Portrayal of ASD characters in TV and Film
It’s natural for people to want to see others like them reflected in television and film. For people with ASD, the characters they see onscreen often serve a dual purpose, not just providing representation but also increasing awareness. As these characters increase in number, though, the stereotypes often increase with the awareness. This makes ASD character portrayals a hot button topic, with disagreement even among those in the ASD community about whether or not they’re beneficial.
- One problem often cited is the feeling that these characters serve as stereotypical punchlines. The show “Atypical”, for instance, is sometimes lauded for addressing the difficulties faced by teenagers with ASD, but faces criticism for playing ASD for laughs, and not having people with ASD on the writing staff. Another stereotypical portrayal is Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory”, a scientific genius with Asperger syndrome-like tendencies.
- On the other hand, ASD is often portrayed too optimistically. In the movie “Rain Man”, Dustin Hoffman played a savant who could memorize half the names in the phone book in one reading. Similarly, “The Good Doctor” centers around a surgical resident who struggles with social skills, yet is a brilliant doctor. This perpetuates the idea that people with ASD are super-powered geniuses, when in fact people with ASD range from those with a genius-level IQ to those with intellectual disability.
- Misunderstanding of ASD is often reflected in the creation of these characters. People with ASD tend to be portrayed as socially clueless, interested in geeky things like computer technology, math, or science, with odd ways of speaking or behaving, discomfort in social situations, impeccable ethics, and poor fashion sense. While some of these characteristics are shared by some people with ASD, the truth is that these portrayals do not sufficiently reflect ASD, particularly because people with these disorders are all unique individuals.
- Still, there are some shining examples of realistic portrayals. For his character in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, Leonardo DiCaprio observed teenagers with ASD and other learning disabilities. Filmmaker Janel Grillo, who has a child with ASD, has written, produced, and directed “Fly Away” and “Jack of the Red Hearts”, which have won acclaim for their authenticity. Claire Danes, too, played real-life Doctor Temple Grandin authentically and accurately, bringing awareness to the achievements of this accomplished scientist and respected ASD advocate.
- There are some benefits to the portrayals of people with ASD onscreen. They raise awareness and empathy, normalize neurodiversity, create conversations that promote understanding, and provide new opportunities for people with ASD.
If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.
Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? It’s confusing, in part because it’s actually not a single disorder, but rather a group of closely related disorders. While the symptoms and severity of autism varies across individuals on the spectrum, people with ASD generally have trouble with social interaction, communication, empathy, and flexible behavior. It’s important to remember, though, especially if you have a child who has been diagnosed with ASD, that people with ASD are unique individuals. What’s important is not the terminology, but the particular needs of the person with ASD.
The confusion surrounding ASD has a lot to do with the name. Until 2013, there were five different categories of autism spectrum disorders, and because many people were diagnosed with or educated about ASD before 2013, these old names persist. For the sake of clarity, though, these disorders are now included in the umbrella term “Autism Spectrum Disorder” or ASD. Before 2013, the three most common forms of autism spectrum disorders were Autistic Disorder or autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Autistic disorder was the most severe of the three, Asperger’s Syndrome was sometimes called “high-functioning autism,” and PDD-NOS was called atypical autism.
To be more concise, ASD is a complex, lifelong developmental disorder that occurs in one out of every 54 people. It appears in childhood, and children with ASD have brains that develop differently than neurotypical children. Because of this they often have difficulty understanding and interacting with the world around them. There’s no known cause for ASD and there is no cure, but with early diagnosis, a person can receive the right support and treatment services to allow for a high-quality life, full of opportunity. Once diagnosed, a child can receive treatment and therapy that will help with speech, social interaction, and learning.
Behaviors typically exhibited by children with ASD include:
- Body language, gestures, and facial expressions that are unusual or inappropriate
- A lack of interest in others, or in sharing interests or achievements
- Disinterest in pursuing social interaction, difficulty making friends
- Difficulty understanding the feelings, reactions, and nonverbal cues of others.
- Resistance to being touched
- Difficulty with speech and understanding words
- Inability to pick up on humor, taking things too literally
- Speech delay, atypical tone of voice, repetition
- Inflexibility and resistance to change
- Repetitive body movements, continuous movement
- Irrational attachment to unusual objects like light switches or rubber bands
- Preoccupation with a narrow topic of interest
- Clumsiness or odd ways of moving
- Sensory issues that involve being oversensitive or under-sensitive to input
Children with a few symptoms of ASD don’t necessarily have ASD, but if your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.
- ABA Therapy
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- high functioning autism
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Applied Behavioral Analysis
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- Symptoms of Autism
- ASD behavior
- pool safety
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- educational rights
- positive reinforcement
- Psychological Assessment Services
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- self-injurious behaviors
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