Just Like Me: Media Edition
Updated: Jul 3
The media - theater, movies, and TV that put the spotlight on people who are on the autism spectrum - by Melissa Lushington, "Don't Cut Corners...Unless It's Cake" - Blog 7
In 2016, I wrote a 15-page essay about the misrepresentation of theatrical roles for African American community. It was about how due to the servitude/negative stereotypical roles played by people of color, it belittles the African American community wherein they are unable to see themselves represented positively on stage, and therefore rarely attend live Broadway theater. The overall message that I wanted people to take away, is that there needs to be more positive representation for the Black community so that people of color can see themselves represented in a positive light and feel more inspired to attend live Broadway shows more often. Well, just like how people in the Black community need positive representation in the media and the arts, people in the autism community need positive representation in the media as well. Thankfully, history has many credits that validate that and more.
For starters, we have the current trailblazer Dr. Shaun Murphy from the TV Series the Good Doctor, which is a tv series about medical drama, comedy, and mysteries. Dr. Shaun Murphy is a teenager on the autism spectrum with savant syndrome and works as a medical surgeon. This represents the autism community in a positive light because according to a website called autismcitizen.org, one of the symptoms for autism is having exceptionally high skills in some areas and low skills in others. Dr. Shaun Murphy has exceptionally high skills in the medical field which he uses to saves lives but has very low skills when it comes to personally connecting with people around him. Another example would be Sheldon Cooper from the hit TV Series the Big Bang Theory. The Big Bang Theory is about four guys who live in an apartment and three of them have careers in the science field. The most important character of the cast that developed the most growth in the series is none other than Dr. Sheldon Cooper. Dr. Sheldon Cooper is a positive representation of the autism community because like Dr. Shaun Murphy, Dr. Sheldon Cooper is highly advanced in his professional field of science but lacked poorly in people skills. This improved overtime as he learned how to be a better person, friend, and romantic partner to his friends and significant other. Another example would be the character Sam from the TV Series Atypical. Sam is a nineteen-year-old boy attending school, and he is also on the autism spectrum. According to autismcitizen.org, one of the symptoms for autism is having obsessions with objects, ideas, and desires. Sam is obsessed with the South Pole, Antarctica and is also obsessed with penguins. Earlier this year, a website known as researchautism.org released a blog post on January 6, 2020, about a new animated short film set to be released on Disney + called Loop, which is a story about two kids name Renee and Marcus at a canoe camp who are adrift on a lake and they are unable to move forward until they find a way to connect with the world through each other’s eyes. This film is said to break new grounds because this is the first non-verbal autistic character written and featured by Pixar. It is also groundbreaking because Renee is an autistic individual who is nonverbal and an African American female, which is a big deal because as stated by Blog Post Writer Corinne Gambacurta, “…most characters with autism portrayed in the media are white, male, and verbal.”
In conclusion, as an African American female with low-key autism, I feel represented strongly by the lead character Renee of the movie Loop. Other individuals deserve to feel that way too, regardless of gender, race, verbal, nonverbal, or level on the autism spectrum. All the characters that I have mentioned above are examples of positive representation of autism because they accurately represent not only the symptoms of being on the spectrum, but also the struggles of what it is like on the spectrum. A common theme that these characters have, is the struggle of being able to connect and communicate with people. The ways they show this struggle is by having poor verbal communication skills or by having no communication at all and would just express how they feel through nonverbal body movements. If you are someone on the spectrum, then you are likely able to relate to someone like Dr. Sheldon Cooper, Dr. Shaun Murphy, or Renee, and you would have a better appreciation for the tv shows and movies because of it. What needs to be understood more in the media is that tv is more than just a source of entertainment, TV is a source of reflection about the real world, and what people deal with in the real world. The reason why tv shows and movies from the 90s and early 2000s are such treasury gems, is because they were shows and movies that did more than just entertain kids, they gave accurate reflections about the issues going on in the real world that people would not enjoy as kids, but also appreciate more as adults. If we have more TV characters like the ones mentioned above, people of the autism community will not only feel represented and understood, they will feel highly inspired by these characters because if someone like Dr. Shaun Murphy can have autism and become a medical surgeon, then anyone on the spectrum can be anything they choose to be regardless of the challenges that autism brings them. I am a 24-year old female with autism, who is a blogger/writer for Verge of Independence Project, where I write monthly blogs for you to read, like, comment, and get something positive out of it. I hope that I inspire you to believe in yourself, and believe that just because you are autistic, does not mean that you are limited. The sky is the limit if you are willing to let it be that way. In a world where people still watch television, and are more often binge-watching on their tablets and laptops, the media needs to portray for the autistic community that same message as well by having relatable characters be the mirror to represent and reflect autism in a positive light.