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Autistic Character Portrayal in the Media - Autism Awareness - April 2017

With the recent inclusions of characters with Asperger’s/autism in Sesame Street and the 2017 film adaptation of Power Rangers, the awareness of Asperger’s/autism is improving. These following portrayals from past television shows and movies have unique ways, based on and assisted by research, of depicting their characterization.

1) In Arthur’s 2010 episode “When Carl Met George,” George explains to the audience how he met his friend Carl.  At the community center, he sees Carl work on a train puzzle and is impressed by Carl’s detailed knowledge of trains.  The next day, George learns that Carl has Asperger’s Syndrome when he surprises Carl with his ventriloquist puppet which Carl becomes uncomfortable with.  The Brain (another Arthur character) then tells George how his uncle, who has the same condition, explained how having it would feel like via an outer space-themed analogy.  In the show’s segment “A Word from Us Kids,” children like Carl from the real world are featured visiting Lovelane Special Needs Horseback Riding Program and also inside their classroom.  This episode of Arthur can be streamed on Amazon Video.

2) At the beginning of the 2010 television series of Parenthood, Adam and Kristina learn that their son Max has been diagnosed with Asperger’s.  On a side note, the young actor who plays Max has the same diagnosis as his character does.  In the fourth season, Max runs for class president at his middle school. During his speech, he includes his Asperger’s as a way to describe why his characteristics would match ideal qualities for class president.  One of which is tenacity to express his goal of bringing back the school’s vending machines.  Parenthood can be viewed on Netflix.

3) In the 2016 film, Jane Wants a Boyfriend, the title character works in the costume department of the theatre where her very-protective sister Bianca is acting in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Their parents tell Bianca that they’re planning on moving and suggest that Jane could move in with her and her fiancé.  Later in the film, Jack, who is a friend of Bianca, becomes interested in Jane.  However, Bianca doesn’t approve as she fears that he would be undependable. In an additional note, the film’s director includes scenes in which the audience feels like they’re seeing and hearing everyday life as Jane would.  This film can be watched online at Amazon Video.

What brings these mentioned characterizations together is how those characters live their life with settings and situations that the audience would relate to.  Furthermore, the writing utilizes the research associated with Asperger’s/autism to create characters, storylines, and scenes that connect with the audience.  It is those types of depictions that make the awareness for Asperger’s/autism enriched.


By N. Zodrow for Social Motion

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