Important Lessons about Asperger’s/Autism Portrayals


I recently wrote a post about television and movie portrayals of Asperger’s Syndrome. I critiqued the portrayal of Dr. Virginia Dixon on the ABC medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy.” I felt this character was only a stereotypical representation of classic Autism that was merely based on a list of symptoms. I replied to a comment which indicated some characteristics and qualities that I would really like to see in portrayals of Asperger’s Syndrome. I do realize that Asperger’s and Autism are difficult disorders to portray. This is mainly because no two people are the same. One person may exhibit all or several of the common characteristics, while another may only exhibit one or two. I must admit that it is difficult to come up with an answer to such an open-ended question. The Autism Spectrum in and of itself is very diverse, so some may not agree with what I am about to say. Here, I provided two things that I really want to see in portrayals of Asperger’s that many Hollywood writers fail to even acknowledge.

1.) There is a difference between short term goals and ultimate goals! 

My cousin Heath does a Podcast called “The Artrepreneur Now.” As its name suggests, it is about entrepreneurs who are either working towards or already achieved their goal of quitting their day job and living their lives through their creative passions. Most of them know that the dream life (currently) is just a dream. So, they have no choice but to find a day job. Sometimes, it’s as non prestigious as bagging groceries at the local supermarket. Other times, it’s a boring, repetitive job in a corporate office or working in construction, manufacturing or engineering. Whatever it is, it gives them enough money to pay the bills and keep food on the table. The real world is always less appealing than fantasy! Short term goals are used to realistically plan for all the necessities of life. These include paying bills, taxes, mortgage, rent and general time management. I am not going to deny that most people don’t like to have to think about bills and such. However, failure to do all of them can result in some very unappealing consequences (including eviction, homelessness or even incarceration.)

Ultimate goals, however, are the desired result from working to create the life you have truly dreamed of creating. When you have achieved that goal, you know that you have truly achieved that life you have truly dreamed of living. There is nothing wrong with raising the standards and dreaming. Of course, that means people will think you are crazy and even try to discourage you. They are self-proclaimed “experts” about you and the life you want to live. It’s always important not to take their discouraging words to heart. Don’t dream too much, because it is still important to know the necessities of creating that life so you don’t live up to their negativity. This is where it becomes necessary to get in touch with people who are successful in pursuing their passion. Ask them as many questions as you can and take their advice!

2.) Unique and hero are two completely different words!

Unique: having no like or equal; unparalleled; incomparable 

Hero: a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal. 

I get really fed up when I see an Autistic character who is esteemed as a “hero” simply because he is “unique” in a certain way. We’ve all seen those movies and television shows. The writers for Grey’s Anatomy seemed to have portrayed Dr. Dixon as a self-described hero simply because she puts “faith” in science, as opposed to beliefs. No surgeon would ever make it through medical school with such disregard for the importance of tact in delicate situations. I am particularly referring to disrespect for her patients religious and spiritual views, along with the inability to recognize when people need time to grieve a loss. I look at my abilities and weaknesses and I realize one thing. I cannot consider myself a hero simply because I am unique. People will think of me as a jerk with a tremendous ego if I go around and expect others to hold me to high esteems for such a ridiculous reason.

If you had to battle Godzilla, how would you use your creativity/talents to defeat him?

This is a closing question that Heath asks guests on “The Artrepreneur Now.” Some people might consider this question ridiculous. (From a realistic standpoint, Godzilla movies are pretty ridiculous.) However, I think any answer to this question might prove one thing about uniqueness. It can be considered heroic if you are able to use your talent to better yourselves and the world around you. Unique people understand how it feels to be “defeated by Godzilla.” However, they know that they must learn from their mistakes and use them as an opportunity to improve. Otherwise, Godzilla might just “eat you alive!”

I did my best to come up with a list of two things that are essential to remember for anyone who is writing a portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome. As I stated earlier, the Autism Spectrum is very diverse. I may not exhibit all of the traits that someone else may greatly struggle with. Regardless of the labels thrown by neurotypical people, I hope you consider these two essential tips helpful.

If you feel like anything else should be added, please feel free to comment!

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