toe.

10:54 – A man and dog teaching how to play with a friend.

10:55 – Elmo is doing the Happy Dance Dance. 🙂

10:56 – Big Bird and Julia are now good friends. Goodbye NOW?! (That’s OK. It only lasts for a half hour.)

10:58 – Roll Credits – with a song!

I’m happy Julia has made the jump to TV Sesame Street. If Julia or some type of autistic child had been around Sesame Street as a kid, maybe I would have been more accepted instead of teased for being a crybaby. (To be honest, I’m getting jealous of autistic kids today. They’re having opportunities for love and acceptance I never did.)  

I guess you have to start the acceptance and friendship with different people REALLY young. Hopefully, they’ll get the message one day.

I haven’t got the skills to detect if Julia is stereotypical or just right at the moment; I’ll make a more informed decision soon.

So Julia is Making the Leap to TV Sesame Street…. 

….but not until next month. Perhaps us autistic adults can give some insights and gentle correction to upcoming mistakes I’m sure Sesame Street will make with Julia.

If you don’t know, Julia is an autistic Muppet being introduced to Sesame Street. So far, that is her major trait. Hopefully, her autism will not separate her too much from the other characters. It seems to look promising, since they are reportedly welcoming her into the fold. I’m a little concerned, though, on how Julia will be portrayed. Will her autism be her defining trait, as it often is of many shows’ neurotypical writing? Will she be looked on as less in neurotypical eyes?

The best-case scenario is as regular people who are just a little different. Let her participate in adventures. Let her experience life in groups. Give her some interests. Have her appear often and  Flesh out her character. Autism is not the only thing unique about Julia, if you do it right.

There are many well-intentioned disabled or neurodivergent characters who fall flat, and even a few in unexpected places who would actually do well in reality. Of course, I think the key to a good portrayal in neurodiversity or disability (which are often treated the same by a conformist society) is a good dose of reality, inclusion and fleshing out. So many autistic characters are stymied by stereotypes that it really is tragic that one must fit this stereotype to even get an autism diagnosis. I prefer that Julia be a recurring character, at least, so she could have some time to flesh out. Good characters get time to flesh out over a series, but most characters with differing traits rarely get anything beyond their introduction and defining trait. Hopefully, we can see a development over time.

What I am trying to say is, please, don’t make Julia a one-shot. Make her a realistic child. Listen to us autistic adults. We can give you some insight.

Can We Talk, Chicago Med? 

I’m loving this inclusion and casting of Dr. Latham. However, a colleague in autism brought up a very good point in the storytelling. There is a troubling thing about the narrative, which I think ought to be reconsidered as well as my colleague: the cure narrative. While the cure narrative is the most common in the autism media universe, it is not one which most autistic adults refer to in living. There is a lot of trouble in pushing the cure narrative.

As for one, autism, as it stands today, cannot be cured. There is no cure known for autism. As for Dr. Latham’s radical treatments, they are fine to some extent. But why not show some of the side effects? I like that the treatment Dr. Latham is receiving is shown as temporary or needing to continue. I think we need to continue with that aspect.

2- I think I need to stop for a second and express a point here. There is also a big, foul prejudice reeking in the narrative that we need to address: ableism. Ableism, by definition, is adding stigma to a perceived lack of ability. As I have defined before, adding stigma to the perceived lack of communication is wrong. Even the language, “lack of” being the focus here, adds stigma to autism and other disabilities. It’s as if you have to experience things exactly as the neurotype in power, and all others is wrong and a tragedy. Autism is not a tragedy! The trouble is, there are scared, desperate autism parents looking at this show, hoping to find some answer to “fix” their “broken” child. They turn to risky, strange and even abusive treatments to do this “fixing.” And when those treatments do not work, the child might be permanently scarred, or even killed in some cases. Also, there are broken relationships, running away and suicide to consider. Is it any wonder very few autistic people talk to their families of origin unless forced to? What is there except autism acceptance?

I’ve got a question: Why not consult real autistic adults on their struggles and triumphs? Have you even considered that autistic adults are real people, with real opinions, real knowledge and real experience? Or are we still complete morons in your eyes? So, what about it, Chicago Med? Is Dr. Latham a moron? That is what you say if you do not consider a viewpoint from real life autistic adults.