How television is finally waking up to its autism problem

All too typical: Atypical, on Netflix
All too typical: Atypical, on Netflix Credit: Netflix

T三级成人视频his is a familiar story: as a teenager, instead of being diagnosed as autistic, I was told I was “quirky."

When I was finally diagnosed at 21 years old, the world tuned into the same wavelength. A drama about a family adjusting to a child’s autism diagnosis, The A Word, debuted on BBC One. Pablo, a children's series about an autistic boy who draws imaginary friends with magic crayons to help him navigate everyday life, aired on Cbeebies. Sesame Street introduced an autistic muppet. And Atypical, a Netflix original series described by Netflix as “a coming of age story that follows Sam, a 19-year-old on the autism spectrum as he searches for love and independence” launched all eight episodes of its first season in August 2017.

‘Atypical’ means not representative of a type, and while Atypical’s creator Robia Rashid said “the theme is no one’s normal” in a , it felt typical. In the show’s opening minutes, Sam lists his traits before the camera reveals his therapist sitting in the opposite chair, who cheerfully asks if he would donate his brain to medical science. He struggles with social skills, talks at length about his obsessions, has never had a girlfriend and can be blunt to the point of rudeness. And he’s a man, of course.

, more men are diagnosed than women. Anecdotal evidence suggests women are often diagnosed later because they learn to camouflage, leading to mental health problems like anxiety and depression.

三级成人视频After being dismissed as different, I learned to “mask”, a term used by the autism community that refers to covering up difficulties, often due to social pressures. I couldn’t understand why I felt so different from my peers no matter how hard I tried to fit in. I ticked a box on a form saying I struggled to understand facial expressions when I finally sought help and someone referred me for an assessment. I stayed up at night, hopping from webpage to webpage, checking out books from the library. I read the same story: male maths genius. Finally getting a diagnosis was a relief, but in what was supposed to be a groundbreaking cultural moment, I was still struggling to see where I fit in.

As media about autism was gathering momentum, so was the movement of autistic people criticising stories about their lives. The hashtag #actuallyatypical emerged on Twitter, highlighting the divide between the real life experiences of the autistic audience and Atypical’s portrayal of autistic characters, which people tweeting under the hashtag felt lacked nuance and understanding. “” tweeted Sara Luterman, a writer on disability. “” tweeted young adult fiction writer Kay Kerr.

I asked Campaigns Officer at the National Autistic Society, George Stanbury, why similar portrayals of autistic characters are recycled by media portrayals.“You look at fairly big moments on TV around autism,” he said. “I’m thinking about Rain Man in particular, which at the time was seen as really groundbreaking.

“But we know that it’s a stereotype that’s quite lazy and actually modelled on someone who wasn’t even autistic. I think people see the celebration of those kinds of moments and want to emulate them without really engaging with whether that representation is authentic.

三级成人视频“It’s difficult when you don’t necessarily have that understanding of how times have changed or how autistic people want to be consulted or represented. If you don’t have that kind of inkling, it’s really easy to go off of something that was previously celebrated without engaging with whether it's still relevant today” he added. 

A三级成人视频s part of his role, Stanbury provides script consultancy to help make stories about autism as authentic as possible. He is also autistic himself. He said calls to the charity’s helpline increase when autism is given a big profile on television, and although historically autism has been considered “a man thing”, as greater knowledge filters through, the diversity of the autism spectrum will start to be reflected in culture. “Because of the way that autism can define a person’s experience and their identity, it’s only right that a person feels like that identity is reflected properly on screen” he said.

A三级成人视频utistic characters are improving and becoming more rounded, which provides balance to more stereotypical portrayals such as Shaun Murphy from 2017 drama The Good Doctor – yet another autistic character with “savant syndrome.”

Each episode of Cbeebies’ Pablo, for instance, is written by autistic writers and voiced by autistic people, featuring characters such as Llama who repeats words (echolalia) and Wren, who flaps and is very sensitive to emotions. Sumita Majumdar, a writer on Pablo who voices Wren, said: “All of the writers on the show are quite different as people, with different experiences of how being autistic affects us. We relate to autism in such different ways, yet still there’s so much we can relate to in each others’ scripts – that’s really exciting to me.”

T三级成人视频eenagers can also look up to Lizzy Clark, who has Asperger syndrome and starred in BBC One's 2008 adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson's Dustbin Baby as a character with Asperger's, as well as Talia Grant, who plays Brooke Hathaway in Hollyoaks and is the first autistic actor and black autistic woman to play an autistic character in the UK soap. As young people watch after school and college, Brooke’s character – who is written into several storylines – shows that autistic people can face the same challenges in everyday life as those without autism, rather than centering the narrative solely on what makes them “different” to their non-autistic peers.

I三级成人视频n a recent teenage pregnancy arc, for example, watching Brook face a barrage of questions during a checkup and becoming overwhelmed may be the catalyst for autistic people, potentially undiagnosed, to recognise their own reactions – and more likely to be taken seriously by professionals as understanding increases. 

 

Atypical is also becoming less repetitive. The professional consultant for its first season was Michelle Dean, an assistant professor at the UCLA Centre for Autism Research and Treatment. In season two, Atypical hired autistic writer David Finch as a consultant and introduced  from diverse backgrounds as Sam’s high-school peer support group “for as much involvement from the autism community as possible,” the creator said in a featurette. It’s a step in the right direction.

A major theme in Atypical is gaining independence, and in the most recent series (released in November), Sam and his friends transition from high school to college. The show has softened some of its gimmicks, although this can feel cursory as it allows the autistic characters little screen time to develop. Atypical has one foot in its college dorm, and we can only hope it continues to learn.

三级成人视频When television sells similar narratives, it can contribute to autistic people being overlooked. With more autistic people working to create media about autism or creating autistic characters, perceptions can change. What’s more, autistic people can be taken seriously by professionals, access support and, as many people feel socially isolated, finally recognise themselves.