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asd and the media


“to the TV-watching public, autism has come to mean the verbal, higher-skilled, savant end of the spectrum, because individuals at that end make for interesting characters.”

the savant

Public awareness and understanding of ASD experienced a noticeable shift in the late 1980s due to the film Rain Man (dir. Barry Levinson)— a road-trip movie about a car dealer and his autistic older brother. The movie explores the relationship between the two brothers and how it is affected by Raymond’s disorder. This type of representation of ASD had never been seen on the big screen before and, because of its release, public awareness of autism was greatly improved.  Some parents who saw the movie were better able to understand similar behaviors in their children. However, the movie failed to represent the idea of a spectrum that we now associate with ASD and so the growing awareness was also greatly limited by this narrow definition. It became the assumption that someone with autism must be a “savant” like Raymond. In reality, autism is highly individualized, and this was (and often still is) poorly represented. But as the medical community’s understanding of ASD improved, more complex portrayals started to appear in the media which in turn, furthered public understanding.  Lately, there have been an increase in characters with ASD in popular media that better represent the full spectrum. There are even main characters in comedies that we can empathize and laugh with and not at, that exemplify the public’s growing acceptance of and autism (ex. The Big Bang, Atypical).

Some popular movies and tv shows: 

  • Rain Man 

  • The Good Doctor

  • Atypical

  • The Big Bang

  • Temple Grandin 

  • Sherlock

Documentaries often offer great insight into the world of ASD! 

  • Normal People Scare Me 

  • George 

  • Make Me Normal   

  • Today’s Man 

  • A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism

Some great books written by people on the Autism Spectrum:

  • The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida 

  • Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s; by John Elder Robison 

  • Born on a Blue Day ; Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet 

  • The Way I See It; A Personal Look at Autism and Aspergers’s by Dr. Temple Grandin 

  • The Autistic Brain; Thinking Across the Spectrum by Temple Grandin and Richard Panek