Written by Georgia Brealey, AES Case Manager & Social Club Facilitator
Autism has slowly found a place on our television screens and is represented in numerous ways depicting just how broad the spectrum really is.
Characters range from a fast paced, chatty and behaviourally challenging young boy Max Braverman on Parenthood, to the incredibly smart and frank Dr. Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory. Who could forget Forrest in Forrest Gump, or Raymond Babbitt in Rainman. Sesame Street has recently joined the party, introducing the character Julia, a young girl with ASD this year.
These characters made us giggle at their inability to read social situations and to understand sarcasm, jokes and metaphors and their extreme interests in random, everyday things, and their obsessive nature.
It paints a very different picture for the audience. What would life be like if we did not possess those filters and just said what we thought, without considering if it were embarrassing, not cool or sometimes hurtful to others?
This is the reality when working and living with individuals with ASD. When seeing these realities on a screen, it is a safe assumption that the characters portrayed are very high functioning individuals. These characters are seen as the socially accepted members of the spectrum, who can live and function independently in society.
Channel 7 has recently premiered a TV show titled The Good Doctor, a show about a young man with High Functioning Autism and Savant Syndrome who moves from his country town to work in a reputable hospital as a surgeon. There is also a new series on Netflix entitled Atypical, and it chronicles a young teenager with ASD and his desire to have a girlfriend. Although these shows again only depict the High Functioning, independent individuals with ASD, they are the main characters.
The creators of these shows invest a lot to ensure their disorder is a major component of the show. Audiences want to see more, to understand more, and this exposure can only increase the audiences understanding in life off screen.
Suddenly, kids can comprehend why that kid at school doesn’t understand why he can’t ask his teacher why she has boobs, or why the kid in the shopping centre can’t understand why you can’t stand that close to people in the checkout line, or why you can’t grab an apple from the display in Woolies and start munching.
Crowds at sporting matches and shopping centres are now more empathetic and understanding to the mother whose child is screaming because he is unable to cope with the noise, lights, crowds or all of the above. Or because he can’t communicate that he has a toothache causing him to hit or punch himself in the head. With understanding spreads compassion and empathy, and this can only make life easier when living and working with kids with Autism.
This is the beginning of an understanding that is filtering through our screens to schools, workplaces and our general community, which can eventually only make it easier for everyone on the spectrum to become independent, functioning members of society.
Now that has to be a good thing, right?