Hollywood Autism: It Is Definitely Wrong

I have noticed that there are many stereotypes associated with autism, and I intend to knock every one of them down every single hour of my life if I have to. I have a list of these stereotypes, along with a response on each one of them.  These stereotypes are often applied to characters who are not canonically autistic (like Sherlock Holmes 2010 and Sheldon Cooper), so they get the diagnosis, too.


Here are several stereotypes: 

Stereotype: Autism is a White Person’s Disease 

Almost every portrayal of autism is marred by the fact that it absolutely HAS to be portrayed by the people in power. As a result, most of them are white. This might lead most people to believe that autism is simply a consequence of something in white civilization. As a matter of fact, the only non-white portrayal of autism I knew of until I did a Wikipedia Search were of Billy Cranston, of the Power Rangers movie, and Isidore Latham of Chicago Med, of a Very Special character arc.  

Stereotype: Autism is Male Only 

This is shown in the disparity of male-to-female portrayals of autism. Of the 67 listed Film Characters listed as autistic, only 12 are female. Most people think that, due to the mostly male portrayals of autism, especially in more popular film and television shows, that autism is more male. As a matter of fact, there are women I have spoken with online who are still awaiting a paper diagnosis simply because they are female!  

Stereotype: Autism is Rain Man 

Now, Rain Man was a groundbreaking movie in its time. It brought awareness to a little-known diagnosis back in 1988. But we have moved beyond Rain Man. Autism diagnoses are being given out at a proper rate. People do not have to meet all the criteria of autism in order to get a diagnosis…or do they? More on that later. 

Stereotype: Autism is Savant Syndrome 

Now, this might be wishful thinking on the part of the parents, who want their children to be something more than the tragedy that people make difference out to be, but most autistic people I know have no savanthood. As a matter of fact, the most recent television portrayal, Freddie Highmore’s The Good Doctor, had to differentiate between autism and savant syndrome, to literally spell it out and drop a house on the viewing audience. This stereotype is common among the non-official portrayals, as seen in the Progenitors Section. 

Stereotype: Autism is a Lack of Empathy 

How many times do I have to tell people this? Just because they express something differently does not mean they have something more or less!!! Autistic people express themselves quite differently from others. It is a hallmark of the condition. Just because we aren’t born with a capacity to “read between the lines” when someone is talking, does not mean we cannot feel what others feel. If you want us to read between the lines, teach us! 

Stereotype: Autistic People are Cold and Uncaring 

Again, another stereotype that relies heavily on the fact that some things must be taught. If a person must be taught to be warm, why not see and teach them? (In the case of Rick Sanchez, I think he drinks because he cares so much for most members of his family.) This stereotype also goes to the parents, and in my own case, I can tell you it is wrong. My mother is one of the warmest people you will ever meet. She taught me how to be warm and expressive.  

Stereotype: Autistic People Can’t Communicate 

This is a folly on the part of most neurotypical people. Just because we communicate differently, does not mean we aren’t communicating. Far from it. The tugging of the autistic person on your shoulder? Communication. The stimming? Communcation they are uncomfortable. The refusal to go into a certain place? Communication. The crying? Communcation. The meltdown? Communcation. We are communicating; YOU ARE NOT LISTENING. 

Stereotype: Autistic People Are Violent 

This goes back to the meltdown that is imminent when a person is overstimulated. This can easily be avoided by simply asking the autistic person, “Are you okay? Do you need to go somewhere?” Or similar questions. They are simply trying to escape.  

Stereotype: Autistic People are Math Geniuses 

The stereotype that does not ring true with me at all. I am NOT a math genius. I need a calculator for the simplest of math problems. This is one I fell victim to my entire life. I thought I was stupid because I was not a human calculator. This also helped me realize that there are stereotypes in media portayals of autism. 

Stereotype: Autistic People Have Marilu Henner Memories 

Of WHAT, exactly? Just because we remember different things about events and people does not mean we remember everything. If I had a Marilu Henner Memory, I would be able to use it! 

Stereotype: Autistic People Have No Sense of Humor 

This is also something that can be taught. Get off your high horses and do it, people! I learned humor through my family, and I can wield it expertly. 

Stereotype: Autistic People Can Melt Down at the Drop of a Hat 

Again, not true. There are usually signs that the person is about to melt down. Are they stimming? Do they look uncomfortable? Have you asked them if they are okay? As a matter of fact, there is this really radical, out-there method of finding out if autistic person is okay. It goes like this: 

YOU: “Are you okay? Do you need help?” 

Most of us are verbal and will answer truthfully.  


Now that I’ve hopefully cleared up some misconceptions about autism, are there any more I need to clear up? Tell me.  


A Question of Stereotypes


A recent interview with Sofia Vergara asked, “What’s wrong with stereotypes?” I’ll tell you what’s wrong with being a stereotype: if you come across someone who does not fit the stereotype, you’re shocked and amazed. A stereotype is a sort of box that people are forced to fit in by society. The trouble is, people rarely think outside the box.

An example from my own life is this: “You don’t look autistic!” I get this all the time. I wonder if it’s due to the extremely limited range of autistic people presented on television. Usually, you have to be white and with penis for people to believe you are autistic. And that’s the trouble. Most of the portrayals and speculated autistic people are younger versions of Rain Man. I mean, I am still reeling from a black man portraying autism on Chicago Med! It’s so rare! And don’t even be a woman if you want to be believed to be autistic! Have you seen an autistic woman on TV that’s NOT Temple Grandin?  I haven’t. Please, tell me where the autistic women are on TV. I can’t see any right now.

On that note, have you seen a lead role on Broadway for a plus size woman that’s NOT Tracey Turnblad? People want to put you in a box. They want to be psychic and see you coming a mile away. They want to predict your behavior by, say, the color of your skin, or your genitals. They want to be prejudiced. It gives them power and control. The box says, for dark skinned people, “You are aggressive and irrational. Your dark skin says so.” But how many times over the centuries has the box been absolutely wrong? Countless times! There are scads of times when people out the worst of themselves and put them on the different. Back to the autistic: You say we are suffering because we are different. We’re actually suffering because the world is not conformed toward us, but toward you, the neurotypical. We’re actually suffering because you want us to. We’re suffering because we can’t fit into your box. We’re suffering because of your stereotypes.

What Does Autism Look Like Anyway? 

When I reveal that I am autistic, or my mother does, we often get this response: “But you don’t look autistic!” Yes, I do. I got my formal diagnosis from the UCLA Medical Center as a child. Do you think I would lie to you? Why don’t you believe me? What does autism look like to you?

According to popular media, autism is usually depicted by a white cisgender male, and usually a child. They are often portrayed as some sort of savant as well. That is an extremely narrow and stereotypical view of autism, and it is not helpful when you reveal it to people to spread understanding among them.

Is it because I am a woman? I can assure you, autistic women exist. They often go into adulthood without their formal diagnosis, often waiting until their fifties to get this diagnosis, often when researching their own children’s or grandchildren’s diagnosis. Just because we are a smaller group does not mean we are nonexistent. That is just ridiculous to think.

Is it because I am an adult? Usually autism is given a child’s face. Also, that person is in meltdown or other extreme distress. We are not always having meltdowns. Meltdowns are usually caused by a trigger. It could be a sight, sound, smell, taste or touch. If you need something to compare the trigger to, look not further than an addiction. Or PTSD. Or various other dynamics which involve avoiding triggers to stay sane.

(The following does not apply to me, but this is often a reason people do not “look autistic.”)

Is it because of my race? There may be more formal diagnosis among white people, but there is also an existence around every known society. I recently saw an episode of Chicago Med with an autistic doctor played by somebody who was black. (Yes, I do say “black.” It’s perfectly OK to see what race a person is. What is not OK is to assign a lesser or greater value to that race.) I applaud Chicago Med for that casting choice. It gives a sort of face to an entire race of autistic people not represented in media. Not to mention that most races are given say, one token representation, and it certainly is usually not with neurodiversity. You usually have to be white for that.

Is it because of my gender identity? Is it my sexual orientation? I could go on and on about how a narrow stereotype locks many people out of perceptions of autism, or various other conditions for that matter.

(Back to what applies to me again…)

Open your minds, people. Autism is not equipped with a specific physical “look” or “act” to be obvious. A specific facial expression or profile does not exist in the autistic spectrum.

When one specific trait, such as autism, is used to describe a group of people, try not to be surprised when the traits not used to describe them vary widely. It would have to call on other traits to be mentioned in common to get a grasp of the people you are describing. Don’t put people into boxes. They don’t fit.


Boxed Up

Now, for some strange reason, I get troubled by shows with fat women. Why is it, when a woman in particular is cast who has a little weight, that weight is her defining characteristic? What about her interests, her favorite teams or hobbies? Do they think fat people have no hobbies? That’s insane. I will give TV shows more credit in the 2016 viewing season. Katy Mixon and Chrissy Metz-two plus size women on TV, with more to name, I’m sure. Although I consider it a baby step, it’s a step in the right direction. It also looks like the viewing public likes women we, the American Public, can relate to. This does not trouble me. What troubles me, in fact, is the fact that weight is a major issue for their characters. I mean, not only is it a major issue, it seems to be the box that the person is put in has little room to move, or even breathe, except for the way the box defines.

I have always had trouble fitting into the boxes society has had for me. Short, white, autistic, fat…it seems that no matter what box you go in, there is only one way to fit inside the box. Most of the time, though, I cannot fit inside it. Take autistic, for example. For some reason, the box of autism’s rules are like this:

-No talking

-No popular special interests

-No relatability

-No girls (Yes, some girls miss out on their paper diagnosis due to the fact they are girls)

-No individuality

Do you see the problem here? According to most people, I stopped being “autistic” according to the box’s rules at various points in my life, maybe even at conception. That is not fair! That is not fair to talking autistics. That is not fair to autistics who like popular things, like Pokemon and NKOTB. It is not fair to autistics who can relate to non-autistics. It is definitely not fair to autistic girls. It is definitely not fair to autistic people, because they are very individual. I have not met one autistic who was too much like another autistic, or too much like anyone else.

This particular box-placing and box-busting can be applied to any particular “box” or “label” that people are put in. There are black people accused of not being “black enough” for various reasons. The various sexualities abounding have their own stereotypes and breakable “rules” that they must contend with. I don’t like boxes. Stop putting me in them.


Where Were You? Hurricane Katrina Edition

On this day in 2005, hurricane Katrina made landfall as a Category 3 storm, breaking levees, flooding neighborhoods, and killing 1,833 people. Let that sink into your head a bit. Do you remember where you were ten years ago? I do.

I was in California, watching all of this on T.V. as it happened. I was at home from my job, so it was a Monday or Tuesday. I watched and prayed for the entire city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in general. I knew hurricanes were an annual thing which peaked at about this time, but what I learned was that the city of New Orleans was willfully unprepared for the tragedy it was facing as time wore on. There were rumors of violence in the Superdome, which were later disproved. People chanted and screamed for help. When help did finally arrive, it was almost always overwhelmed. Families were shoving and throwing their children on buses to nearby Houston and other places. I was literally numb with pain for all of those people, and due to the largely black makeup of New Orleans’ lower classes, I always wonder: if this were an earthquake in Beverly Hills, a mostly white and rich area, would the response be more effective because it was a mostly white and rich area?

We almost lost our respect for authority in those times. One rapper even said, “George Bush don’t care about black people,” which is literally untrue and the lowest point in the administration. I don’t think the problems with the Katrina disaster could have been solved through George W. alone, just like Hurricane Sandy’s problems could not be solved through Obama alone. In a disaster, it is usually a

Ten years later, I have decided to write about Katrina because I am seeing the uneven recovery that New Orleans is experiencing. Much of the Lower 9th Ward, a lower-class neighborhood, lies in ruins, while the French Quarter is better than ever. It makes me wonder if we still treat the poor like trash, when this should not be. New Orleans is rebuilding, but can it survive another Katrina? Will the government make these things sure? It shudders me to think that maybe this might not happen in time. I care a lot about the poor and disadvantaged, because they are getting frustrated again, and might turn to feared and hated ideologies in order to meet their needs. This happened in Russia; it can happen here.


Hold Your Comments, Save Your Heart

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”                   -James 3:6

I recently got a sermon on James 3…the famous “tongue” chapter in the Bible.  We got a good smattering of “the tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” You can go read it yourself in any Bible. This got me with the usual yes, don’t gossip and keep your tongue in check. But God gave me another insight: Any comments section on the internet is made up of nothing but people’s tongues, wagging and insulting in all their fury. Have you noticed how unnecessarily negative any comments section is? How quickly it turns to something like drugs or destruction? Often in the first three comments, and sometimes even in the first comment, people turn to negative or ugly things. The best example of this would have to be Facebook, because Facebook almost feels like Hatebook sometimes. Maybe I’m just ranting and letting my own tongue loose, but even I have had to delete and regret a few comments myself. Just so you know, it’s not that I don’t want comments and critiques, it’s that I want your comments that disagree with me to be done kindly, and factually. I appreciate comments…just make sure you are doing them kindly. It helps get your message across much more effectively.

I came to this conclusion of writing my thoughts out on comments because I wanted to share my insights with all of you-whoever you are. We have enough tongue wagging and barb-flinging in this world. I have severely limited my time reading comments because of this. I have often not read them altogether-to save my sanity. I mean, what’s the point of putting death threats to somebody online? It only reveals that you have evil in your heart you need to get rid of. We’ll expand on this more later.


The Myths Persist

“But you don’t look/act/seem autistic!” I still get this a lot. I have learned to laugh at it, but there seems to be a misconception that I have overcome autism, or that I am less in control of my specific decisions than I really am. These are myths, and the myths persist. Like cockroaches, these false conceptions about autism and autistics continue to give me a headache. They also continue to make a neurotypical person (if you have to ask, you are one) think I am not autistic. I got my diagnosis from the University of California, Los Angeles, where they are serious about autism diagnosis and treatment. I would like to expose the myths that persist about autistic people and my experience with them. How many of these have you fallen for?

Myth 1.  Autistic People Are All Alike / Autistic People Are All Like “Rain Man” or (Insert person here)

Saying that autistic people are all like this one person or that one person (NO) is just as false and damaging as saying Hispanic people are all illegal immigrants (NO), or that all men are dogs (NO). People often expect “Rain Man” or Temple Grandin when I mention autism. We are all as different as we can be.

Myth 2.  Autistic People Don’t Have Feelings

Personally, I have often run out of the room to cry out of anger, sadness or frustration. I have even experienced happiness too intensely at times. Remember, we are processing things different from the neurotypical mind. For example, I do not watch “Real Housewives of…” because it makes me want to hit somebody out of stress or anger. Also, on empathy: I have often cried or felt sad when someone frowns or cries on the TV or movie screen. How much more empathic can I be?

  1. Autistic People Don’t Build Relationships

I struggle with this one all the time. I am currently looking for a man to love. I have, in the past, though, had my share of boyfriends, and been praised as a good girlfriend.

  1. Autistic People Are a Danger to Society

Here are the most common reasons somebody with autism may strike somebody:

  1. Frustration – usually after another sign, such as crying or shrieking
  2. Sensory Overload – This is “fight or flight” response
  3. Stress – Like the above “Real Housewives” scenario I mentioned

There is very little action out of malice. However, autistic people are often victims of hate violence.

  1. All Autistic People Are Savants

I lost much of my “savanthood” as I became more social, and my speech became more neurotypical, and I became more well-rounded. I used to be a spelling savant, by the way. Does this make me less autistic? Of course not.

  1. Autistic People Have No Language Skills

There are some autistic people who talk so much, you can’t get a word in edgewise. While it is true some of us remain nonverbal, most of us eventually learn language, but often at a later age than neurotypicals.

  1. Autistic People Can’t Do Much of Anything

This one just burns my biscuits. What if you could draw upon their special interest? I have seen innovative, creative works come out of autistic people since the diagnosis. This is probably where the savanthood myth comes from. Also, saying “My child would never…” is severely disappointing to the child themselves. Also, I held a job down at In-N-Out Burger for SIX YEARS. Not months, YEARS. I was a respected worker among the people there, too.

  1. Autistic People Do Not Like To Be Touched

This is one that is usually portrayed in media. Maybe the one who does not like to be touched have a sensory issue. Sensory issues can go the other way, to liking touch a little too much. I love being touched. It has gotten me into trouble in the past. Contact me privately if you want details.

  1. 9. There is an Autism Epidemic

When you cast a wider net for fish, you catch more fish. The “epidemic” began at about the same time the criteria for autism spectrum disorders was widened to include atypical and female autistics, plus higher people on the spectrum.

Why don’t you tell me more myths that seem to pervade your experience with neurotypicals? Or, if you’re neurotypical, ask me if something about autism is myth or fact? We can come to a greater understanding together.