How Should the Media Depict Autism?

April 2nd was “World Autism Awareness Day.” This prompted Salon to ask:

What would a good representation of autism in the media look like?When you talk to people who are neurodiverse, one problem they consistently identify is that even well-developed characters who seem to be on the spectrum are frequently “coded” — that is, they are given personality traits associated with autism but are never directly identified as being autistic.

“I have yet to seen a portrayal in the media that feels genuine,” Becca Hector, an autism and neurodiversity consultant and mentor in Colorado, told Salon via Facebook. After noting the prevalence of autistic stereotyping in media, and particularly the entertainment industry, she added that “the closest they ever got, in my opinion, is Temperance Bones from the TV show ‘Bones.’” Hector praised how the character “acted” autistic and the people around her responded with a mixture of laughter and exasperation, which struck her as realistic. At the same time, Bones was “absolutely coded.”

Jen Elcheson, a 39-year-old autistic paraeducator and published author living in western Canada, agreed with Hector about Bones in the Facebook conversation. “Honestly, I find autistic coded characters easier to relate to in entertainment than the ones they purposely make autistic,” she observed. “Because when they do it deliberately, it’s usually characters laden in all the stereotypes.”
Although Elcheson argued the alternative was also bad.

“When characters are coded not only does the greater public miss out on seeing a different depiction of an autistic that isn’t a stereotype, but the autistic community once again experiences erasure.”

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